He’s the arch-conservative cardinal demanding Pope Francis answer his questions on whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion.
But Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who has threatened to formally correct the Pope unless his “dubia” receive a response, is now facing some scrutiny of his own after the sacking of a senior Knight of Malta, Albrecht von Boeselager, in a row about the distribution of condoms.
Now that Pope Francis has set up an inquiry into the matter Cardinal Burke has the following questions to answer: on what grounds did he claim the Holy See’s authority in dismissing Boeselager? Did he consult anyone inside the Vatican before Boeselager was dismissed? Did he consult Pope Francis? And if not, why not?
Cardinal Burke is patron of the illustrious 11th century Order of Malta and the link man between the knights and the Holy See; it’s his job to ensure the wishes of the Pope and the Vatican are communicated correctly to the order.
What we know is that Cardinal Burke was present when on 6 December Boeselager was sacked by the order’s Grand Master, Matthew Festing, with Burke reportedly telling the the German his dismissal was in “accordance with the wishes of the Holy See” as the distribution of condoms is contrary to Church teaching.
Boeselager, however, has hit back to say the Holy See wrote to the knights saying they did not call for him to be dismissed, while Festing told me that the row about condoms was resolved three years ago.
Officials in the order also say that following an internal investigation Boeselager admitted he knew about the condoms but they were distributed by other aid programmes, not his. The Vatican was informed, the participation of Malteser International - the order's international relief arm - in the programme ended and an ethics committee was launched to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
The row was re-ignited when the conservative pressure group, the Lepanto Institute, submitted a report to Cardinal Burke at the end of November alleging that that as early as 2005 Malteser had distributed condoms and oral contraceptives, and was continuing to promote the use of condoms.
Was this the evidence that the cardinal used for backing the German knight’s sacking?
Francis made Cardinal Burke patron of the order in 2014 as a way of getting him out of running the Church’s supreme court and blocking the Pope’s reforms to the marriage annulment process.
But with the “dubia” saga and now this latest dispute the cardinal continues to cause headaches for the Pope. And if Burke is found to have overstepped his role and remit as patron of the order of Malta, then Francis may have no choice but to move him once again.