VATICAN. Vatican conservatives are waging a “secret plan” to put Pope Francis under such stress that he resigns, it has been claimed.
The campaign against the Argentinian pontiff began just days after the death of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
Despite previously stating he will resign if his health deteriorates, it was thought highly unlikely that Francis would decide to step down while Benedict was still alive to avoid there being three Popes living in the Vatican – a situation without precedent that would have embarrassed the Catholic Church.
But with Benedict’s death on December 31, resignation is now a real prospect. That has opened the way for conservatives, who oppose his stance on issues ranging from homosexuality, abortion, communion for remarried divorcees and celibacy for priests, to start moving against him.
They have long seen him as being too critical of capitalism and too liberal on illegal immigration, with some going so far as to deride him as a “communist”.
“The secret plan will be formulated on various axes and phases, but it will have one objective – to place the pontificate under such stress that Francis will have to resign,” an Italian cardinal told La Stampa newspaper on Sunday.
The campaign would depend on “the progressive weakening of the Holy Father as well as his doctrinal choices, which will create a great deal of discontent which can be used against him.
“The opponents of Francis know that right now they are in a minority, that they will need time both to win consensus and to weaken Bergoglio,” said the cardinal, referring to Francis’s name before he became pontiff a decade ago.
Some in the Vatican have even gone so far as to deride Pope Francis as a ‘Communist’ CREDIT: Vatican Media
Some of his enemies will operate “in the shadows’, while others will be more open in their criticism, the cardinal said.
Among the latter was Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who for 19 years was personal secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Nicknamed “the George Clooney of the Holy See” for his good looks, he has in recent days been highly critical of Pope Francis.
In an interview with a German newspaper, he said that Francis’s decision to crack down on the use of the traditional Latin mass had “broken the heart” of Pope Benedict.
“It hit him pretty hard,” he told Die Tagespost, describing the Latin mass as “a spiritual treasure”.
And in a soon-to-be-published book, titled Nothing But the Truth, Archbishop Gänswein, 66, described how he was left “shocked and speechless” after Pope Francis demoted him from the position of Prefect of the Papal Household in 2020.
He said he was never able to reach “a climate of trust” with Francis.
Other prominent conservative critics of the Pope include Raymond Burke, an American cardinal, and Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a German cardinal and friend of Pope Emeritus Benedict.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is also said to be among Francis’s critics and recently told an Italian newspaper that the prospect of the Pope resigning was now “more feasible” after the death of Benedict.
Pope Benedict surprised the world when he announced his resignation in 2013, informing, in Latin, a hall full of cardinals of his decision.
There are many in the Catholic Church who “dream of hearing those words again, but this time in (Pope Francis’) unmistakable Spanish (Argentinian) accent,” Gianluigi Nuzzi, a prominent Vatican commentator, wrote in La Stampa.
Even allies of Pope Francis admit there is a schism, if not a deep rift between conservatives and progressives at the highest levels of the Catholic Church.
“There are tensions, as there have always been in the history of the Church. It is not a monolithic block,” said Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, a Vatican department.
But others insisted there was little prospect in the short-term of Pope Francis throwing in the towel.
“He will resign if he is no longer able to deal with the challenges of his pontificate, but for now he keeps going,” said Walter Kasper, a German cardinal.
“For the moment he is not ready to step down. It is obvious that there is a clash between progressives and conservatives, but we need to keep up the dialogue between different points of view.”
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