Influential cardinals increasingly open in their opposition to Pope Francis over issues including divorce, remarriage, contraception and same-sex relations.

Pope Francis
While ruling out women’s ordination, Pope Francis has been quietly insisting on the appointment of more women to positions of influence within the Vatican. Photograph: Daniel Dal Zennaro/AFP/Getty Images

A battle is raging for the soul of the Catholic church, with influential cardinals increasingly open in their opposition to Pope Francis over issues including divorce, remarriage, contraception and same-sex relations.

Disagreement over these issues is likely to come to a head over the next few days, with the bishops gathering in Rome for an extraordinary synod on the family, called by the pope. Unusually, the Vatican sent out a questionnaire ahead of the synod seeking the views of Catholics around the world on family, marriage and sexuality. The hierarchy has been reluctant to publish the responses, but it is clear from their commentaries that many Catholics do not follow the church’s teachings.

Sometimes the teachings are rejected or ignored – such as the prohibition of artificial birth control and pre-marital sex – but sometimes people want a more compassionate and constructive approach to those who respect the teachings but have failed to live up to them, for example in the case of divorced and remarried Catholics. The central message of the Christian faith is, after all, not that of moral perfection but of forgiveness, mercy and redemption.

For those who take for granted the values of progressive liberalism, the Catholic church seems like a creakingly anachronistic institution. As a feminist I am treated with incredulity by those who cannot understand why I remain within the church, particularly when I am repeatedly censored because I speak out on issues such as same-sex marriage and women’s ordination.

I came to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in August 2012, when – along with 26 other Catholic theologians, priests and public figures – I signed a letter to the Times, saying Catholics could in good conscience support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples. Formerly known as the Inquisition, the CDF is a shadowy group of senior bishops and cardinals charged with the promotion and defence of Catholic doctrine. In my case, their intervention has resulted in the cancellation of several public appearances, including a short visiting fellowship to the University of San Diego in 2012, and most recently a talk for the Newman Association in Edinburgh. The association received a letter from Archbishop Leo Cushley, saying he was acting on the instructions of the CDF and that I was not allowed to speak in any church in his diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

This climate of theological censorship developed during the papacy of John Paul II, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) was the CDF’s hardline president. Benedict appointed the equally authoritarian Archbishop (now Cardinal) Gerhard Müller to that post. Many were surprised when Pope Francis renewed Müller’s appointment, because his heavy-handed approach seemed at odds with Francis’s more open ethos.

Francis has described the church’s preoccupation with contraception, abortion and homosexuality as “obsessive”. It is, he says, a distraction from the church’s primary vocation to live the dynamic joy and freedom of the gospel in a way that makes it attractive to others. If the Catholic church has in recent decades appeared to function as a global police force primarily concerned with controlling people’s sex lives, Francis wants it to instead become a church of the ordinary people, and a champion of the poor and the marginalised over and against the tyranny of the modern economic system.

He has kickstarted the process of reform that followed the second Vatican council (1962–65), which stalled during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict. While ruling out women’s ordination, he has been quietly insisting on the appointment of more women to positions of influence in the Vatican. For example, the number of women on the International Theological Commission, which acts as theological advisor to the Magisterium, has just been increased from two to five.

Whatever happens in Rome over the next week or so might be decisive for any future direction: the church of Francis or the church of Benedict? The power struggles being played out suggest these two factions might be heading for a messy divorce.

So, why would a feminist stay in such a male-dominated institution where progressive liberalism is repeatedly thwarted? Progress is a dubious concept, and our rights and freedoms are daily corroded by the politics of greed, power and wealth. The Catholic church has a rich tradition of social teaching and solidarity with the poor which challenges these neo-liberal corporate values and offers a different way of living. It is a rich and diverse tradition, weaving together a vast multicultural family that defies the growing xenophobia and exclusivity of modern western societies. It offers a perspective from which to evaluate our muddled values and short-term goals against a more enduring and hopeful outlook on what it means to be human.

The church’s intellectual heritage is a complex mixture of theology, philosophy, art and science that enriches the mind, even if its own leaders have tended to be the worst enemies of this tradition – the sex abuse scandal has revealed a malignant darkness at the heart of the hierarchy. Yet all this is just as true of life outside the church. One should expect better of those who claim to be Christian, but in reality we humans are a species with a peculiar proclivity towards violence, shame and corruption.

Christians call it original sin, and I find in the Catholic church a powerful narrative of hope and redemption in the midst of that.

It is surely worth struggling for.


About The Voice Of Bombay's Catholic Laity

Bombay Laity Ezekiel’s Chapter 3 Task as Watchman 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for[b] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.
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8 Responses to Influential cardinals increasingly open in their opposition to Pope Francis over issues including divorce, remarriage, contraception and same-sex relations.

  1. The end is near my people. Prepare yourself.

  2. All I can say about all this new found morality of these old fogey “princes ” of the Church.
    Where was their conscience and sense of right and wrong when for years they have been filling their private coffers/pockets with the Church cash and assets ????
    Where was their MORALITY when they continued for years to sexually assault young boys and girls ????
    Now these same devils in scarlet robes have the temerity to EVEN talk about what the laity should and shouldn’t do !!!!!!
    As I shall maintain till I die that the biggest loophole in the CLERGY system is the horrible system of having diocesan/secular clergy– who are not bound by the vow of poverty — hence amass all this personal LUCRE–
    Has anyone bothered to wonder why only diocesan // secular clergy rise in the hierarchial ranks of authority in the Church ??????
    Let’s face it — it has become an exclusive ” CLUB ” of diocesan/secular crooks–
    Now comes along an ordinary priest from a religious order — and of course he is hated because perhaps he will upset the apple cart of goodies and vice which these scum have enjoyed so far.
    LET US PRAY !!!!!!!!!

    • Peter Prabhu says:

      Very true Fergus, reckon the Knight has made a falsified underrated conveyance agreement of the previous red clock and amassed huge amounts of black money! They wants to lead lives of rich, good food, wine and song!

  3. Dindi Aneco says:

    I think Pope Francis who is from Latin America, a continent influenced by socialist and communist ideologies, has fully understood the message of the son of Joseph and Mary, which is “to become a church of the ordinary people, and a champion of the poor and the marginalised over and against the tyranny of the modern economic system”. Christ who was a Jew by birth, a carpenter by profession, not wealthy and not at all a catholic, only meant to spread the message of “forgiveness, mercy and redemption” and nothing else. Beyond that what is around us is all hocus-pocus and organised gangs, possessed by power, greed and monopoly.

    • Its greed that has made them this way.However let me hasten to say its a small percentage of them that cause 90% of the issues and this was agreed to me by our Dear cardinal, yet he some how cannot stop it.
      What I see fro this, the PP of catholic churches and some bishops don’t bother and care for what he says. He has lost his administrative hold and must relinquish for the betterment of the catholic church and the catholic community.

  4. ralphpaulcoelho says:

    I am familiar with priest and Bishops who are less than clear when asked about divorce, contraception, abortion in particular circumstances. Clearly they would like to make life easier for the troubled person and try to find loopholes instead of examining the original teaching and exiling how it applies.

    We are all familiar with lawyers and tax accountants finding out loop holes or anomalies in rules that enable a person to avoid penalties. Sometimes it is a matter of a comma or word.

    When clergy, or for that matter any baptised adult seeks these “legal” means to get around the Word of God, or looks for “loopholes” they are also well aware that God knows everything and his justice is applied and there is no question of pleading extenuation. One has rather to accept one’s guilt, even if it is not accepted by even the majority, and plead for mercy in life.

    We have the case of Cardinal Kasper who is using an argument of Luther. This people are undeniably raising false hopes and proving a stumbling block to the simple ones and are aware of what Jesus said.

    The mid way report on the Synod is an innovation. It has raised many hackles from being less than clear. The objectors have ignored that it is not the final report and apparently this innovation is from Pope Francis. How mature will be the response of the baptised?

  5. Peter Prabhu says:

    Gordon, I tend to disagree when you say that Cardinal Oswald cannot stop it. He is the boss and when he should see a Yogic Sadhu running a money driven Addiction NGO, a false Knight misleading the laity and Cardinals, sex starved priests with validation, why shouldn’t he be taking action. If he does not, it simply means that he agrees to the Evil teachings that are against Christ.

  6. Peter, yes you are right in your disagreement with me. Yet when we the laity have brought up so many issues on the various subjects cardinal Oswald Gracias cannot take action. As a priest who was posted at the AB house once told me, Dont be silly, Cardinal knows everything think, yet intentionally holds back as if he exposed, he would open up a can of vipers,snakes and worms.
    One must have a strong and straight spine to take action. The fun goes on.

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