After the conservative papacy of his predecessor Benedict XVI, Catholics were unsure what changes, if any, Francis would bring. In the first year and a half of his reign he has changed the way the Vatican Bank is run. Now it seems, he is about to overhaul a number of social dogmas that the Church has held for hundreds of years.
Around 200 bishops are arrived in Rome this weekend for an ‘extraordinary synod’ that begins today to discuss subjects such as marriage, divorce and cohabitation. The discussions beforehand have already caused bitter arguments among senior clergy. The 77-year-old Holy Father seems determined to shake up the Church of 1.2 billion people that he leads. Pope Francis realises that a number of the Church’s strict teachings are at odds with the lives lived by many of the faithful in the developed world.
‘There’s a strong sense in which on this whole question of sexuality, marriage and family, the Church stands out against contemporary mores – and some people don’t like to live in that tension,’ Austen Ivereigh, a Catholic journalist and author of an upcoming book on Pope Francis, called The Great Reformer tells the Financial Times. ‘But what conservative cardinals are saying is that if you concede ground on this, you are conceding to the culture, and that it is a slippery slope.’
Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, a close ally of the Pope, has proposed allowing the divorced and remarried to take Holy Communion, something presently banned in the Church. The Church does not recognise divorces dispensed by civil courts and thus regards people who have remarried as adulterers.
However, conservative Catholic officials are totally opposed to this move believing that it is a threat to the principle of the ‘indissolubility’ of marriage. U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, the current Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and Germany’s Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are all opposed to any change in who can take Communion.
Although there have often been divisions and disagreements within the Vatican, it is unusual for them to be aired so publicly. As yet the Holy Father has not made his final decision on any of these matters and nothing is likely to change until at least 2016 after another meeting of bishops.
Many believe that when a decision is taken Francis will side with the reformers. ‘What Francis wants to see is a church that comes alongside those who have been wounded by marital breakdowns. He wants to see it as a place of healing – not of rigidity and judgment,’ Mr Ivereigh said.