Vast Conservative conspiracy against Pope alleged

Benedict's death has certainly accelerated the aggressiveness

Vatican expert Politi: attacks on Francis will increase

Just after the death of Benedict XVI, more and more conservative bishops voiced their criticism of Pope Francis. Just coincidence - or is there more to it? In the interview, Italian Vatican expert Marco Politi gives his assessment.

Since the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, voices from the College of Bishops have been piling up criticising Pope Francis. Archbishop Georg Gänswein's memoirs, in which he reports on his time with Benedict XVI, contain passages that at least indirectly criticise decisions made by the pontiff. An article by Cardinal George Pell, written shortly before his unexpected death at the beginning of the year, expressed massive reservations about the worldwide synodal process initiated by the Pope. The Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, expressed similar sentiments in an interview. And last week, a volume of interviews with Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller was published in which he criticises Francis' style of ministry in some places. Why are there so many such statements now? The well-known Italian journalist and Vatican expert Marco Politi explains the background in an interview and says: "Until the World Synod, the tone will continue to sharpen".

Question: Especially since the death of Benedict XVI, conservative dignitaries have increasingly criticised Francis in public. What is behind this, Mr Politi?

Politi: The death of Benedict XVI is now an occasion for memoirs and the like. This event has certainly accelerated the aggressiveness. Pope Francis is already quite old, and in the coming years we will see that the pressure on him from conservative circles is getting stronger and stronger. The fact is that an underground civil war has been raging in the Catholic Church for eight years. It started the moment Pope Francis made communion possible for remarried divorcees in "Amoris laetitia". This conflict then went on and on. And now the World Synod is coming up, where everything will come to a head.

Question: But why did Benedict's death accelerate the aggression?

Politi: It has nothing directly to do with Benedict. Relations between Benedict and Francis were always good - until the moment when, after the Amazon Synod, Benedict interfered with a government decision of the Pope with his contribution in the book Cardinal Sarahs: against the possibility of married clergy in Latin Catholicism. But after Benedict's death, the opposition feels the way is clear for new resignations at the head of the Church... Catholics could not have handled three living popes.

Question: Some Vaticanists suspect that his opponents want to wear Francis down so that he resigns soon. How do you see that?

Politi: That is not just a theory of the Vaticanists. Cardinal Kasper has already said that there are forces that want to speed up a new conclave. The Jesuit General Arturo Sosa has also said that a political struggle is raging in the Church and that they want to exert influence on the next conclave. What is interesting is that the president of the US bishops' conference, Timothy B. Broglio, said in an interview after Benedict's death that a resignation by Francis would now also be "more feasible". He then immediately said that this was only speculation and that Francis seemed to want to continue. But the very fact that a high dignitary in the Church says such a thing at all shows a tendency. In the Catholic Church, nuances are always very important.

Question: How likely do you think it is that Francis will resign? He has often said publicly that he has not thought about it so far, but it is a possibility.

Politi: In the first few years, he himself openly spoke of the possibility that his pontificate would be a short one. But his supporters have urged him to continue - and he himself has understood that he must continue. That is why he will hold the helm in his hands until the end. But if it becomes physically impossible for him to continue leading the Church, he is rational enough and would do exactly the same as Benedict. But at the moment he is not thinking of resigning at all.

Question: Why does he have to continue?

Politi: He wants this line, which he represents with the World Synod, to prevail in the Church: that one must rethink how the Church should shape itself, whether it should be a monarchy or a community, what the participation of all in the mission of the Church means, what the mission of the Church is in the 21st century. The World Synod is, so to speak, a mini-concilium. The Pope wants this momentum of discussion and decision-making to be realised.

Question: What does Francis think of all the recent critical publications? Do they affect him?

Politi: Francis has always said that he does not lose sleep, that he remains completely untouched by attacks and aggressiveness. But it is interesting to see on which points these voices stiffen. Cardinal Pell's essay has shown that the conservative side is against the World Synod, where the shape of the Church is to be discussed. These are the points of conflict. This Synod will be an important turning point. It will show the balance of power between conservative and reform-minded church representatives. And we will also see how the "fearful centre", which makes up about 40 percent of the bishops, behaves. That will then, of course, have an influence on the next conclave.

Has the death of Cardinal George Pell created a gap in the conservative opposition to Pope Francis? "Of course, there will no longer automatically be such a strong personality as Pell. But there are many dignitaries in the Church who think the same way," says Marco Politi.

Question: You speak of an "underground civil war" in the Church. Is it now being fought more and more openly?

Politi: Most definitely. With regard to the World Synod, this civil war will be more and more open. It is also a sign that this memorandum by Cardinal Pell has been published for the next conclave. It says that the current pontificate is a disaster. And it also says that the next Pope must adhere very closely to the teachings of the Church. More such attacks are to be expected in the coming period.

Question: Cardinal Pell was always considered a kind of leader of the conservatives because, as an Australian, he was well connected, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. How big is the gap created by his death?

Politi: If you think about the balance of power, it is not only the people who speak out openly who are important, but above all those who remain in the background. Of course, the death of Cardinal Meisner, for example, has left a gap in Germany. Such strong personalities as Meisner are always special. And of course there will no longer automatically be such a strong personality as Pell. But there are many dignitaries in the Church who think the same way. That is why the World Synod is important. There we will see how the document will be written, how it will be voted on and what conflicts there will be in the various paragraphs. That is why it will be interesting in the near future to see what arguments cardinals and bishops will present to the public. It is not necessary to use such aggressive tones as Müller, Pell or even Cardinal Burke. Even remarks about the danger of a "democratisation" of the Church or criticism of the Synodal Way of the Church in Germany are a sign. One has to pay attention to the nuances.

Question: Do you expect a more determined Francis now - or a more cautious one?

Politi: Certainly, Francis feels freed from the shadow of the "other Pope" in some respects. You can see that in the determined way he has now said that homosexuality is not a crime and that in this sense certain bishops should also convert. On the whole, however, Francis will try in the coming years to ensure that the inner-church conflict does not spread. He has tried to ease the way to a women's diaconate, but the first commission on this was totally divided. When there is such a vertical conflict, Francis stops, as was also seen with the Amazon Synod. Therefore, Francis will probably move cautiously and see if he has a majority in the Church for other reforms. For the Pope is no longer an autocratic autocrat who can decide everything. That time has long since passed.


Cathcon: The allegation is incredible from the progressives who organised the Saint Gallen Mafia.

A conspiracy if there ever was one.


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