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The Vatican's Francis Revolution gains pace


Archbishop Gallagher with ABC religious broadcaster Noel Debien

An important power shift has just occurred in Rome, and it has a genuine Australian connection. 

The long-rupmoured removal of US Cardinal Raymond Burke as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the top tribunal in the Vatican’s judicial system, and effectively the appeals court for all other tribunals in the church, occurred at midday on Saturday. 

Burke has been made Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta. His replacement at the Signatura is Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States, effectively the Vatican’s foreign minister. Mamberti’s replacement is Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, currently papal nuncio to Australia.

The sidelining of the 66 year old Burke signifies an important power shift. A bluntly outspoken conservative critic of Pope Francis’ pastoral approach to difficult moral issues, his rejection of a hierarchy of truths (the notion that some teachings are more important than others) has placed him at the far right of the Catholic spectrum. Burke has said that Catholicism risks schism if bishops at the Family Synod next year ‘go contrary’ to the Church’s established dogmas.

A ‘folk hero’ for some Catholics, Burke was appointed bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1994, and promoted to Archbishop of St Louis in late 2004. He was appointed Prefect of the Signatura in 2008 and was made a cardinal in November 2010. 

He exercised considerable influence on the appointment of new bishops in the US as a member of the Congregation of Bishops. He was removed from the Congregation by Pope Francis in December 2013. His dismissal from the Signatura was certainly brutal by Vatican standards. The Roman saying is ‘Let him be promoted that he may be removed’, but with Burke they didn’t even pretend he was being ‘promoted’. Perhaps it is because he had ‘leaked’ his own demotion some weeks earlier.

He is known for his devotion to the Tridentine liturgy and practices such as wearing a cappa magna. He has claimed that contemporary ‘moral corruption’ is ‘strictly correlated’ to the liturgical ‘abuses’ that in his view came in the wake of Vatican Council II. Whispers in the Loggia blogger Rocco Palmo has described him as ‘arguably the most polarising figure on the global Catholic stage.’ His removal from the Signatura and Bishops strips him of any real influence on the wider church - at least for this papacy.

Burke’s replacement at the Signatura is Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, a Corsican. This leaves his very senior and important post of Secretary for Relations with States vacant. The Secretariat of State is the central body of the curia and is presided over by the Secretary of State, currently Cardinal Pietro Parolin. He is effectively the papal prime minister. Serving directly under him are two under-secretaries with the rank of archbishop, one for Ordinary Affairs (this person runs the curia and deals with general matters concerning the church) and the other for Relations with States i.e. the Vatican’s dealings with foreign governments. Thus the secretary of this section becomes the Vatican’s foreign minister.

60 year old Paul Gallagher’s appointment as Secretary for Relations with States comes as a surprise to many, although he is a close friend of Parolin. He returns to Rome as a cleanskin ‘who is not part of any clique’, and as someone of real competence. Rocco Palmo says he is ‘the first native born English speaker to hold the post.’ This is not strictly true. Australian-born Archbishop (later Cardinal) Edward Cassidy was Secretary for Ordinary Affairs from 1988-9.

Gallagher was born in Liverpool, near where the Beatles came from. Ordained in 1977, he did parish work in Liverpool, graduated from the Gregorian University in Canon Law and entered the Vatican diplomatic service in 1984. 

He served in Tanzania, Uruguay, the Philippines and at the Council of Europe. He was ordained archbishop to the titular see of Hodelm (an extinct Scottish diocese) and was appointed Nuncio to Burundi in early-2004 in succession to the murdered Irish Nuncio, Archbishop Michael Courtney who had worked for peace during the vicious civil war in Burundi. Gallagher later served as Nuncio in Guatemala and was appointed to Canberra in April 2013. He also worked for several years in the Secretariat of State, so gaining experience in the affairs of the curia.

He has been popular in Australia because he has kept in touch with pastoral life. For example he volunteered to help out in the far-flung western NSW of Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes during his first Easter in Australia. He’s also been willing to talk to Catholics from across the ecclesiastical spectrum. This puts him very much in line with Francis’ emphasis on the need for church administrators to keep in touch with real world ministry.

While Gallagher’s appointment to Rome will be a real loss for the Australian church, it does mean that there will be someone in an influential position who knows Australia well. He might even be able to influence the appointment of new Australian bishops. That would be a good thing!

Paul Collins headshot

Paul Collins was in Rome for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October 2014.

Pictured: Archbishop Gallagher with ABC religious broadcaster Noel Debien.

Topic tags: Paul Collins, Raymond Burke, Paul Gallagher, Vatican, Catholic Church, Pope Francis



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Existing comments

If I understand him at all, Cardinal Burke does acknowledge a "hierarchy of truths". He would agree, I'm sure, that the doctrine of Original Sin is more "important" that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, if we mean by that just that the former is logically and theologically prior to the latter. But of course Cardinal Burke and all authentic Catholics would reject the notion that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is in any way less certain, more dispensable, than the doctrine of Original Sin. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a solemnly defined dogma and to deliberately reject it places oneself outside the Church, the Ark of salvation. The notion that some defined Catholic "truths" are more able to be dispensed with than others with is a liberal fantasy concocted in recent decades. It has no authority either in history or theology. No matter how humble his new role is in the Church on earth, Cardinal Burke is on solid ground. When I met him recently, he knew what was coming. Fully cognizant of the significance of what is a humiliating demotion (in worldly eyes) as Paul Collins rightly notes, he was as serene as ever. Who knows: perhaps His Eminence views all things sub specie aeternitatis?

HH | 09 November 2014  

Mr Collins, history suggests exile can be a ticket to promotion both Saint John XX111 and Blessed Paul vi were 'exiled' [thus 'demotion before promotion].Be that as it may-with a new pope soon, Burke joins Pell and CDF Müller as front-runner papabili ["Onboard the Papal plane: The Pope has publicly broached the prospect of his own death for the first time, giving himself "two or three years", but not ruling out retirement before then"[SMH: April 12/2014] Then the return of the cappa magna!!

Father John George | 10 November 2014  

What happened to the Gospel truths that we should all love each other and not downgrade any of God's creation?

Name | 10 November 2014  

I think Micael Shermer's interview of the pope was very good. http://tinyurl.com/q2yhcs4

John Duffin | 10 November 2014  

Thank you, Paul, once again another insightful and informative article. Good to see someone from the English Catholic heartland of the North, with down-to-earth people skills, who knows Australia well, going to such an important post. Given the agony Australian Catholics and the Church have gone through with the degrading, debilitating and destructive paedophilia scandals - often made more painful due to the ostrich-like and inept conduct of our generally lacklustre episcopate - any wise and informed counsel on their future selection in Rome is to be heartily welcomed.

Edward Fido | 10 November 2014  

I thought this article was about the appointment of Archbishop Paul Gallagher rather than the extensive description of Cardinal Burke an all his 'mea culpas' that anyone who likes accusing him of being overly conservative love to point out!

Andrew | 10 November 2014  

Thank you for this encouraging article. At the ground level, Catholic families like mine will be very pleased to read of this appointment. In responding to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit change is clearly called for by the highest authority, Pope Francis. Humility and Hubris stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. If the Pope sees fit to use his informed judgement to open a window of opportunity for fresh insight and experience we should all be respectful. and welcome the change.

marianne hale | 10 November 2014  

A trusted source on such matters suggests that sadly Archbishop Gallagher has already failed to influence in a positive way Australian Bishop appointments .It seems he disagreed with appointing of a Pell clone to the Sydney position ,but Pell exerted more pressure within the Vatican .God forbid that Father John George is nominating the most despised cleric in the history of our Australian Church ,as a Papal candidate . On second thought maybe a great idea as it would surely accelerate the inevitable demise of the current Church ,so it may resurrect itself to become again a union of true followers of Christ .Father Michael Whelan suggested that as the only outcome ,quite some years , back during a visit to North Qld

john kersh | 10 November 2014  

As papal nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Paul Gallagher listened to the people of the Church. In that regard, his move to the role of Vatican Secretary for Relations with States again shows that this Pope recognises that all leaders, particularly leaders in Christ's Church, should recognise the importance of listening carefully to the people. Decision making in the Church needs to be influenced by the people of God throughout the world, that is, informed by the sensus fidelium. Listening carefully to the people of God did not seem to be one of Cardinal Raymond Burke's strong points.

Peter Johnstone | 10 November 2014  

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, wonderful news about the workings of the Holy Spirit,,,and thanks for the pleas of St Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis and all who long for the joy of the Gospel , Pauline Kennedy

Pauline | 10 November 2014  

HH, whoever he or she might, behind that cloak of anonymity, might well pause to reflect on the logic of his/her hostility to as "hierarchy of truth". Some truths about life and the world ARE more significant than others, just as some "dogmas" and "laws" are more important than others -- otherwise we'd still be abstaining from meat on Fridays (the rule to "send Catholic children to Catholic schools" is in the same category). But it is the implicit implacable confidence that the Church is always right and has always been so which is so troubling in the comments of HH. Much the same triumphalist adherence to mediaeval practice (hardly the years of the Church's moral glory) is to be discerned in Fr George's yearning for the absurdity of the "Cappa magna". Whilst Bishops and Cardinals aspired to be Princes, that was inappropriate and unworthy and any nostalgia for it is both distasteful and harmful for the effort and work of a 21st-century Church.

John CARMODY | 10 November 2014  

Archbishop Gallagher certainly seems to be a man with the "smell of the sheep" about him. Considering the circumstances of Bishop Morris removal, and the apparent inability of the Vatican to understand the effect of the Australian 'tyranny of distance" on access to the sacraments, Bishop Gallagher's offer to help out in Wilcannia-Forbes at Easter must have provided valuable learning for everyone. Nice one, Pope Francis - keep it up!

Joan Seymour | 10 November 2014  

Well put, Paul, but heaven help us if the comments are a reflection of where we are in the church. Citing original sin and the Immaculate Conception as examples of "important" doctrines brings us back 200 years. Do we really need to accept a doctrine that is based on the creation story of bellicose nomads? The gentle indigenous people of this country have much better stories.

Frank | 10 November 2014  

If by questioning, "The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as a solemnly defined dogma and deliberately rejecting it places me outside the Church, the Ark of salvation." as HH says, then Alleluia I am well and truly lost forever. Thanks be to God.

Tom | 10 November 2014  

John Carmody, how does your example of a changeable ecclesiastical LAW refute the notion of "hierarchy of truths" held by Cardinal Burke, myself and the Catechism with respect to defined DOGMAS which every Catholic is bound to believe? Tom, while there's life, there's hope. But just to help you: here is what Pius IX decreed with respect to the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception: "Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church..." And Frank, remember: much as you might wish, you can't logically reject both the doctrines of Original Sin AND the Immaculate Conception. For if you reject the doctrine of Original Sin then you logically must think that EVERYONE is immaculately conceived.

HH | 11 November 2014  

Many 'traditional' Church doctrines are simply interpretations of past events or situations. They were formulated by men who did not have sufficient information or awareness of the limitations of their data or of the limits of the human mind. Despite these limitations, they build a structure that was a great help to former generations. Many assumptions, such as original sin, were in fact not true, but were beneficial in the way a placebo is helpful in many cases. Care is needed in challenging the value of placebos until those who are helped by the 'milk' of placebos can be prepared to receive and benefit from the reception of the spiritual 'meat' of reality. Thus Pope Francis has a precarious and delicate path to follow to bring the Church from the out-dated suppositions of past generations and replace them with more spiritual and relevant clarifications.

Robert Liddy | 11 November 2014  

Well said, Robert Liddy! You have captured the nitty gritty of the need for revision of many long-standing Church teachings derived at a time when knowledge and understanding of the world and human life was sadly lacking. The thing that is amazing to me is that many of the longstanding teachings have indeed been vindicated by the progression and definition of the physical and human sciences. Perhaps this is an indication that the Spirit was indeed guiding the Church through the dark days of ignorance. Sometimes I doubt that the same spirit guides the clamour of the modern renewalists and reformers even though they claim absolute ownership of the understanding of the Spirit. Ignatius of Loyola might caution that not all Spirit is good Spirit.

john frawley | 11 November 2014  

HH should think more clearly and carefully. A "dogma" is not a "truth": it is, indeed (see the OED), in its origins and meaning, an "opinion or belief". It is not unreasonable, therefore, to speak of a scale of dogma. "Truth" is even more slippery. As Francis Bacon observed in the opening sentence of his essay, "On Truth": "'What is truth?' said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer." Thus enduring truth is extraordinarily difficult to define and (self-evidently) not all such "truths" are of equal power or significance. It is "true" that the Melbourne Cup is run on the first Tuesday of November, but that is hardly as important as the fact of the function of DNA, or of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Truths about the intangible -- beauty, love, the "meaning" of life -- are far more difficult. History teaches that, in the face of such questions, too many people resort to dogma, often prescriptive (even punitive and aggressive) dogma in the face of the profundity of those questions and the elusiveness of the answers. So, HH: more humility and less prescriptiveness might be more edifying.

Dr John Carmody | 11 November 2014  

Its disappointing that ES would publish a comment like John Kersh's which prefaces its content with a 'trusted source'.. told me. Is this the "Daily Mail" or "New Idea"!? We all know that a 'trust source' means its MUST be true (*sarcasm*) Honestly, what credibility does that give Mr Kersh's comment. Secondly, describing Bishop Anthony Fisher as a Cardinal Pell 'clone' would be strongly contended by those who know these servants of the Church. Have a listen to the ABC Religious Affairs Editor Scott Stephens - he came to a completely opposite conclusion.

Cath | 11 November 2014  

Is it possible to dismiss original sin as 'not true' in the almost casual manner of Robert Liddy? Of course the Adam and Eve story is a myth - but don't myths evolve as a response to questions that human beings ask about their lived experience? Didn't the story of the Fall post-date human observation that we seem naturally less disposed to choose what is life giving than what is death-dealing? Can we really deny, even today, that this is the case? Surely the term 'original sin' doesn't refer to an historic act by one couple, but to a condition we all seem subject to, and from which we need a Way out? Just asking...

Joan Seymour | 12 November 2014  

Fortunately, Cath, John Kersh is right ... or so another trusted source has told me: Fr Gallagher was, as I hear, very opposed to Bishop Fisher, and lobbied hard to have his promotion reversed. But now we in Australia are rid of Fr Gallagher, so beloved of the liberals, and have Archbishop Fisher in Sydney. Win win, I say!

HH | 12 November 2014  

Cath , I have absolutely no idea what "truths " the Daily Mail or New Idea ,espouse .It would appear you are well versed on their subjects . It would be unthinkable for me to Name my 'trusted source ' but I assure you it is a person of extraordinary intellect, impeccable integrity& boundless compassion ,constantly applied throughout his life's work for benefit of many people .Thus has connection with Church identities of equal calibre .It is disappointing that you care to diminish them to your 'New Idea ' status . Regards John

john kersh | 12 November 2014  

John Carmody, just to clarify: whatever the OED or others may hold about dogma not being a truth, the religion I'm a humble member of says this: "The Church's Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these." CCC 88.

HH | 13 November 2014  

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