Pope Francis faces a "civil war" within the Church


Appointments, reforms, diplomacy: since the death of Benedict XVI, criticism has redoubled in intensity in the Vatican against the governance of Pope Francis, revealing a climate of "civil war" within a Church in full reflection on its future.

Barely days after the death of the German theologian, on December 31, his private secretary Bishop Georg Gänswein scratched the Argentine pope, affirming that the latter had "broken the heart" of his predecessor by limiting the use of the mass in Latin.

Far from being new, the criticisms issued by the German prelate add to the reproaches against the "Francis method", in particular on the part of the conservative clan of the Curia, the "government" of the Holy See, which criticize an overly lax doctrinal vision and a certain authoritarianism.

In mid-January, on the death of the controversial Australian cardinal George Pell, an Italian journalist revealed that he was the author of an anonymous note directly attacking Jorge Bergoglio.

Pell - a former close adviser to Francis, who had notably contributed to putting order in the finances of the Vatican - describes the pontificate there as "a disaster in many respects" and points the finger at the "heavy failures" of his diplomacy, weakened by the war in Ukraine.

But it was the publication at the end of January of a book by German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which set fire to the powder.

The theologian launches a violent charge against the governance and the style of the Argentinian Jesuit, denouncing the influence of a "coterie" around him and worrying about his "doctrinal confusion".

"Unstoppable Escalation"

In the corridors of the Vatican, the book made people cringe. "When you accept the cardinal's bar, you agree to support the pope. Criticism is done in private, not in public", takes offense at a senior official of the Secretariat of State, who says he is "disappointed".

For the Italian Vaticanist Marco Politi, this book "is a new step in the unstoppable escalation of the Pope's adversaries". "There is a civil war within the Church which will continue until the last day of the pontificate", he explains to AFP.

Questioned on the plane bringing him back from South Sudan on Sunday, Francis regretted that the death of Benedict XVI had been "instrumentalised" by "people without ethics, who act for partisan ends, and not people of the Church" , he scolded.

These internal frictions appear all the more acute as they occur in the midst of the "Synod on Synodality".

With this vast global consultation on the future of the Church, the first phase of the final assembly of which will take place in October in Rome, the pope intends to decentralize the governance of the Church, but he comes up against notable differences between the reformist and conservative fringes.

"Mini Council"

This week, delegations from around forty countries met in Prague to discuss the themes at the heart of these debates (the place of women, the fight against pedocrime, remarried divorcees, marriage of priests, LGBTQ people, etc.).

With this world synod, "which is almost like a mini council, we will see what is the weight of the different currents within the Church", observes Mr. Politi.

According to him, the criticisms of the sovereign pontiff "already serve to create a current of thought capable of influencing the next conclave", and by extension, the future pontificate, he adds.

However, according to many observers, they do not seem to precipitate at this stage a possible departure of the pope, who seems more than ever in control as long as his health allows him to continue his task.

At 86, the head of the Catholic Church, who has always left the door open to a possible resignation, moves in a wheelchair because of his knee pain but remains as popular as ever, like the crowds who cheered in Africa last week.

“My health is not the same as at the start of my pontificate, my knee bothers me but I am moving forward slowly and we will see…”, he said on Sunday. And to add, with irony: "The weed never dies!"

The Editorial Board (with AFP) 

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