August 31, 2018
By David Gardner and Hannah Roberts
Some call it a Catholic civil war, others a culture war. But, clerical decorum very much to one side, war it is.
Pope Francis, the Argentine prelate whose ascent to the chair of St Peter five years ago has given new life to the Roman Catholic Church, is facing a bitter backlash against his progressive papacy — amid a humbling crisis he has struggled to resolve over the sexual abuse of children by predator priests.
Conservatives have regrouped to fight Pope Francis’s relaxation of old doctrinal anathemas, which he sees as vital to the spiritual renewal of a two-millennia-old institution serving a notional 1.2bn Catholics around the world. Shortly after taking over from Pope Benedict XVI — who took the almost unheard of step of resigning in circumstances the Vatican has never explained — he said the Church had to find “a new balance” or it would collapse “like a house of cards”.
But now traditionalists are trying to stymie Francis’s reforms — and seek to weaponise outrage over clerical cover-ups of the rape of children to bring the pope down. As Francis’s supporters rally to defend him, the Church is being bespattered with scandal.
This new descent into the mud began last Sunday. Francis had just ended a 36-hour visit to Ireland, overshadowed by years of revelations of clerical sexual abuse the Vatican covered up and has failed to redress. The pope met with abuse victims and repeatedly expressed shame and contrition — to a shrunken turnout of the faithful that was a shadow of the vast crowds that greeted Pope John Paul II in 1979. A bombshell greeted Francis on his way home.
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