Is the pope’s crackdown on opponents the beginning of the endgame?

As punishments go, it was harsh. This week, Pope Francis decided to strip one of his most vociferous opponents, the retired cardinal Raymond Burke, of his privileges, including financial benefits and a coveted rent-free Vatican apartment.

“If this is accurate, it is an atrocity that must be opposed,” tweeted Joseph Strickland, a Burke ally, fellow conservative and another leading critic of the pope. Strickland knows what it is like to be on the sharp end of papal displeasure: last month, he was forcibly removed as bishop of Tyler, in Texas, after a Vatican investigation into the governance of his diocese.

Raymond Burke applauding during a news conference in Rome in 2018. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

The pope cancelled his attendance at the UN climate conference in Dubai this week because he is having breathing difficulties caused by acute bronchitis, requiring treatment with antibiotics.

It is the latest in a string of health concerns, including intestinal surgery and a hospital stay with bronchitis earlier this year. Francis, who will be 87 this month, has been pope for more than 10 years, and has hinted he will retire if his health fails.

He is probably keen to secure his legacy against the machinations of those who seek to undermine his reforms and his vision for the global Roman Catholic church.

Burke, an American, is at the forefront of those efforts. He has openly challenged Francis and his reforms, joining other conservatives in issuing “dubia”, or formal questions, seeking clarification on issues such as divorced and remarried Catholics and same-sex unions.

This autumn, Burke publicly accused Francis of pursuing a political agenda. Speaking before an important synod of bishops which will consider, among other issues, a greater role for women in the church and opening up church governance, Burke said: “It’s unfortunately very clear that the invocation of the Holy Spirit by some has the aim of bringing forward an agenda that is more political and human than ecclesial and divine.”

He said it was his duty to speak out: “The sheep depend on the courage of pastors who must protect them from the poison of confusion, error and division.”

At a meeting of Vatican heads of offices last week, Francis said Burke was a source of disunity in the church, and was using his privileges as a retired cardinal against the church, the Associated Press reported.

Other Catholic conservatives have said Francis’s removal of Burke’s salary and apartment was vindictive and misjudged, and would shore up support for Burke.

Opposition to Pope Francis is not new. He has antagonised many at the Vatican with his denunciations of the concentration of power in the hands of the few and the privileges they have accorded themselves. Right from the start of his papacy he said the Catholic church must become “a church of the poor for the poor”, and has espoused issues such as inequality, migration and the climate crisis.

For 10 years, conservatives in the church have sought to undermine Francis, efforts that the pope has mostly borne with equanimity. But now, perhaps as the clock is ticking on his papacy, Francis appears to be more determined to tackle his opponents head on.

Austen Ivereigh, Francis’s biographer, wrote this week: “The question most Catholics have in response to the decision of Pope Francis to remove the Vatican privileges of Cardinal Raymond Burke will not be, ‘why did he do this?’ but ‘what on earth took him so long?’.

“The pope is an astonishingly patient man, and he loves to give people second chances. Anyone who has followed the activities, speeches, and shenanigans of the traditionalist American cardinal this past decade will have been amazed at how Burke has been allowed constantly to undermine the pope’s authority, setting himself against the papacy as a counter-magisterium, and building a lucrative career portraying himself as the true guardian of the tradition.”

When the time comes to choose a new pope, the gathering of cardinals from around the world, known as the conclave, will be highly charged as different factions seek to ensure their man is the frontrunner.

Francis has acted, in this regard, by creating 21 new cardinals in September, meaning almost three-quarters of the 137 cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave have been chosen by him.

For Burke, 75, the loss of his stipend and apartment will fuel his antagonism towards Francis. Although humiliating, Francis’s move will not impair Burke’s popularity in conservative Catholic circles, nor impact his lucrative speaking engagements and book deals. And, most significantly, he still holds his trump card: a vote in the conclave that chooses the next pope.

Title: Is the pope’s crackdown on opponents the beginning of the endgame?
Source: World news: Religion |
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Date: December 1, 2023 at 02:51PM
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