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Pope Francis denies calling conservative Cardinal Burke his 'enemy': report

Pope Francis leaves after delivering a speech at the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park on November 24, 2019, in Nagasaki, Japan.
Pope Francis leaves after delivering a speech at the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park on November 24, 2019, in Nagasaki, Japan. | Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Pope Francis reportedly confirmed to his biographer that he stripped U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke of his salary and evicted him from his Vatican apartment but denied accusations that he called the conservative American prelate his "enemy."

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh wrote on the website Where Peter Is that he met with the pope on Nov. 27 amid swirling rumors that he had punished Burke for allegedly using his retired cardinal privileges against the Church, according to the Catholic News Agency.

"In the course of our conversation, Francis told me he had decided to remove Cardinal Burke's cardinal privileges — his apartment and salary — because he had been using those privileges against the Church," wrote Ivereigh, who noted that his meeting with Francis was short because of the pontiff's lung inflammation.

"He told me that while the decision wasn't a secret, he didn't intend a public announcement, but earlier that day it had been leaked," he added.

Sources at the meeting who spoke to the Catholic newspaper La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana said that Francis announced his intended actions against Burke during a Nov. 20 meeting of the heads of Vatican offices.

"Cardinal Burke is my enemy, so I take away his apartment and his salary," the pope was quoted as saying, according to an anonymous source who spoke to the Italian outlet.

The actions against Burke went international when the Associated Press confirmed the story with two sources who attended the meeting and also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Ivereigh claimed that the quote attributed to Francis describing Burke as his "enemy" was "pure fiction" and that the pope "would never conduct a personal vendetta."

"It was conveniently in line with the traditionalist narrative of a merciless, vindictive pope who recklessly and unreasonably 'punishes' those who disagree with him," he wrote, adding that the pope gave him a note saying, "I never used the word 'enemy' nor the pronoun 'my.' I simply announced the fact at the meeting of the dicastery heads, without giving specific explanations."

Burke, who has repeatedly asked Pope Francis to clarify his position on crucial doctrine, told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that "people can draw their own conclusions about why the Holy Father told this to Austen Ivereigh and not the person concerned."

Burke told the outlet that he intends to stay in Rome even if evicted from his Vatican apartment.

"It's my duty as a cardinal to remain in Rome," he said.

Burke was made a cardinal in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI but faced repeated demotions during Francis' papacy amid his public criticisms.

In 2014, the pope removed Burke from his position as head of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, which is the Vatican's highest court to which he had been appointed by Benedict XVI in 2008.

Burke also lost his position in the Congregation for Divine Worship and his patronage of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Burke and Francis also seemed to clash over COVID-19 vaccinations, with Francis hitting at vaccine "negationists" among the College of Cardinals and referencing Burke as one of them in 2021, according to the AP.

The actions against Burke came weeks after Francis removed Joseph E. Strickland from his post as bishop of Tyler, Texas.

Strickland, who has also been a vocal critic of Francis' papacy, thanked Washington, D.C.-based Monsignor Charles Pope on Thursday for posting a statement condemning Francis' actions against Burke as "petty."

"At some point we are forced to conclude that the Pope is behaving like a bitter, vengeful, and intolerant man through his heavy-handed actions," Pope wrote. "No accompaniment or going to the margins here!"

Pope claimed that "even many of the Pope's allies are growing concerned and fearful," but believes the next conclave will be forced to elect a pontiff "who can be a healer and uniter rather than the divisive and frankly mean-spirited leader we have now."

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