“The shift may seem like small beer to non-Catholics — and Francis’ suggestions are already the practice among many priests. But the changes have become the touch-paper for conservative dissent, enflaming mutterings of disapproval into open mutiny. The Vatican’s conservative flank is increasingly taking action.”
(Hannah Roberts – Politico) ROME — “They call me a heretic.”
Not the words you’d expect to hear from the head of the Roman Catholic Church. But that’s what Pope Francis told a group of fellow Jesuits in Chile earlier this year, acknowledging the fierce pushback from arch-conservatives in the Vatican.
Celebrated by progressives around the world for his push to update and liberalize aspects of church doctrine, Francis is facing fierce blowback from traditionalists who take issue with his openness to Muslim migrants, his concern for the environment and his softer tone on divorce, cohabitation and homosexuality. Opposition has become so heated that some advisers are warning him to tread carefully to avoid a “schism” in the church.
Father Thomas Weinandy, a former chief of staff for the U.S. bishops’ committee on doctrine, has accused Francis of causing “theological anarchy.” Another group of bishops has warned Francis risks spreading “a plague of divorce.” Last fall, more than 200 scholars and priests signed a letter accusing Francis of spreading heresy. “This was not something I did lightly,” Father John Rice, a parish priest in Shaftesbury in the U.K. said, claiming the pope’s liberal push has caused “much division and disagreement, and sadness and confusion in the church.”
“It’s not merciful to let people continue to sin and say nothing,” Rice said. “If you see a child trying to put his hand in a fire you say stop.”
On becoming Pope, Francis set a new tone by setting up his headquarters in a humble guesthouse for priests rather than the grand apostolic palace — a gesture of humility that carried with it an implied criticism of past excesses. He also did away with the system of automatically giving a cardinal’s hat to bishops in certain posts. Conservatives have been irked by some of his more liberal stances. In 2015, Francis ordered every parish to host two refugee families. And last week, in his most explicit acceptance of homosexuality yet, he told a gay Catholic that God had made him that way and that his sexuality “does not matter.”
The focus of most traditionalist dissent has been Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, an “apostolic exhortation” — a type of papal communication — in which he called for a “merciful” approach to divorcees and opened the door for those living with new partners to take communion with their priest’s permission.