Cardinal Burke Reinstated to Apostolic Signatura by Pope Francis


by Jeffrey Lindholm


Raymond Cardinal Burke of the United States was reappointed to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court. Cardinal Burke previously was prefect of the court for six years. Italian Cardinals Agostino Vallini and Edoardo Menichelli, as well as Belgian Archbishop Frans Daneels and Dutch Bishop Johannes Willibrordus Maria Hendriks were also appointed to serve on the Apostolic Signatura. The Apostolic Signatura functions as the Vatican’s highest court, akin to the Supreme Court in the United States.


Cardinal Burke served as prefect, or head, of the Vatican’s highest court from 2008 until his sudden removal by Pope Francis in 2014. Since then, Cardinal Burke has served as patron of the Order of the Knights of Malta, a largely ceremonial post. Following his removal, Cardinal Burke faced controversy with the Holy See for the removal of the Grand Chancellor of the Knights of Malta. Potentially more controversial was the dubia, or list of questions, that he and four other cardinals submitted to Pope Francis seeking to clarify Francis’ position on divorced and civilly remarried couples in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.


Though he has had his disagreements with Pope Francis in the past, Cardinal Burke has stood firm in his questions of doctrinal accuracy of Amoris Laetitia, as he and other cardinals sought to end “grave confusion.” Yet, Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis both deny that there is a rift between them. Cardinal Burke went as far as to say that claims that there was a rupture between him and Pope Francis were ridiculous: “They depict Pope Francis as a wonderful, open person and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they depict me as just the opposite, it’s meant in a certain way to advance their own agenda, but the pope is actually not in favor of their agenda. They’re making a caricature of someone who’s asking for clarity about certain matters, they’re saying ‘well, he’s the enemy of the pope’ and he’s trying to build up opposition to the pope, which of course isn’t the case at all.” The supposed rift between Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis is nonexistent, the media just depicts the two fighting, thus the “caricature” Cardinal Burke refers to. Moreover, Cardinal Burke said that he loves and respects Pope Francis “with complete obedience to the office of Peter.”


Cardinal Burke is one of the top experts in canon law. He holds a doctoral degree in canon law from Rome’s Gregorian University, and was named the first American “Defender of the Bond” at the Apostolic Signatura by Pope Saint John Paul II. Later, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would name Burke to head the court in 2008. He also has held positions in the past in the Congregation for Bishops and its Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which is responsible for liturgical policy. Though his views on liturgy, sacraments, theology, and politics have proven controversial in years past, as seen in the Amoris Laetitia disagreement, he is gifted in his ability to interpret canon law.


Cardinal Burke’s gift of interpreting canon law will certainly be of use in the Apostolic Signatura. The Church is constantly in need of clarification on doctrine, and Cardinal Burke is an expert that can provide explanation and clarity on difficult doctrine in an increasing relativistic world.

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