As I was saying before I was interrupted: Pope Francis is facing resistance to the changes he’s trying to bring about inside the church. This opposition comes from the ranks of seminarians and younger priests, as well as a number of bishops.
“The resistance is coming from those that don’t want to change,” says professor Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community here in Rome. In a recent interview he pointed out that many regular folks all over the world were still enjoying a “honeymoon” with Pope Francis. And he predicted that it would not wane quickly because it’s “much more substantial” than a mere “media phenomenon.”
Precisely because there is substance to changes the seventy-seven-year-old pope is trying to make, especially in his efforts to root out clericalism, resistance to him has grown. It is not, however, good form for priests or bishops to go around bashing the bishop of Rome. (Nor is it particularly good for one's clerical career.) So they must select another target. That is exactly what happened during Benedict XVI’s pontificate, when the former pope’s enemies chose his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as their surrogate punching bag.
Those hostile to the way Pope Francis is governing the Vatican and the universal church have placed the bull’s eye on the backs of several of his close advisers. For example, in the first weeks of Francis's papacy, some critics tried to dig up dirt on some of the pope's aides. But this shrewd and self-composed pope would not cave in to blackmail.
Cardinal Walter Kasper is the latest and most prominent among those taking a hit for Pope Francis. His sin, in the eyes of some defenders of church orthodoxy, was that he dared to offer ways to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. He made his argument last February in a major address to all the cardinals. The pope asked him to.
The negative reaction to Kasper’s proposals (later published as a book) was swift, and it continues today. Up to ten cardinals with conservative tendencies have publicly denounced Kasper's views; five of them compiled their criticisms in a book. Another, Cardinal Gerdhard Muller is coming out with his own book-length interview criticizing Kasper's proposal. More bishops will probably start openly taking sides as the Synod on the Family takes up family issues over the next two years.
Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, a former official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has so far offered the most significant support for Kasper's position. In a twenty-two-page paper, he argued for carefully drafting a new approach to marriage and family life that would be marked by mercy, respect for individual conscience, and even open to doctrinal development. Like Kasper, he has infuriated the self-styled guardians of truth who claim that Pope Francis does not really support the Kasper-Bonny proposals, even while Kasper says he has the pontiff's support.
Among them is group of forty-eight intellectuals, mostly Catholics known to be aligned with conservative causes, who recently wrote an open letter to the pope and the synod. Included was an appeal to step up opposition to divorce and to reject any proposal that might threaten the indissolubility of marriage. Do all the signatories live out the marriage model they want the church to insist on for others?
It is extremely unusual to have a lengthy vacancy at the top rung of a major Vatican office, especially when it’s a Roman congregation. Normally when the pope accepts the resignation of a prefect or assigns him to another post, he appoints a successor within a matter of days. Usually he does it immediately. That hasn't happened with the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS).
Spanish Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, soon to be sixty-nine, had headed the office since late 2008. But on August 28, Pope Francis named him Archbishop of Valencia. That was almost five weeks ago. He still hasn't been replaced.
During his nearly six years in that office, Cardinal Cañizares helped to advance Benedict XVI’s liturgical preferences. Those sympathetic to his efforts claimed his appointment to Valencia was part of Francis’s purge of the former pope’s men. But that’s not quite right. The cardinal had actually asked Benedict to send him back to Spain. He had hoped to be named Archbishop of Madrid, head of the church in the nation’s capital. Instead, Francis sent him to Valencia, Cañizares’s fourth diocese, where he was ordained a priest in 1970.
What is puzzling is why it has taken so long for Pope Francis to fill the vacancy he left at CDWDS. Perhaps the pope is waiting until Saturday, after the cardinal is officially installed in his new diocese. Or it may be that there is a tug of war in the curia over the appointment. In any case, the delay has people of varying liturgical leanings waiting with bated breath.