There is a big struggle in the Catholic church, when it comes to power and who exercises it.
Pope Francis has shaken things up, and has some of the bishops and cardinals powerfully unnerved. The bureaucrats of the Vatican, known as the Curia, are unhappy with this pope.
In matters of faith and morals, Francis is mostly winning so far.
Francis is comfortable with “speaking truth to power external”: demanding the governments to pay attention to refugees and asylum seekers, growing economic inequality and climate change.
Francesco is also at ease with a less-than-certain church, in particular when it comes to matters of human relationships and of moral prescriptions. Unlike its predecessor, the current pope is insistent that issues such as birth control, divorce and remarry, are not black and white issues.
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At the beginning of this year, Francis released a document Of ” Laetitia, (Love in Family), in which the pope has invited the Catholic priests to confront the reality that human lives are messy and complex. He asserted that the complicated moral questions that arise in human relations should be resolved not by hard and fast rules, but rather by making conscientious decisions in the sight of God.
As Francis put it, there is the church to form consciences, not replace them.
This approach is not sitting well with some. The four cardinals, which he has recently sent to Pope Francis a letter asking for yes or no answers to five questions they left unanswered Amoris Laetitia.
It is unlikely that Francis will give them the certainty they want. He wants them to get used to the uncertainty, and to discern the right approach in these modern times.
However, there is one area where Francis is giving to the cardinals and to the Curia: the order.
The order is equal to power within the Catholic church. Only the priest can contribute to the theology, the form, the magisterium of the church and set the rules of the church. Only the priest can control the money and the property. Only the priest can respond to issues such as the sexual abuse crisis. Only the priest can choose the new bishops and cardinals. Only the priest can administer the sacraments. Only the priest can vote for the next pope.
On order, the Curia are pulling on the pope’s puppet strings.
Case in point: gay priests.
Only a few years ago, during a “free-wheeling” conversation with journalists on return flight from Brazil, Pope Francis was asked about gay clergy. Here was his response:
There is so much written of the gay lobby. I have not met anyone in the Vatican, but that is “gay” written on their identity cards. There is a distinction between being gay, being this way inclined and lobbying. The lobbies are not good. If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them? The Catholic Church teaches that gay people should not be discriminated against; they should be made to feel welcome.
That was the 2013. Last week the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, which last week released a document titled The Gift of Priestly Formation:
The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary and holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ These people, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
It seems that the Curia has decided that gay priests are required to be judged, after all.
In fact, the ban for homosexuals to receive the order cited as the first appearance in 2005. The fact that this paragraph has reappeared, word for word, in 2016, seems to indicate that the Curia felt it necessary to clarify that the words of the pope – “who am I to judge” – in any way replace or modify the formal teaching of the church, when it comes to homosexual priests.
This new document, the last week, follows last month’s statement by Francis that women will never be ordained as Catholic priests.
Francis’s pronouncement on women’s ordination did not come out from nothing. It was a sop to the Curia, and those bishops and cardinals who, alarmed by the pope’s promise of the beginning of the year to examine the question of whether women can be ordained as deacons.
Many believe that if women were granted ordination as Catholic deacons, the ordination of priests, would inevitably follow.
The Curia has for many years hoped that the pope would declare the prohibition of the ordination of women as infallibly the highest and most solemn form of the teaching of the church, and the most difficult to overturn. Pope John Paul II came very close to doing so in 1995, and Francis, the declaration of this year, while not infallibly released, it clear there would be no room in his papacy to move towards the ordination of women.
Francis is usual to say that “God is not afraid of new things.” But when it comes to ordination, Francis seems to be afraid of the Curia, and the Curia, to his time it seems that he’s afraid of women priests, married priests and gay priests.
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This is the fatal flaw of Francis approach: not talking about the truth of the internal power supply, and refusing to contemplate how the contract can be extended, Francis is to limit his legacy.
Unless Francis expands and changes who makes the decisions and how decisions are made in the Catholic church, its papacy, with the risk of changing nothing in the long run.
All his emphasis on the poor, the dispossessed and the climate will be only the accent. All of his comments to address the uncertainty and complexity of modern life will be the only comment.
Francis said, he imagined that his pontificate will be short, perhaps only four or five years.
Once Francis leaves the papacy, which will have the power? That will make the black-and-white rules? The male priesthood, the traditionalists, the cardinals and the Curia, it is not the most enervated, and back in charge.