Pope Francis gestures during a meeting on the Vatican on Oct. 25, 2014.
Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty

Pope Francis demotes anti-gay bishop

Updated

The highest-ranking American at the Vatican was demoted this weekend, after weeks of vocally criticizing Pope Francis’ liberal leadership of the Catholic Church. 

In an unprecedented move for the Vatican, Cardinal Raymond Burke was taken off the church’s highest court to become the chaplain of the Knights of Malta, a Vatican charity group, after vocally opposing the church’s recent progressive moves. His new position holds almost no responsibilities.

NOW With Alex Wagner, 11/10/14, 4:58 PM ET

Pope Francis demotes anti-gay cardinal

In a clear message to conservative critics, Pope Francis demoted hardline U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke.
Though out of the ordinary, the decision keeps with Francis’ recent moves to make the church more inclusive, but it also signals that, while the pope may be more liberal, the rest of the church may not be.

In particular, the church has seemingly adopted a more accepting stance toward the gay community. Francis famously said “who am I to judge?” about gay people, and, last month, the church’s annual meeting produced a document asking church leaders to discuss whether they were ready to be more welcoming towards divorced Catholics and gay people.

RELATED: Vatican asks: Can we accept gays?

Burke, 66, did not fit in with the liberal-leaning trend. He was a leader in the conservative movement within the church and has fought against any liberal interpretation of Catholicism, particularly with regards to homosexuality. (“Always and everywhere wrong [and] evil,” he said.) “The pope is not free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith,” Burke told Buzzfeed last month. 

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Francis’ latest decision comes on the heels of a handful of others in which he pushed Catholics to mitigate the effects of climate change and redistribute wealth. 

Pope Francis and Vatican

Pope Francis demotes anti-gay bishop

Updated