23 February 2017, The Tablet

Restoring the ancient tradition


There is an exceptional level of turbulence in the Roman Catholic Church, and it arises from resistance to Pope Francis’ leadership. His critique of free-market capitalism, his outspoken sympathy for refugees and his strong support for measures to combat global climate change have been denounced in right-wing political circles. His reforms to the papal curia have been slowed down if not actually blocked by some of those affected. And his desire to temper the way certain moral teachings of the Church are understood and applied, as in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, has stirred up an unprecedented level of opposition among conservative Catholics across the world.

Pope Francis does not stand alone. The nine cardinals who serve on his advisory council began their recent meeting with a spontaneous and unanimous vote of confidence in his leadership. There is no reason to suppose that the great majority of Catholics, bishops, clergy and lay people, would dissent from it. They would give Amoris Laetitia its obvious interpretation – that there are circumstances where the Church need not disapprove if a Catholic who is divorced and remarried receives Holy Communion. A series of articles in this edition of The Tablet shows that in this interpretation, Pope Francis is being consistent with past teaching and pastoral practice. There is no betrayal.  
His critics include scholars of international standing who have put forward thoughtful arguments. They include Professor John Finnis of Oxford and four senior cardinals who have publicly challenged Pope Francis to defend his teaching or to retract it. Several bishops’ conferences have made pronouncements which insist that the rigid rules about Communion for remarried Catholics remain in force.

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