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Conservative dissent is brewing inside the Vatican
by Anthony Faiola

VATICAN CITY — On a sunny morning earlier this year, a camera crew entered a well-appointed apartment just outside the 9th-century gates of Vatican City. Pristinely dressed in the black robes and scarlet sash of the princes of the Roman Catholic Church, Wisconsin-born Cardinal Raymond Burke sat in his elaborately upholstered armchair and appeared to issue a warning to Pope Francis.

A staunch conservative and Vatican bureaucrat, Burke had been demoted by the pope a few months earlier, but it did not take the fight out of him. Francis had been backing a more inclusive era, giving space to progressive voices on divorced Catholics as well as gays and lesbians. In front of the camera, Burke said he would “resist” liberal changes — and seemed to caution Francis about the limits of his authority. “One must be very attentive regarding the power of the pope,” Burke told the French news crew.

Papal power, Burke warned, “is not absolute.” He added, “The pope does not have the power to change teaching [or] doctrine.”

Burke’s words belied a growing sense of alarm among strict conservatives, exposing what is fast emerging as a culture war over Francis’s papacy and the powerful hierarchy that governs the Roman Catholic Church.

This month, Francis makes his first trip to the United States at a time when his progressive allies are hailing him as a revolutionary, a man who only last week broadened the power of priests to forgive women who commit what Catholic teachings call the “mortal sin” of abortion during his newly declared “year of mercy” starting in December. On Sunday, he called for “every” Catholic parish in Europe to offer shelter to one refugee family from the thousands of asylum seekers risking all to escape war-torn Syria and other pockets of conflict and poverty.

Yet as he upends church convention, Francis also is grappling with a conservative backlash to the liberal momentum building inside the church. In more than a dozen interviews, including with seven senior church officials, insiders say the change has left the hierarchy more polarized over the direction of the church than at any point since the great papal reformers of the 1960s.

The conservative rebellion is taking on many guises — in public comments, yes, but also in the rising popularity of conservative Catholic Web sites promoting Francis dissenters; books and promotional materials backed by conservative clerics seeking to counter the liberal trend; and leaks to the news media, aimed at Vatican reformers.

In his recent comments, Burke was also merely stating fact. Despite the vast powers of the pope, church doctrine serves as a kind of constitution. And for liberal reformers, the bruising theological pushback by conservatives is complicating efforts to translate the pope’s transformative style into tangible changes.

“At least we aren’t poisoning each other’s chalices anymore,” said the Rev. Timothy Radcliffe, a liberal British priest and Francis ally appointed to an influential Vatican post in May. Radcliffe said he welcomed open debate, even critical dissent within the church. But he professed himself as being “afraid” of “some of what we’re seeing”

Testing newfound freedom
Rather than stake out clear stances, the pope is more subtly, often implicitly, backing liberal church leaders who are pressing for radical change, while dramatically opening the parameters of the debate over how far reforms can go. For instance, during the opening of a meeting of senior bishops last year, Francis told those gathered, “Let no one say, ‘This you cannot say.’ ”

Since then, liberals have tested the boundaries of their new freedom, with one Belgian bishop going as far as calling for the Catholic Church to formally recognize same-sex couples.

Conservatives counter that in the climate of rising liberal thought, they have been thrust unfairly into a position in which “defending the real teachings of the church makes you look like an enemy of the pope,” a senior Vatican official said on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.

“We have a serious issue right now, a very alarming situation where Catholic priests and bishops are saying and doing things that are against what the church teaches, talking about same-sex unions, about Communion for those who are living in adultery,” the official said. “And yet the pope does nothing to silence them. So the inference is that this is what the pope wants.”

The contention within
A measure of the church’s long history of intrigue has spilled into the Francis papacy, particularly as the pope has ordered radical overhauls of murky Vatican finances. Under Francis, the top leadership of the Vatican Bank was ousted, as was the all-Italian board of its financial watchdog agency.

One method of pushback has been to give damaging leaks to the Italian news media. Vatican officials are now convinced that the biggest leak to date — of the papal encyclical on the environment in June — was driven by greed (it was sold to the media) rather than vengeance. But other disclosures have targeted key figures in the papal cleanup — including the conservative chosen to lead the pope’s financial reforms, the Australian Cardinal George Pell, who in March was the subject of a leak about his allegedly lavish personal tastes.

More often, dissent unfolds on ideological grounds. Criticism of a sitting pope is hardly unusual — liberal bishops on occasion challenged Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI. But in an institution cloaked in traditional fealty to the pope, what shocks many is just how public the criticism of Francis has become.

In an open letter to his diocese, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., wrote: “In trying to accommodate the needs of the age, as Pope Francis suggests, the Church risks the danger of losing its courageous, countercultural, prophetic voice, one that the world needs to hear.” For his part, Burke, the cardinal from Wisconsin, has called the church under Francis “a ship without a rudder.”

Even Pell appeared to undermine him on theological grounds. Commenting on the pope’s call for dramatic action on climate change, Pell told the Financial Times in July, “The church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters.”

In conservative circles, the word “confusion” also has become a euphemism for censuring the papacy without mentioning the pope. In one instance, 500 Catholic priests in Britain drafted an open letter this year that cited “much confusion” in “Catholic moral teaching” following the bishops’ conference on the family last year in which Francis threw open the floodgates of debate, resulting in proposed language offering a new stance for divorced or gay Catholics.

That language ultimately was watered down in a vote that showed the still-ample power of conservatives. It set up another showdown for next month, when senior church leaders will meet in a follow-up conference that observers predict will turn into another theological slugfest. The pope himself will have the final word on any changes next year.

Conservatives have launched a campaign against a possible policy change that would grant divorced and remarried Catholics the right to take Communion at Mass. Last year, five senior leaders, including Burke and the conservative Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy, drafted what has become known as “the manifesto” against such a change. In July, a DVD distributed to hundreds of dioceses in Europe and Australia, and backed by conservative Catholic clergy members, made the same point. In it, Burke, who has made similar arguments at Catholic conferences, issued dire warnings of a world in which traditional teachings are ignored.

But this is still the Catholic Church, where hierarchical respect is as much tradition as anything else. Rather than targeting the pope, conservative bishops and cardinals more often take aim at their liberal peers. They include the German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has suggested that he has become a substitute target for clergy members who are not brave enough to criticize the pope directly.

Yet conservatives counter that liberals are overstepping their bounds, putting their own spin on the pronouncements of a pope who has been more ambiguous than Kasper and his allies are willing to admit.

“I was born a papist, I have lived as a papist, and I will die a papist,” Caffarra said. “The pope has never said that divorced and remarried Catholics should be able to take Holy Communion, and yet, his words are being twisted to give them false meaning.”

Some of the pope’s allies insist that debate is precisely what Francis wants.

“I think that people are speaking their mind because they feel very strongly and passionately in their position, and I don’t think the Holy Father sees it as a personal attack on him,” said Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, considered a close ally of the pope. “The Holy Father has opened the possibility for these matters to be discussed openly; he has not predetermined where this is going.”

Schism Brewing between Pope Francis and Cardinals
by Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online

Catholics are concerned that a conservative coup is brewing in the Vatican, brought about by Pope Francis' liberal theology. Popular media has made much of comments by Cardinal Burke and others, suggesting that some high-ranking Vatican clerics are opposed to Pope Francis and his teaching.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Working in Catholic media, one of the most frustrating things is reading secular coverage on quintessentially Catholic matters. While every subject is a Catholic subject, for Catholic is a universal worldview that encompasses literally everything, it's annoying to see outsiders attempt to co-opt Catholic teaching to promote secular agendas.

The latest claim that a coup is brewing in the hierarchy of the Church is an example of muckraking. Several media outlets have run with comments from Cardinal Raymond Burke that he would "resist" liberal changes in the Church and that "One must be very attentive regarding the power of the pope." The comments were given to a French news team a few months ago.

The pope's power, Burke explained, "is not absolute. The pope does not have the power to change teaching [or] doctrine."

Burke is of course, correct. And Burke might have an axe to grind since he was allegedly demoted by Pope Francis from the Vatican's highest court. For the record, Pope Francis denied that he demoted Burke, saying instead that he needed him elsewhere.

The much-trumpeted rivalry between Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke is almost certainly contrived by the media. The two men can have differences of opinion, as any two parish priests might have, and they can have preferences and grievances even. These realities aren't unique to the Church, they exist in every job and in every household. And just as every disagreement in a house doesn't end in divorce, every grievance in the Vatican does not a schism make.

But a reading of pop media would give one the impression that a coup is brewing, and the only thing missing are the AK-47s.

The problem isn't between Francis and Burke, it's between the secular media and their audience. Media likes to impose secular labels on the Church. Pope Francis, whom we would all agree is very Christ-like, has the "liberal" label slapped on his every comment. Since when was Jesus liberal? The Son of God never registered to vote.

And Burke isn't "conservative" either. Catholics aren't registered into the American Republican party at birth. Some staunch conservatives might even object to some of Burke's very Catholic positions on the issues.

The Church's affiliation is God. Pope Francis' call to be inclusive and to share gifts and wealth with the poor and disenfranchised isn't socialism. Not that socialism is bad either, for not all socialism is communism. People who think socialism is some kind of evil force don't understand socialism, they should think about that when they cash their social security checks. So when Pope Francis calls for the wealthy to care for the poor, he isn't a closet communist, he's simply reminding us of what's said in the Gospels.

When Pope Francis asks us to love our neighbors, he isn't condoning homosexual activity or proclaiming divorce to be acceptable, or even saying that all atheists go to heaven. Instead, he's reminding us that the commandment "love thy neighbor" doesn't have any exceptions.

Likewise, when Cardinal Burke fields questions about how the Papacy works, he isn't plotting a coup, he is just answering questions, even if he may have a grievance against Pope Francis. What's happening is Cardinal Burke provides the answers and the media provides the schism.

The point is, the world needs to spend more time listening and less time speculating. The Church is doing just fine and so are Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke.

Holy Lobbying: Climate, Abortion in Spotlight for Pope's Visit
by Kate Ackley - Roll Call Staff

K Street advocates will seek divine policy intervention when Pope Francis arrives on Capitol Hill.

Climate and labor activists, foes and supporters of abortion rights and lobbying groups from across the political and policy spectrum are planning public demonstrations and private meetings with lawmakers tied to the Catholic leader's visit in two weeks.

In short, the pontiff’s first-ever visit to the United States is turning into a major opportunity for the influence set. No matter the steep legislative odds that lobbyists and activists might face, they say the pope has the potential power to catapult their priorities to the top of the agenda in Washington and around the world.

“He’s going to be talking about things at a transcendent level, and he won’t be endorsing a particular piece of legislation,” said Steve Schneck, who heads the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. “That said, he’s already having an impact politically, and I think it’s just going to become more profound as we get closer to his arrival and the aftermath.”

The pope’s letter, or encyclical, calling for worldwide action on climate change, has infused an otherwise wonky, scientific debate with moral and spiritual language. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the encyclical in June when it was released.

"We do not have the right, he said, to trample God’s creation," she said, referring to the pontiff's letter. "We really must listen to His Holiness as we go forward.”

Key Issues
The pope is also likely to speak about immigration, human trafficking and caring for the poor during his U.S. trip, Schneck said.

“He provides a kind of frame to view these issues that doesn’t fit our American politics very well but will result in a quickening of our attention to these issues,” Schneck said.

Advocacy groups will work to tailor the issues to their agendas.

Anti-abortion-rights advocates are planning demonstrations in Washington, where they will highlight their concerns over videos released this summer by abortion opponents showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the use of fetal tissue for research. Such groups also are pressing the Senate to bring up during the pope's trip a bill (S 1553) to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks gestation. The House passed its version of the bill (HR 36) this spring.

The social justice group Nuns on the Bus will embark on a tour through several states, including Missouri and Ohio, before parking in the nation's capital on Sept. 22, the same day Francis arrives. The AFL-CIO’s chief Richard Trumka, as well as aides to Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and President Barack Obama, will take part in briefings later this week at Georgetown University to spotlight policy issues relevant to the pope's visit.

Some of the biggest events will be tied to climate change. Activists are planning an inter-faith vigil on the night of Sept. 23 on the National Mall. Then, on Sept. 24, when Francis is on the Hill, numerous organizations are holding a demonstration also on the Mall dubbed a Moral Action for Climate Justice. They're planning a lobby day on Sept. 25.
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