Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

Pope Francis and ‘the Great Division’: the Catholic civil war draws closer

In the magazine a couple of weeks ago I asked if we were in the early stages of a Catholic civil war fuelled by confusion over Pope Francis’s apparent willingness to soften the Church’s pastoral approach to divorcees and gay people. Hostilities began during the disastrous Synod of the Family, at which liberal officials gave a press conference implying that the Church was about to admit remarried divorcees to Holy Communion and celebrate the positive aspects of gay unions.

The synod fathers, furious at this hijacking of the proceedings, voted down every liberal proposal – leaving the Pope looking foolish. He has since sacked Cardinal Raymond Burke, the most truculent of the conservatives, from his post as prefect of the Vatican’s supreme court. To say that Burke’s allies are offended is an understatement.

Among the more extreme traditionalists (the label for conservatives attached to the old Latin liturgy) Francis has now become ‘the enemy’. They recognise that he is technically Pope, but their true allegiance is to Benedict XVI. The Pope Emeritus is frail but mentally alert – and worried. He doesn’t regard his successor as any sort of enemy, but he’s not happy. Recently he mounted a defence of the Tridentine Mass that was more outspoken than anything he said as Pope. It appeared to contain a coded tribute to Burke.

Now the ultra-traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli has published a translation of an interview with Sandro Magister, a veteran Vaticanologist. In it, he talks about Francis with condescension verging on contempt.

Some of Magister’s comments can be ignored. They misrepresent the Pope’s statements and accuse him of sidelining Christianity – a ludicrous charge, given Francis’s daily invocation of the words of Jesus to attack corrupt and lazy Christians who pay lip service to the Gospel.

Yet we can’t dismiss the interview as a traditionalist rant. Magister is a genuine specialist. He is Vatican correspondent of L’espresso magazine and has racked up countless exclusives over 40 years.

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