In addressing the ‘S’ word head on, Pope Francis is now speaking openly about the possibility of a breach in the communion of the Church. Our Rome correspondent looks at the roots of the opposition to the current papacy and weighs the likelihood of a formal split
The Catholic Church is no stranger to disagreements, internal fights and schisms. St Paul was forced to address deep divisions between the first Christians on circumcision, observance of the Sabbath and the Mosaic law, warning in his Letter to the Galatians: “If you bite and devour each other, you will be destroyed.” In the early twenty-first century, the Bishop of Rome is offering similar advice to his opponents, and to anyone else inside the Church tempted to “go it alone”.
The most serious threats to the unity of the Church are forces – found largely in the Roman Curia and among well-funded groups in the United States and traditionalist networks across the world – intent on undermining Pope Francis’ reforms. Some are in open revolt against this pontificate, with a few extreme conservatives questioning the validity of the first Latin American pontiff’s election – suggesting, in other words, that the Pope is not the Pope at all.
The pressure points are not just among hardline conservatives. In Germany, where there is impatience for change, a process is underway to implement Francis’ vision of a synodal Church. The Pope has warned the Church in Germany not to run too far ahead, and that to “be synodal” is to remember the universal.