Robert Mickens. Letter from Rome.

As I was saying last time, before I was interrupted, Pope Francis is facing resistance to the fresh air and change of ethos he’s trying to bring about inside the Church. And those with eyes to see can detect this opposition especially among the current crop 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 an interview some months ago, he pointed out that many regular folks all over the world were still enjoying a “honeymoon” with Papa Francesco. 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 77-year-old Jesuit Pope is trying to inculcate in the Church, especially his effort to wipe out clericalism, resistance to him has grown. However, it is not fashionable or favourable (especially to one’s career) for clerics to go around bashing the Bishop of Rome. So they have to find another target.

This is exactly what happened during Benedict XVI’s pontificate when the former pope’s enemies chose his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, as their surrogate punching bag.

Those hostile to Pope Francis and how he’s governing the Vatican and the Universal Church have affixed the bull’s eye on the backs of any number of people close to him. For example, in the first weeks of his papal ministry they tried to dig up dirt on some of Papa Bergoglio’s closest aides, only to see their poisonous arrows deflected by a shrewd and self-composed man who will 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 certain defenders of Church orthodoxy, was that he dared to offer possible ways of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. He did this last February in a major address to all the cardinals. The Pope asked him to.

But negative reaction to Kasper’s proposals (later published as a book) was swift and it continues. Up to 10 cardinals with conservative leanings have publically denounced his views; five of them piled together criticisms in their own book. More bishops will probably start openly espousing one of the two sides over the next two years as the Synod of Bishops deals with issues regarding the family.

Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, a former official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has so far offered the most significant support of the Kasper position. In a 22-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 doctrinal developments. Like the cardinal, he has infuriated the self-styled guardians of Truth who loudly proclaim that Pope Francis does not support the Kasper-Bonny proposals, but who, privately, are not quite sure.

Among them is group of 48 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.

Can we assume that all the signatories are paradigms of the marriage model they want the Church to insist upon for others and not like the unmerciful servant in the Gospel (Mt 18, 21-35)? ?


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. Even more often he does it immediately. So what is going on with the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS)?

Spanish Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, soon to be 69, headed the office since late 2008. But on August 28 Pope Francis named him Archbishop of Valencia. That was almost five weeks ago. And still there is no word on who will take over at Divine Worship.

During nearly six years in that office Cardinal Cañizares helped to forward Benedict XVI’s liturgical preferences and style. Those sympathetic to his efforts claimed his appointment to Valencia was part of Francis’ purge of the former pope’s curia. But that’s not quite correct. 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, Papa Francesco sent him to Valencia, Cañizares’ fourth diocese and the one for which 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 Divine Worship. It seems a strange logic, but 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 from varying liturgical leanings holding their breath.

This article is a taste of what Robert Mickens will be writing from ‘Global Pulse’.  He has been a regular commentator on the Vatican. 


Robert Mickens, LCI Editor in Chief, has lived, studied and worked in Rome for 30 years. Over that time he has studied at the Gregorian University, worked at Vatican Radio and been the Rome correspondent for the London Tablet. He regularly comments on CNN, the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. His famous Letter From Rome, brings his unparalleled experience as senior Vatican correspondent for the London Tablet and founding editor of Global Pulse Magazine.

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1 Response to Robert Mickens. Letter from Rome.

  1. Avatar Edward Fido says:

    Pope Francis is a realist. His opponents, mostly hidden and underhand, as you say, are metaphorically still living at the “glorious moment” when the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility was promulgated. That was their glorious sunlight afternoon, as the 1930s were for “extreme” Anglo-Catholics. Like extreme Anglo-Catholics or Sydney Evangelicals in Anglicanism, these extreme Catholics don’t get what the main game is. Some/many/possibly most of them believe that the Second Vatican Council was the work of the Devil. A friend here in Brisbane told me her young former parish priest up here was on record as saying he did not believe in Vatican 2. She and her husband resigned from the congregation in disgust. They reported the priest to the Archbishop. I am unsure what, if any, disciplinary action was taken. It is a worry so many young clergy in this country seem like that. We also have our conservative, unqualified, amateur theological would-bes, like Angela Shanahan or Gerard Henderson “explaining” the Pope’s statements and attacking any semblance of “heresy” or deviance from the hard line they love so well. What next? Will there be a move to bring back the Inquisition? Will little old ladies who’ve lost their wits be burnt for witchcraft?

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