Raymond Burke
Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke leads a Holy Mass in the chapel of the Vatican Governorate to mark the opening of the Judicial Year of the Tribunal of Vatican City at the Vatican, Jan. 11, 2014. Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis Saturday demoted the Vatican’s highest-ranking American cardinal, moving him into a ceremonial position as chaplain of a charity group. Cardinal Raymond Burke, 66, had been a vocal critic of the pope’s leadership style, and conciliatory language toward same-sex couples and divorced Catholics.

Cardinal Burke had already expected a job change, but it’s unusual for someone of his age and rank to be removed from his position without being placed in a similar post, according to Catholic News Service. Until Saturday, he served as head of the Vatican’s highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. In his new position, he will serve as patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a group engaged in charity work with hospitals and services for the elderly. The Vatican did not offer an explanation for Cardinal Burke’s reassignment.

Last year, Pope Francis did not reappoint Burke to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, which had given the cardinal a powerful position to appoint bishops around the world.

Burke had emerged as a prominent conservative voice in the Catholic Church, and opposed proposals to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion. In an interview last week with a Spanish Catholic publication, he said the Catholic Church was “like a ship without a rudder” under Pope Francis’s leadership. He was also an outspoken critic of a church draft document last month that used more conciliatory language on gay people. Previously, he called same-sex relationships “intrinsically disordered” and harmful to children.