Cardinal Burke is a voice of conservatism in the Roman Catholic Church and American politics, and a prominent devotee of the Tridentine Mass. He is intent on the “reform of the reform” of Vatican II.
Many photos of Cardinal Burke feature him in full regalia, a billowing cappa magna, lace rochet, velvet gauntlets, a towering mitre–the image of royalty, privilege and authority is unmistakable. That style is the polar opposite of Pope Francis, who is urging clerics to be pastors who “smell like their sheep.”
Over the last year and a half Cardinal Burke has made a series of statements to the press challenging Pope Francis’ shift in pastoral style. In an interview with the Spanish Catholic weekly Vida Nueva, published on October 30, 2014, Burke insisted he was not speaking out against the pope personally but raising concern about his leadership.
“Many have expressed their concerns to me. At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,” Burke said. “Now, it is more important than ever to examine our faith, have a healthy spiritual leader and give powerful witness to the faith.”
The “rudderless ship” remark was probably the last straw in a string of provocative challenges from Cardinal Burke. On November 8, 2014 he was officially removed as head of the Vatican’s highest judicial authority, known as the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. Obviously, he didn’t get the hint after he was dropped from the Congregation of Bishops in December 2013. Cardinal Burke no longer holds any influential Vatican posts.
At the same time, his appointment as Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta was announced. The Knights of Malta were founded in 1048 and recognized as a lay religious order by Pope Paschal II in 1113. It has a very elaborate hierarchy, with religious at the top, nobles next, and larger groups of knights and dames of common birth below them in their own separate categories and classes. Each group has its own insignia, making the classes of persons easily recognizable.
Pope Francis has done Cardinal Burke a favor. He will have ample opportunity to wear the finery he enjoys and not raise an eyebrow. The people around him will be dressed in equally rich, dramatic and historically meaningful capes and crosses. He will also feel at home with people who are used to looking backward to the Middle Ages.