ADV_POPE_FRANCISx633

The Pope has removed the conservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke from his enormously important position as head of on the Congregation For Bishops:

Cardinal Burke still serves as the prefect of the Vatican’s highest canonical court, but analysts say his removal from the Congregation for Bishops will sharply reduce his influence, especially over personnel changes in American churches.

“The Congregation for Bishops is the most important congregation in the Vatican,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest and the author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.”

“It decides who are going to be the bishops all over the world,” he added. “This is what has the most direct impact on the life of the local church.”

The Pope has chosen Washington, DC, Cardinal Donald Wuerl as Cardinal Burke’s successor. Wuerl is known as a moderate. The Times reports:

In an interview in Washington last week, Cardinal Wuerl suggested that the pope was altering the way the bishops’ congregation functioned. For example, Francis is already surveying a broader range of bishops than those in the congregation, the cardinal said.

“When it comes to future bishops, he is asking a number of sources,” he said.

Asked whether all of the pope’s changes mattered if Cardinal Burke still had such influence in appointing bishops, Cardinal Wuerl smiled.

“Don’t we have to give this pope time?” he said.

Uh, meow.

David Gibson of RNS reports that Francis has also dropped from the Bishops congregation two of Benedict’s more conservative appointments. It is, obviously, the new pope’s right to name Curial figures who are more in line with his own thinking. The point here is to note simply that there is a major, major shift at the Vatican. It’s a new world.

In other news from this beat, The Advocate, the largest gay magazine in America has named Pope Francis its Person Of The Year. Excerpts:

The remaining holdouts for LGBT acceptance in religion, the ones who block progress in the work left to do, will more likely be persuaded by a figure they know. In the same way that President Obama transformed politics with his evolution on LGBT civil rights, a change from the pope could have a lasting effect on religion.

More:

One could imagine how acceptance of LGBT people might fit into the pope’s case for loving every human being and valuing the contribution made by each to society. With less than a year as pope, Francis still must show whether his aspiration ends at not being our enemy. Will he be an agent for fighting our discrimination worldwide?

Time magazine points out the unusual group of eight bishops that Pope Francis has convened to advise him regularly. Among them is Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India, who this month publicly condemned his country’s criminalization of homosexuality. India’s Supreme Court had just issued a shocking ruling that reinstated punishment of up to 10 years in prison for gay sex. “The Catholic Church has never been opposed to the decriminalization of homosexuality, because we have never considered gay people criminals,” he said, according to Asia News. “The Catholic Church is opposed to the legalization of gay marriage, but teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.” Earlier this year, he’d told an LGBT group in India, according to Time, that “to say that those with other sexual orientations are sinners is wrong” and that “we must be sensitive in our homilies and how we speak in public and I will so advise our priests.”

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that an Italian Catholic LGBT group, Kairos of Florence, wrote a letter to the pope in June, asking for “openness and dialogue” and noting that lacking it “always feeds homophobia.” LGBT Catholics had written to previous popes, but Francis is the first to write a reply. Both sides have largely kept the content of their conversation private, except to note with a level of amazement that the pope gave the LGBT group his blessing.

Benedict who? John Paul the what?

American conservative Catholics who defend Pope Francis keep saying that Francis is truly orthodox, despite the fact that the liberal US media love him. Maybe they’re right. But the further we go into this pontificate, the more I wonder if liberals understand something about Pope Francis that conservatives do not. The Advocate‘s editors, for example, probably don’t expect Francis ever to endorse same-sex marriage, or even gay sexuality; if they do expect this, they’re delusional. But they have every reason to hope that Francis will undermine the Church’s formal opposition to same-sex marriage and the broader gay-rights agenda. I think the Advocate made a savvy choice, frankly.