Pope Benedict XVI named Archbishop Raymond Burke to head the Vatican's top canonical court

Vatican, Jun. 27, 2008 - Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, Missouri, has been named by Pope Benedict XVI to head the Vatican's top canonical court.

Archbishop Burke will become the prefect of the supreme tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, a judicial body that is roughly the equivalent of the US Supreme Court. He will replace Cardinal Agostino Vallini, who has been named the Pope's vicar for the Rome diocese.

Archbishop Burke was installed as head of the St. Louis archdiocese in January 2004. His tenure there has been marked by controversy, with the archbishop-- an acknowledged expert on canon law-- meeting resistance and public criticism as he sought to enforce the Church's norms. He announced the excommunication of women who claimed ordination to the priesthood, and of the leaders of a parish that refused to acknowledge his authority. In each case the Vatican confirmed the archbishop's decision.

Archbishop Burke was criticized by other American bishops in 2004, when he announced that he would not administer the Eucharist to a Catholic politician who supported abortion. Although he did not single out any public figure by name, the archbishop's statement clearly applied to Senator John Kerry, the Democratic candidate in that year's presidential election. In this instance, too, Archbishop Burke's stand was upheld by the Vatican.

As head of the Apostolic Signatura, Archbishop Burke will now hold one of the top canonical posts in the universal Church. His new post will also put him near the top of the list of prelates likely to be named cardinals at the next consistory.

A native of Wisconsin, Archbishop Burke was ordained a priest of the La Crosse diocese in 1975, and appointed bishop of the same diocese in 1994, remaining there until his appointment to St. Louis.

The Apostolic Signatura is the final court of appeal for annulments and other juridical matters under the Church's canon law. It also examines administrative matters referred to it by the Congregations of the Roman Curia as well as questions committed to it by the Holy Father.

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