A few thoughts about changes to the Congregation for Bishops. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

A lot of you are asking by email my take on Pope Francis’ not confirming Card. Burke as a member of the Congregations for Bishops and for Saints.

The fact is that the members of these Congregations are routinely shifted around.  Do I like the fact that Card. Burke and some others are no longer members?  Not much, no.  However, I don’t think it is wise to have a spittle-flecked nutty about it.

Some people are turning this into some sort of papal pogrom against conservative cardinals. I can’t rule that out.  We could also look at it more benignly.  After all, His Eminence Card. Burke is still young for a cardinal.  He is still the Prefect of the Segnatura.  He is still able to get on airplanes, etc.  Having fewer meetings to go to also gives him more time to write and more flexibility to give conferences.

What could the changes in the membership of the Congregation for Bishops mean?  Again, I am not pleased at the loss of Card. Burke’s or Card. Bagnasco’s voices therein.  It has been suggested that the Pope wants the nominations of more progressive bishops. That may be the case.  However, under Francis, “progressive” shan’t mean what it did back in the day. That is to say, today “progressive” may mean something like doctrinally orthodox but little inclined to be strong and vocal in matters of doctrine or discipline. It may be that the identikit of the bishop is shifting in this pontificate.  It might mean “nice guy” rather than … you know.  It could be that the men who are lassoed into the ranks of the episcopate will tend not to be bold “culture warriors” in the service of clear, traditional Catholic doctrine and discipline.  I think we need bold “culture warriors”, but I wasn’t consulted.   Furthermore, they will more than likely be pretty nearly squeaky clean, if you get me drift.

Keep in mind that it takes a while to shift the identikit of the episcopacy.  It can’t happen overnight.  Men being made bishops now were probably already being studied during the reign of Benedict XVI.  It takes time to collect possible candidates, create the dossiers, gather reports, mull them over, etc.  It took John Paul II the better part of two decades to shift the episcopate around.

What we will not see, however, is a return to the age of the appointments of 70’s and 80’s types, that is, “culture warriors” pushing a liberal, secularizing, anti-traditional modernist agenda!  Keep your eyes on who holds the office of Apostolic Nuncio in your country.  They are probably more important in the process of selection of bishops than the members of the Congregation.  I seriously doubt we will see the return of the likes of Archbishop Jadot.  Quod Deus averruncet.

By the way, when you hear or read liberals whine about how men like Card. Burke or this or that sound bishop are “culture warriors” and that “culture warriors” are bad, deluded, harmful, blah blah blah, remember that those liberals are themselves “culture warriors”.  They are being hypocritical when they slam conservatives as “culture warriors”.  They are “culture warriors” for the opposition (which can sometimes include the Enemy).  Their lamentation about conservative “culture warrior” bishops is a silencing tactic.  They seek to bully brave bishops into silence so that they and they alone have free rein to war for their causes.  Watch their slight of hand!   They set up a model that they call “pastoral” and they pit “pastoral” against “traditional” or “conservative”.   In their bearded-Spock universe, you can’t be both “pastoral” and “traditional”.  If you are conservative, you don’t care about the sheep, etc.  Only they really truly caaaare. Remember this when you see liberals complain about some bishop not being “civil” or that we need more “civility”.  But I digress.

What else could the change in the membership in the Congregation for Bishops mean?  As you know, Card. Wuerl was appointed to the Congregation.  More than one person has suggested that the Pope is clearing the way for Card. Wuerl to be transferred from Washington DC to Rome to be in the Roman Curia.  I don’t see that happening, but… hey!… who knows what is going to happen?   Furthermore, more than one person has suggested to me that moving Wuerl to Rome and lightening Burke’s brief could signal an intention to move Burke back to the USA as Archbishop of Washington or Chicago.  Again, I have a hard time imagining that, given His Eminence’s clear, repeated stand on canon 915.  Were Pope Francis to make Card. Burke Archbishop of Washington DC, with all those pro-abortion catholic politicians in residence in his domain…. imagine the wailing and gnashing.  We can dream.  On the other hand, I really like and respect Card. Burke.  I wouldn’t wish such a mandate on him.

So, let’s not panic about these changes of the memberships of congregations. Who knows? It could be that Card. Burke will be appointed as a member to other Congregations, such as the critically important Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Card. Burke is only 65. He can’t just be left doing nothing. It is unlikely that His Holiness will just shuffle His Eminence into oblivion.  At the end of the day, Card. Burke is a CARDINAL and a young one at that.

It is hard to guess what our Pope is going to do next! It sure is an interesting ride.

Finally, I repeat here what I have written elsewhere.

The vision provided us by Benedict XVI is still as valid and necessary today as it ever was.   Keep pushing forward with a revitalization of our sacred liturgical worship no matter what.  Do not flag.  Do not be discouraged.  Do not relent.  Get organized.  Recruit.  Persuade.  Provide.  Demonstrate your joy in the use of the older, traditional forms as you call for even wider application of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum, which is universal law.  Excel in the performance of corporal and spiritual works of mercy even as you call for use of the traditional forms.

No efforts of New Evangelization or any other positive undertaking in the Church (ad intra or ad extra) will succeed without a revitalization of our sacred liturgical worship.

The combox moderation queue is switched on.

And former-Father Greg Reynolds is still excommunicated.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Be The Maquis, Benedict XVI, Francis, Liberals, Our Catholic Identity, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, The Drill, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. ies0716 says:

    Good post, Father. As a huge fan of Cardinal Burke I was disappointed to see him moved off of the Congregation for Bishops. I think that given the other recent moves and pronouncements of Pope Francis (e.g. the FFI debacle, thinly veiled anti-trad comments in interviews), Catholic traditionalists are justifiably a bit jumpy. I’m finding that it’s tough to get a read on this Pope, but I hope that you’re right that there isn’t an anti-trad “purge” going on in the Curia. [I don’t know that there isn’t an anti-grad purge going on. I hope not. But having a crying fit in public about it will only serve to encourage the liberals on the local level to do the same. They are vindictive and this kind of thing really makes their socks roll up and down.]

  2. McCall1981 says:

    Thanks Fr. Z. As much as I love Card. Burke and wish he had not been removed, we definitely need to keep in mind that he is still head of the Apostolic Signatura (which I think is an even more important position), and that the new appointments aren’t exactly raging liberal heretics. I think many of us have been afraid of a radical shift in the Curia towards the extreme modernist left, but I agree with Fr. Z that the reality seems to be “doctrinally orthodox but little inclined to be strong and vocal in matters of doctrine or discipline.” That’s probably not the ideal for most of us here, but ultimately it’s something we can live with, and it certainly could be a LOT worse.
    Let’s also not forget that Card. Ouellet was reconfirmed as Prefect, which is great news.

  3. Robbie says:

    I certainly appreciate these comments, but I think some genuine concern, if not alarm, is warranted (in a reasonable fashion though). If Cardinal Burke had been the only conservative/traditional Cardinal moved off the Bishops’ Conference, the wailing and gnashing of teeth I and others have done would be very much unneeded and unwarranted. Sadly though, Cardinals Bagnasco and Piacenza also got the boot as well. And for Piacenza, it was his second demotion in three months. What has he done to earn this?

    I think it’s clear PF isn’t enthralled with the right wing of his Church and, to my eyes, this looks like a slow motion purge. I know others will disagree, though. The papal exhortation, the FFI situation, promethean neopalagians, self absorbed retrogrades, the demotions for three outstanding traditional Cardinals, and the jubilance of the worldwide media certainly give me cause for pause. If, in the past nine months, there had been new appointments and/or actions that were clearly traditional in bent, I would be the first to say PF is steering a center course that veers left occasionally and right occasionally. I don’t see that right now though.

  4. everett says:

    I think we need to be careful to talk about these things as “demotions” as that runs the risk of treating this like a traditional career path where advancement is the name of the game.

  5. majuscule says:

    Thank you for mentioning the importance of the Apostalic Nuncio. Last January at the West Coast Walk for Life we were joined by the the Nuncio to the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who delivered a message to us from Pope Benedict. I was impressed by his demeanor.

    So far he’s still our Apostolic Nuncio. I like to think that he and his office have had some responsibility for names submitted that have lead to recent appointments. I pray for him and our bishops.

  6. Fr. Z: “Demonstrate your joy in the use of the older, traditional forms as you call for even wider application of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum”

    And equally if not more important for the majority of Catholics, I might suggest, demonstrate your joy in the use of the older, traditional ways of celebrating the OF (as Pope Benedict advocated and practiced.

  7. Netmilsmom says:

    “Bearded Spock”! Father Z steps into the world of Star Trek. Maybe Doc&Skip?

  8. Mike says:

    Whatever is beneath the known facts of this shuffle, the Church and Her shepherds — including, yes, the ones of whose politics, for whatever good reasons, we’re not so fond — urgently and continually need our prayers and our humble support.

    To be effective, that support need not, cannot, be silent, nor accompanied by sotto voce grumbling. Principled statements of concern, in the tone exemplified by Fr. Z’s post, seem to me a pretty good way for us faithful to use our voice, and a spiritual work of mercy withal.

  9. Eriugena says:

    His Eminence Raymond S.R.E. Cardinal Burke will be saying the Mass in October next year at the end of the Pilgrimage in Rome for the people of Summorum Pontificum, in news published just today. Book early to ensure a place…

  10. Gallia Albanensis says:

    For what it’s worth, from an armchair nobody like myself, it does not appear that Pope Francis is against all traditionalism … just the Tridento-Scholastic* movement.

    He’s seems rather sympathetic to Eastern Christians, both Catholic and otherwise; and he recently allowed baptized-but-unconfirmed Catholics to become “official members” of the Anglican Ordinariate.

    Therefore I think one of the keys to understanding His Holiness is to not plot him solely on a “Traditional-to-Progressive” axis. Not that I’m accusing anyone of that, nor am I saying that I have him fully figured out yet.

    But this is an interesting side of his character that I don’t think has been fully explored yet.

    ( * Yes, I coined this phrase. There is probably a more elegant way to express this cultural synthesis, but I don’t know what it is.)

  11. Fr Z, as always, you speak prudently and wisely. I concur with you 100%. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, the secular press and media gasped and had apoplectic fits fearing a resurrection of the Holy Inquisition. The ‘Rat-weiler’ as B16 remained as orthodox as ever but he reigned with a velvet and not iron glove. His modus operandi was to TEACH and to persuade by logical argument, using faith (theology) and reason (philosophy). The quintessential professor, Papa Benedetto patiently explained what needed to be clarified. He did not excommunicate thousands or even hundreds. Neither did he interdict nations nor did he depose rulers. His successor, Pope Francis, while very intelligent and learned, uses a different technique and tactic than B16. F1 PREACHES more so than teaches in that he uses a colloquial and casual style of homily whereas his processor used succinct verbiage carefully and deliberately. It is the apparent ambiguity I suspect which many traditional Catholics are apprehensive about in Pope Francis dialogues. If Pope Benedict was like the professor who taught in the classroom, Pope Francis is like the pastor who answers off the cuff questions from parishioners after Mass.

    I do not see any nefarious plots in the ‘removal’ of Cardinal Burke anymore than in that of Cardinal Rigali. New pastors and new bishops and new popes have the right and option of changing personnel and it does not de facto mean a hidden agenda. One can be hardline orthodox shepherd and one can be a softer, more pastoral orthodox shepherd. It is merely a matter of style of leadership. And bottom line is always that outside of matter of faith and morals, we Catholics are still obliged to respect and obey the prudential judgments of the current reigning Roman Pontiff unless they directly contradict the Natural or Divine Laws. Non-infallible papal authority is still full, supreme, immediate, and universal. While we may not like every papal choice and decision, we must in HUMILITY obey and submit our will to that of the Successor of Saint Peter. He was not given the charism of impeccability nor are all of his decisions inspired but he is supreme head of the universal church despite any and all his idiosyncrasies, faults, weaknesses, and foibles. While we hope and pray that every occupant of the Chair of St. Peter would be saintly, his decisions and opinions are nevertheless the bottom line until rescinded or amended by a successor. Since there is no appealing to an Ecumenical Council and the First See is judged by no other see, we faithful sons and daughters of the church should respectfully submit to our Holy Father and not cause shame or scandal by exposing his shortcomings, if any.

  12. kiwiinamerica says:

    Time will tell, Father. On any given day, we can discuss the significance of any given papal action or pronouncement without really being sure of its meaning. However, over time, a bigger picture will emerge. We’ll be able to see a trend, if we can’t already and it will become obvious where this is going.

  13. Vecchio di Londra says:

    I myself was rather more concerned to read some of the names of those who were appointed.

  14. FXR2 says:

    I can only turn my misgivings over to Our Lady, and concentrate on the culmination of this Advent Sesson. Salve Regina


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  16. Pastor Bonus says:

    In order to see a fuller picture emerge of where Pope Francis is heading and where his preferences lie there are two key moments to watch out for over the coming weeks. First, liturgically, it was Pope Benedict’s practice to celebrate the Mass of the Baptism of The Lord using the high altar in the Sistine chapel; will Pope Francis abandon this practice? It will be entirely his choice and will be a further indication of his thoughts and preferences. [He celebrated Mass in the Sistina after the Conclave. He had a picnic table set up in front of the main altar. On the other hand, he celebrated ad oriented versus at one of the side altars in the Basilica of St. Peter – where there was no other choice but to do so. So, let’s wait and see.] The other key moment fast approaching is this appointment of the new cardinals in the already announced consistory for February. It seems likely that given the nomination of Archbishop Nichols to the Congregation for Bishops he will now get the red had, especially since the spot he takes on that congregation fills in the vacancy of a British representative left by Cardinal Murphy- O’Connor who has turned 80 and thus leaves the way open for Nichols to be nominated to the Sacred College. By the same token though, the archbishop of Brussels is always named a cardinal, and the über liberal Daneels has also now turned 80′ in theory leaving the way open for his successor Mons. Léonard to be given the red had, he is much more traditional than his predecessor and has suffered for his defence of the faith. If he is not made a cardinal and Nichols is, then there is another indication of Pope a Francis direction. This is all before we get to the a synod of course…

  17. frjim4321 says:

    (1) I appreciate the well thought-out post.

    (2) I totally agree. The man is a cardinal and the actuarial tables suggest that he will be for quite some time. That fact is trump over all the other issues speculated here and elsewhere.

    Nice post.

    [I hope this doesn’t cause a few heart attacks among the readers.]

  18. frjim4321 says:

    Christmas spirit and all…

  19. Timbot2000 says:


    Interesting observation, as a young priest Bergoglio spent time under the tutelage of Blessed Stepan Chmil. He would wake up hours before his classmates to concelebrate at the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. In turn, he as a mentor to Patriarch Sviatoslav Schevchuk. So Francis is intimately familiar with the Byzantine Rite and seems very attached to it. I just think that sadly, in Latin America and Europe the Vetus Ordo is hoist upon its own Counter-Reformation Throne and Miter petard, and is associated with very negative political stances among the general population, and Pope Francis is no exception to this

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  21. Dcn D says:

    I really do appreciate the positive tone of the blog and the direction Fr. Z is giving in the midst of an obviously disappointing direction. I definitely need that and take it to heart. Honestly, I am not encouraged with Cardinal Burke being removed from such significant roles. I am not encouraged by the appointees. But this is not about me or my preferences, but what the Holy Spirit is allowing. I will not hold my breath in hopes of Burke being appointed head of CDF. [Member, possibly, but Prefect is a stretch.] I am encouraged by the confidence we have that the Holy Spirit will always guide the Church and use human instruments for the purpose of purifying and perfecting the Church. Peace, DD

  22. tcreek says:

    This might make some feel better, did me.

    Monsignor Guido Marini added 4 photos of Pope Francis paying a Christmas visit to Pope Benedict to his Facebook page a few hours ago. https://www.facebook.com/DonGuidoMarini.
    There are many great photos on Mons. Marini’s site.

  23. Vecchio di Londra says:

    And a very happy and holy Christmas to you, Father!

  24. Juergensen says:

    I recall when Pope Benedict XVI elevated Archbishop Levada of San Francisco to Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Orthodox Catholics were apoplectic over the appointment. And yet, Cardinal Levada did rather well at the CDF, if memory serves.

  25. Warren says:

    I appreciate your digression, paragraph seven.

    “…those liberals are themselves “culture warriors”. … They set up a model that they call “pastoral” and they pit “pastoral” against “traditional” or “conservative”. In their bearded-Spock universe, you can’t be both “pastoral” and “traditional”. If you are conservative, you don’t care about the sheep, etc. Only they really truly caaaare. Remember this when you see liberals complain about some bishop not being “civil” or that we need more “civility”.”

    Consider the preceding paragraph committed to memory.

  26. vmanning says:

    As concerning as these recent moves and statements of Francis are, what are we to make of the fact that he has met at least twice with the Prefect of Opus Dei and the Vatican recently hosted a symposium on the theology of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.

  27. Glen M says:

    Perhaps I’m being naive (that’s just how I roll) but it may be for the best that Cardinal Burke’s role in the Curia diminishes a bit during this papacy.

  28. excalibur says:

    The appointments to Chicago and Washington D.C.will be interesting.

    Have a Merry and a Blessed Christmas all, and especially the laborer on this blog, Father Z.

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  30. Pnkn says:

    “Keep your eyes on who holds the office of Apostolic Nuncio in your country. They are probably more important in the process of selection of bishops than the members of the Congregation.”

    This would be good news for the USA based upon the Nuncio’s Christmas Eve homily !!

  31. MarkG says:

    At this point, how important are any Vatican offices, appointments, etc?
    I get the impression (perhaps mistakenly) that Pope Francis knows how to side step Vatican officials and take his message directly to the faithful using modern communication tools, and that he isn’t afraid nor shy to do so.

    While I don’t know a lot about the Vatican offices, it’s probably a good thing to cut out layers of middlemen and bureaucracy, as improved and instant communications channels now exist.

    Do Vatican officials really need to be in Rome for meetings anyway? Video conferencing is now cheap and reliable. Maybe regular clergy out in world could be appointed to these offices and conduct business via video conferencing with one or two in person meetings a year in Rome.

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