Cardinal Burke to Malta, Mamberti to Apostolic Signatura

Cardinal Raymond Burke
Cardinal Raymond Burke (photo: Edward Pentin)

Pope Francis today appointed Cardinal Raymond Burke, hitherto prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, as patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing Cardinal Paolo Sardi who has served in the position since 2009.

Confirmation of the appointment was widely awaited: rumors had been circulating for some time, and Cardinal Burke disclosed the Pope’s decision himself in an interview last month.

The move means that Cardinal Burke, 66, is completely removed from the Curia and holds a purely honorary position without any influence in the governance of the universal Church. Given his age and seniority, such a move is unprecedented and many therefore view it as a demotion.

He will be replaced by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States – effectively the Holy See’s foreign minister.

Some have speculated whether Cardinal Burke’s appointment is a result of his outspoken criticisms during the synod. But rumors of the transfer, first circulated by veteran Vatican watcher Sandro Magister, began in mid-September, considerably earlier than the meeting.

Although he has criticised how the synod was run, the cardinal has insisted he supports the Pope, saying he remains at Francis’ service and has no personal animosity towards him.

Last year, Pope Francis removed Cardinal Burke from a committee of the Congregation for Bishops that advises the Pope on episcopal appointments. It’s widely known that a small group of cardinals advised Francis to remove him from the committee because of his tendency to block candidates who were considered not sufficiently orthodox or capable of serving as bishops.

His position as patron of the Knights of Malta is Rome-based and mostly ceremonial. He is nevertheless likely to continue and perhaps even step up his defense of the Church’s teaching in the face of continued efforts to radically alter pastoral practice in the run-up to next year’s second synod on the family.

Archbishop Mamberti will be replaced by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, a native of Liverpool, England, who is currently the apostolic nuncio to Australia. Gallagher notably succeeded Archbishop Michael Courtney as apostolic nuncio to Burundi after Courtney was murdered in the country in December 2003.