Pope Francis has removed a conservative US cardinal from the Congregation for Bishops, a top Vatican committee. Taking Cardinal Raymond Burke's place is a more moderate American from Washington. Burke, who is a firm opponent of abortion and gay marriage, will stay on as prefect of the highest Vatican court, the New York Times reports. But he'll hold less sway in selecting US church leaders. The pope's move, experts say, is part of his push for a more accepting church. But Burke's replacement may be more about consistency at the top than about "specific social issues," the Times notes.
Francis "is saying that you don’t need to be a conservative to become a bishop," says a Catholic researcher. "He wants good bishops, regardless of how conservative or liberal they are." Burke had argued that Catholic politicians shouldn't be allowed communion if they back abortion rights; his replacement, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, feels differently. "That certainly is in line with the pope, who has said that communion is not a reward for being good,” a priest and Vatican expert says. "It is a sacrament of healing to help people." Francis also replaced Cardinal Justin Rigali on the Congregation for Bishops; facing an abuse scandal, Rigali earlier stepped down as archbishop of Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the AP notes that the pontiff celebrated his 77th birthday today—over breakfast with four homeless people and a dog. (Read more Pope Francis stories.)