Why the pope has (deservedly) sent prelates packing

Pope Francis, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City - 27 August 2014

To the Catholic prelates recently removed from their posts by Pope Francis, the Freedom From Religion Foundation says, “Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.” Kidding! Although some Catholics who aren’t extremely conservative like Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Joseph Strickland might be thinking that.

The pope removed Strickland, 65, a couple of weeks ago following Strickland’s 12 years as bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, when he refused to resign after the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops asked him to do so at the completion of its investigation. While Francis gave no reason for Strickland’s removal, he has been criticized for his polarizing social media posts, including a May 12 tweet suggesting the pope was “undermining the Deposit of Faith.” The usual retirement age for bishops is 75.

Strickland has frequently railed publicly about LGBTQ-plus issues and condemned mandatory use of vaccines, falsely claiming aborted fetal remains were used to manufacture them. He delivered a speech last Halloween (horror of horrors!) during which he quoted from a letter he received describing Francis as a “usurper” and as “one who has pushed aside the true pope and has attempted to sit on a chair that is not his.” He also refused to implement Vatican directives restricting the use of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass favored by conservatives.

In September 2020, FFRF urged the IRS in a complaint letter to investigate a video rant by James Altman, pastor of St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse, Wis., in which Altman said: “Here is a memo to clueless baptized Catholics out there: You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat. Period. The party platform is absolutely against everything the Catholic Church teaches, so just quit pretending that you’re Catholic and vote Democrat. Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”

Strickland endorsed Altman’s statement on Twitter a few days later: “My shame is that it has taken me so long. Thank You Fr. Altman for your COURAGE. If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation … please HEED THIS Message.” The retweet shared Altman’s video. In its IRS letter, FFRF noted Strickland used his official bishopric Twitter account @Bishopoftyler.

While the Diocese of La Crosse later suspended Altman, he has continued his homophobic rants. Last July, he praised Strickland, calling him “America’s bishop” and saying he is “the only bishop to openly and consistently stand up against the homo agenda of the lavender mafia, from Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis) on down.”

Burke banished

On Nov. 27, the Italian newspaper La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana reported that Francis told a meeting of high-ranking church officials that he would be evicting Burke, 75, from his Vatican-subsidized apartment and ending his salary as a retired cardinal. Burke has been somewhat less vitriolic than Strickland but got the heave-ho anyway because he was a source of “disunity,” according to The Associated Press, which based its report on an unnamed official who attended the meeting.

It’s not the first time Francis has demoted Burke, a Wisconsin native who served as bishop of La Crosse and archbishop of St. Louis before being named a cardinal during the papacy of Benedict XVI in 2010. Francis did not reappoint him in 2013 to the Dicastery for Bishops and in 2014 removed him as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (basically the chief justice of the Vatican’s highest court). Burke was then named to a largely ceremonial post as Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. It was revealed in 2017 that he and others had worked to oust the Maltese chancellor for supplying condoms to people in Myanmar in contradiction of Catholic teaching prohibiting artificial contraception.

Burke had become known as an outspoken conservative by the mid-2000s. In 2004, he refused to give Communion to Sen. John Kerry because he supported abortion rights. In 2007, he  resigned from a Catholic hospital board because the hospital invited singer Sheryl Crow, also an advocate of abortion rights, to play at a benefit concert. In 2016, he said Catholics who had voted for President Obama had “collaborated with evil.”

During the global pandemic, Burke criticized vaccine mandates and made numerous false statements about vaccines. “While the state can provide reasonable regulations for the safeguarding of health, it is not the ultimate provider of health. God is,” he said in 2020. Karma soon came calling, and Burke announced in August 2021 he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Back in Wisconsin, he was breathing with the help of a ventilator.

Burke vehemently opposes same-sex unions and in 2015 blamed “radical feminism” for pedophile priests: “There was a period of time when men who were feminized and confused about their own sexual identity had entered the priesthood. Sadly, some of these disordered men sexually abused minors.”

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and while Francis swings and misses on many issues important to secular people, he was right on these two. Burke and Strickland deserve what they got and should never again be put in a position to exercise even the slightest control over others.

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