All of this is disastrous for the church’s mission, and by seeming to demote Cardinal Burke Pope Francis has not only given the conservatives a clear leader, but he has made Burke a cause celebre and a kind of martyr. Many conservatives who already see emeritus Pope Benedict as their “real pope” will rally around Cardinal Burke. There is nothing that unites a faction more than the sense of being persecuted, and there is little that rallies those who feel marginalized more than the idea that they are being persecuted by a cabal of shadowy figures behind the scenes who are conspiring against them. If it is a Vatican insider circle all the more tantalizing.
Whether this is what is actually happening or not is beside the point. Whether Cardinal Burke sees himself as a latter day Archbishop Lefevbre or not is beside the point. Whether Pope Francis and a gang of cronies really are secret progressives intent on destroying the Catholic Church from within or not–all this is irrelevant.
Burke’s transfer first from the Congregation of Bishops and now from the Apostolic Signatura will appear to be not only a demotion, but one which is very personal in nature. No one has suggested that he has done either job badly and there is no whiff of scandal or impropriety. Therefore people will conclude, rightly or wrongly, that Pope Francis didn’t like the guy so he fired him. Whether this is true or not, does not matter.
What matters is that this is how many conservative Catholics will perceive what is happening, and it is this perception that will drive their reactions and future events in the Catholic Church.