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Pope punishes leading critic Cardinal Burke in second action against conservative American prelates

FILE - Cardinal Raymond Burke applauds during a news conference at the Italian Senate, in Rome, on Sept. 6, 2018. Pope Francis has taken measures to punish one of his highest-ranking critics, Cardinal Raymond Burke, by yanking his right to a Vatican apartment and salary in the second such radical action against a conservative American prelate this month, according to two people briefed on the measures. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has decided to punish one of his highest-ranking critics, Cardinal Raymond Burke, by revoking his right to a subsidized Vatican apartment and salary in the second such radical action against a conservative American prelate this month, according to two people briefed on the measures.

Francis told a meeting of the heads of Vatican offices last week that he was moving against Burke because he was a source of “disunity” in the church, said one of the participants at the Nov. 20 meeting. The participant spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to reveal the contents of the encounter.

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Francis said he was removing Burke’s privileges of having a subsidized Vatican apartment and salary as a retired cardinal because he was using the privileges against the church, said another person who was subsequently briefed on the pope’s measures. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to reveal the details.

Burke has not received any notification of measures being taken, his secretary said in a text message Tuesday.

Burke, a 75-year-old canon lawyer whom Francis had fired as the Vatican’s high court justice in 2014, has become one of the most outspoken critics of the pope, his outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics, and his reform project to make the church more responsive to the needs of ordinary faithful.

Twice, Burke has joined other conservative cardinals in issuing formal questions to the pontiff, known as “dubia,” asking him to clarify questions of doctrine that upset conservatives and traditionalists. In the first, they asked Francis to clarify his outreach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, and Francis never replied. In the second, they asked whether same-sex couples could receive church blessings — and received a conditional maybe in response.

Then, on the eve of Francis’ big meeting of bishops last month, known as a synod, Burke presided over a counter-synod of sorts just steps away from St. Peter’s Square. There, Burke delivered a stinging rebuke of Francis’ vision of “synodality” as well as his overall reform project for the church.

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“It’s unfortunately very clear that the invocation of the Holy Spirit by some has the aim of bringing forward an agenda that is more political and human than ecclesial and divine,” Burke told the conference titled “The Synodal Babel.”

Burke has always defended his actions as being of service to the church and the papacy, saying it was his obligation as a cardinal and bishop to uphold church teaching and correct errors.

“The sheep depend on the courage of pastors who must protect them from the poison of confusion, error, and division,” he told the Oct. 3 conference, prompting applause from the crowd.

Burke, who spends much of his time in the United States at the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine he founded in his native Wisconsin, is the second American prelate to face punishment in what appears to be a new phase of Francis’ pontificate. This reform-minded period seems to have accelerated with the arrival in September of Francis’ hand-picked new doctrine czar, Argentine Cardinal Victor Fernández.

Earlier this month, Francis forcibly removed the bishop of Tyler, Texas, Joseph Strickland, another conservative who had also become one of Francis' critics. Strickland was removed after a Vatican investigation into governance of his diocese.

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Asked Tuesday about word of Francis' decision, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni didn't deny the reports but referred questions to Burke.

On Tuesday, Francis canceled his trip to Dubai for the UN climate conference on doctors’ orders, even though he is recovering from the flu and lung inflammation, the Vatican said.

Francis, who turns 87 next month, was scheduled to leave Rome on Friday to address the COP28 meeting Saturday morning. He also was supposed to inaugurate a faith pavilion Sunday on the sidelines of the conference before returning home.

The pope revealed Sunday that he had lung inflammation but said at the time that he still planned to go to Dubai, where he was to become the first pontiff to address a UN climate conference. Care for the environment has been a priority for Francis, and presidents and patriarchs alike have welcomed his moral leadership on the issue.