Pope Francis denied that he removed Cardinal Burke as the leader of the Vatican’s highest court and appointed him to a ceremonial position because the cardinal raised concerns about the pope’s leadership.
He said Cardinal Burke expressed gratitude when offered to become chaplain of the Knights of Malta, a charity group.
“We needed a smart American who would know how to get around and I thought of him for that position. I suggested this to him long before the synod.… He thanked me in very good terms and accepted my offer. I even think he liked it because he is a man who gets around a lot. He does a lot of travelling and would surely be busy there. It is therefore not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod,” he told the Argentinian paper.
At another point during the interview, he revealed he is planning to visit three Latin American countries next year, but did not say which. He also clarified he plans to visit his home country in 2016 but not for the Eucharistic Congress in Tucumán to be held in July.
As for his upcoming 78th birthday on Wednesday, Dec. 17, the pope said that since it falls on a day when there is no mass, he will have lunch with all the staff and it “will be just another day.”
In yet another display of his storied humility, Francis said that becoming pope was the last thing on his mind 21 months ago.
“When I came here I had to start all over again, All this was new. From the start I said to myself, ‘Jorge, don’t change, just keep on being yourself, because to change at your age would be to make a fool of yourself,’” he said. “That’s why I’ve always kept on doing what I used to do in Buenos Aires. Perhaps even making my old mistakes.”
“And I started thinking about the refugees who make the dangerous trip from Africa to Italy, and for whom Pope Francis has great compassion and concern. Malta is part of the migrant route.
And then I started thinking about how Malta has said it feels overwhelmed by immigrants. Just yesterday, there were reports that as many as 500 people had perished off the coast of Malta.
And then I thought: Burke is only 66 years old — he has a lot of energy left in him, and is very organized — and by all accounts he is a stickler of an obedientiary.
It would not at all surprise me to discover that Pope Francis, seeking to find a way to give assistance to people risking their lives to escape a troubled continent, has deliberately put along their route a youngish churchman with a humanitarian “military order” under his patronage, and a gift for putting things together.
In fact, this seems like exactly the thing Francis would do: align an obedient, faithful Cardinal who enjoys a bit of ceremony from time to time with a well-organized Knighthood able to offer medical and emergency help, and who also rather like getting spiffed up from time to time, and put them to work, together, for the good of the countless numbers of people, and ultimately for the good of the church.
I suppose if one buys into the worldly take on what constitutes a prestigious office, one might say “yes, this is a demotion! From the Curia, the seats of Power, and making episcopal recommendations to the little island of Malta**, and the Knights?”
But the whole world is in the midst of great crisis, and the church — this great centering pole which keeps everything from collapsing and lets in the light — must respond, wherever she can, and do it quickly and authoritatively, because nations are failing, as they do, and people are suffering, and darkness is encroaching, all about.
I think Francis has given Cardinal Burke a great challenge, a great privilege, and a mighty task: to sustain and further build up an organization that serves people-in-need around the world, regardless of race, creed, nationality; to shore up good-and-welfare networks that have become stagnant; to assist immigrants and nations as the world continues its transition into something different from what it has been. And to — why not, if he wants? — wrap all of these efforts in occasional pageants of great beauty and solemn worship, because beauty feeds the heart and soul, and it doesn’t belong to only some, but to all.”