ENEMY INSIDE THE GATE: CHRISTOPHER LAMB ASKS HOW POPE FRANCIS IS DEALING WITH HIS ENEMIESPREMIUM
The opposition to the attempts by Pope Francis to reinvigorate the reforms that the Second Vatican Council initiated does not come from outside the Church but from some of those closest to him
Pope Francis will face the toughest test yet over the next 12 months for his vision of a compassionate, pilgrim-like Church, which refuses to take refuge in old certainties but instead takes the Gospel message out into the mess of a deeply divided world.
As he approaches the fourth anniversary of his election, Francis faces stiff resistance to his fragile Vatican reforms from inside the Church’s headquarters, while a group of furious conservatives bang on his door, demanding crisp answers to their accusations that his blurry pronouncements are allowing the faithful to drift into heresy.
The early part of 2017 could well see Francis’ chief critic, Cardinal Raymond Burke, issuing a “formal act of correction” against him for letting local bishops’ conferences issue guidelines that, without changing Church teaching, would make it possible in some cases for remarried divorcees to receive Communion.
What an “act of correction” looks like is anyone’s guess. It would appear to have no basis in canon law. Would it be a Luther-style nailing of theses to the door of St Peter’s? But what Burke and his supporters have succeeded in doing is to make it look to outsiders as if – once again – the Church is squabbling over a less than vital matter.
The conservative opponents are in fact a small minority; the vast majority of Catholics are fully behind Francis’ reform programme. Like most people outside the Church, they see in this Pope’s compassion and concern for the poor and the marginalised the authentic ring of the Gospel, as well as something profoundly authentic and attractive.
This latest news from ‘THE TABLET’, the U.K.’s foremost Roman Catholic newspaper, should not surprise those of us who have been following the trajectory of this modern Pope who has brought a breath of fresh air into the Vatican enclave in Rome.
After the relatively conservative papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which did much to roll back many of the eirenic initiatives of Vatican II – instigated by Pope John XXIII with a limited follow-up by PopePaul VI – the former Argentinian Cardinal, now reigning Supreme Pontiff; Pope Francis seems determined to open up the doors of the Catholic Church to a class of people formerly kept at a distance by the Church. Divorcees, for instance, were not admitted to the rite of Holy Communion because of being party to a divorce.
The pastoral implications of Pope Francis’ proposed measures, which offer reconciliation to many families excluded from the Sacraments of The Church; seem to be at the heart of what many Vatican conservatives – and some of the Princes of the Roman Church in other countries, including U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke – consider to be a case of blatant encouragement of heresy. (This, from a Church which already allows a marriage to be dissolved in circumstances approved by episcopal fiat – on payment of a fee).
Pope Francis is trying to bring the Roman Catholic Church kicking and screaming into the 21st century and this is obviously a cause of great scandal to some of his colleagues in the Roman Curia – especially among those, like Cardinal Burke, who strongly disapprove of the measures being advocated to further the openness of the Church to people formerly considered to be persona non grata because of their particular seeming unsuitability for inclusion in the administration or sacramental ministry of the Church (women are high on this list), or because of their unworthiness to receive the Sacraments by virtue of the breakdown of their marital relationship.
From being considered, in the heady times of Vatican II, a necessary reform of the Roman Catholic Church; The Vatican Council’s forward movement had been slowly but progressively downgraded by successive papal administrations – until the arrival of Pope Francis; whose own disinclination to assume the panoply of papal privilege seemed to shock the College of Cardinals at the Vatican into panic – at the thought that this might affect their own security of tenure in the splendour and comfort of their own places of residence at the Vatican or in the City of Rome.
One can only pray that the reform of Vatican II, which gave the Church a credibility it had long been lacking under the successive mismanagement of its extensive resources, may yet be carried forward under Pope Francis, for whom ecclesiastical openness and integrity are at the forefront of his hopes for the future of his Church. May God protect him from those determined to scuttle the reforms he feels must be made to further the mission of the Church in this modern day and age.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand