ROME—American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who staunch conservatives in the Catholic Church view as something of an anti-Pope Francis, is fighting for his life on a ventilator in a Wisconsin hospital after contracting what he often referred to as the “Wuhan Virus.” The prelate was on a vacation from Rome, where he lives.
The 73-year-old cardinal has shown himself to be a COVID-19 denier, publicly scoffing at Italy’s strict lockdown measures during the height of the pandemic and was even seen strolling around Rome mask-free even when face coverings were mandated outside. He was the subject of a brief Italian news report that showcased Americans defying Italy’s anti-COVID measures, telling the newspaper that closing Catholic churches and social outdistancing was “un-Godly.”
Burke has been one of Pope Francis’ harshest critics, teaming up with Steve Bannon and conservative Italian politician Matteo Salvini to condemn Francis on issues such as immigration and homosexuality. He was also tapped to be the spiritual director of a failed venture by Bannon to develop an alt-right academy in an ancient monastery in the foothills of Rome, which has been curtailed by the Italian government.
Pope Benedict XVI, himself a conservative, tapped Burke to be a cardinal in 2010, but Francis almost immediately demoted him from his high-ranking Vatican position as head of the justice department in 2014. He has since rallied conservatives to question the legitimacy of Francis’ papacy through the publication of dubia, or doubts, about what the pope has preached.
Burke also famously refused to grant Holy Communion to former Secretary of State John Kerry over his stance on abortion rights and actively campaigned against the election of Catholic Joe Biden, warning voters that he is “not a Catholic in good standing.” In a statement on his website ahead of the 2020 election, Burke wrote that voters should stick with Donald Trump because “a Catholic may not support abortion in any shape or form because it is one of the most grievous sins against human life and intrinsically evil, and therefore to in any way support the act is a mortal sin.”
Last May, while speaking at a virtual Rome Life Forum symposium for conservative Catholics, Burke warned that it was “never morally justified to develop a vaccine through the use of cell lines of aborted fetuses,” adding that “the thought of the introduction of such a vaccine into one’s body is rightly abhorrent.” Vaccine mandates have been harshly criticized by American Catholics who have warned parishioners against them.
He also used that platform to push the conspiracy theory that the vaccines provide a potential vector for “a kind of microchip needs to be placed under the skin of every person, so that at any moment he or she can be controlled by the State regarding health and about other matters which we can only imagine.”
The American prelate had recently scoffed at continuing COVID-19 precautions and scorned vaccine mandates in both the U.S. and Europe. It is not known if he was vaccinated before contracting the virus, which would have helped him comply with Italy’s increasingly harsh regulations that require vaccination proof to anyone who wants to dine in a restaurant or go to a movie. Pope Francis has also required Vatican employees to be inoculated and called getting the vaccine an “ethical obligation.”
Burke’s press team tweeted last Wednesday that the cardinal had been admitted to a hospital after several conservative Catholic websites started prayer circles for him. “Cardinal Burke has been admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 and is being assisted by a ventilator,” according the tweet. “Doctors are encouraged by his progress. H.E. faithfully prayed the Rosary for those suffering from the virus. On this Vigil of the Assumption, let us now pray the Rosary for him.”
Neither the Vatican or Burke’s assistant returned requests for comment for this report.