Pope Francis Demotes Conservative Cardinal: How the papacy has changed for the better

Pope Francis
Pope Francis Waltonian | The Waltonian
Though still early in his papacy, at least by papal standards, Pope Francis has certainly not been shy about challenging the status quo of the Catholic Church.

Many in the media and outside the church have cheered his statements, particularly about being more welcoming to homosexuals and divorcees.

Within the Vatican, however, the applause has not been quite as thunderous.

The dissent of one Cardinal Raymond Burke has led to his outright demotion by the pope. Burke was moved from one of the highest positions in the church into the office of Patron of the Order of Malta, a position with almost no responsibilities. Several media posts have pointed out that Burke’s new position is almost exclusively symbolic.

Burke is known for his outspokenness and is no stranger to clashing with those in power.

His most recent forays into the limelight have seen the conservative Cardinal Burke voicing his criticism of what he sees as a movement by the pope toward more open lines of thinking in regards to gay marriage, divorce and remarriage, and other issues relating to the Catholic view of the family. The controversy largely stemmed from the “Synod on the Family” held last month by the church to discuss several of these hot-button issues.

Cardinal Raymond Burke
Cardinal Raymond Burke Waltonian | The Waltonian
Burke has vocally expressed his concerns with what he interprets as a movement away from the traditional teachings of the church. “The pope is not free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith,” he said in an interview with Buzzfeed.

In an interview with USA Today, Burke took his critiques a step further. “There is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,” he said in a not-so-subtle jab at Pope Francis’ leadership.

Oddly enough, Burke’s concerns seem to be needless.

It is true that the pope has been more welcoming and open to dialogue on issues of family and sexuality than any of his predecessors, but there has been no change in doctrine, nor is one readily imminent.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, in my opinion, summed up the pope’s position fairly well.

“The pope is not a liberal,” said Kasper. “He is a radical.”

Radical, in this case, signals a return to the church’s origins (beginning with Jesus and the early Disciples), which were rooted strongly in mercy and compassion for one’s neighbor, no matter their standing in the eyes of the church.

The pope seems to be encouraging an attitude of welcoming and mercy towards those living in homosexual relationships or divorce-remarriage scenarios. And, frankly, I’m glad he is.

I’ve been a member of the Catholic Church my entire life, and whenever these issues arise, the church is often portrayed as stern and unwelcoming. The pope appears to be stepping down off that pulpit, engaging with the marginalized and offering them a chance to be loved as children of God. Rather than wag a finger and preach at them, he instead looks to love. Didn’t a man named Jesus reach out to the marginalized in a similar way?

Take, for instance, the pope’s now famous words when asked about the church’s stance on gay marriage: “Who am I to judge?”

In another instance, he reached out to a woman who had been refused Holy Communion by her own parish because she was married to a man who was divorced.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke have each created controversy on both sides of a dialogue that looks to be more about the Catholic Church’s role in today’s world than a matter of doctrine. And that role is one of welcoming and mercy, especially for the marginalized. I’m not expecting, or even encouraging immediate change in doctrine on issues regarding family and sexuality. The church exists “to love and serve the world,” a mission spoken at the end of every liturgy. That does not include changing teachings to satisfy the world. What that does involve is a turn from looking inward at the church’s problems to looking outward at the world’s needs.

There will always be the Burkes out there who feel the church exists to point out wrongdoing. To see sinners as irredeemable and unworthy of our love. Why not reach out to them too in the same loving way? Show them the kind of mercy they are so reluctant to show.

Because in the end, who are we to judge?

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