30 November 2016, The Tablet

'Red hats' who challenged Pope could be stripped of rank of cardinal

Senior Vatican lawyer says four cardinals who questioned Amoris Laetitia have caused a 'grave scandal' in Catholic church

The four cardinals who have publicly challenged Pope Francis' family life document could lose their red hats, according to a senior Church lawyer. Mgr Pio Vito Pinto, who leads the Vatican's appeal court, says the prelates have caused “grave scandal” by calling into question the Pope’s faithfulness to Catholic doctrine. 

Four cardinals, including prominent Francis critic Raymond Burke, want the Pope to clarify his text, “Amoris Laetitia”, which opens the way for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion. They vociferously oppose such a move believing it sanctions sexual relations outside of marriage and have submitted a series of questions - known as Dubia - which require a yes or no answer from Francis. 

But speaking to Spanish website “Religión Confidencial" Pinto said: “What Church do these cardinals defend? The Pope is faithful to the doctrine of Christ.”

“What they [the cardinals] have done is a very grave scandal, which could even lead the Holy Father to take away their red hats, as it’s happened already in some other times in the Church.”

The dissenting cardinals, he added, were questioning "two synods of bishops on marriage and family - not one synod but two!…You cannot doubt the action of the Holy Spirit."

Francis wrote "Amoris Laetitia" after taking the pulse of Catholic opinion globally and discussing the matters with bishops at two Vatican summits. 

Stripping a cardinal of their position is not, as Pinto points out, without precedent. Last year the Pope ordered that Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, should lose his privileges after he was accused of sexual misconduct against some of his priests. 

And in 1927 French Jesuit Louis Billot handed back his red hat after a row with Pius X over the cardinal’s support for the conservative French movement Action Française. 

So far Francis has refused to respond to the four cardinals' questions but has given interviews arguing those who preach a rigid, black and white version of Catholicism are motivated by psychological rather than theological motives. He also suggested they watch the film “Babette’s Feast” where followers of a strict, joyless version of Christianity are transformed by a good meal. 

Speaking separately at a conference on marriage annulment reforms at the Ecclesiastical University of San Damaso in Madrid, Mgr Pinto said the Pope had “indirectly” told the cardinals “that they see only black or white, when in the Church there are shades of colours.”

The canon lawyer is in charge of the Roman Rota, a court that deals with annulment cases, a process the Pope has both simplified and sped up. Cardinal Burke opposed these reforms when he led the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s supreme court, and his opposition led the Pope to move him into the largely ceremonial post of Patron of the Order of Malta.  

Pinto explained the numbers of separated Catholic couples seeking an annulment is very small and that the Pope wants to make the process more accessible to people. 

He added that at the heart of Francis’ approach is a plan to offer the “medicine of mercy” to people, particularly those who feel discarded or hurt by the Church. 

2 DEC 2016 UPDATE - Spanish website Religión Confidencial published a correction to their story claiming that they mistranslated Archbishop Pius Vito Pinto. They state that instead of Pinto saying that the four cardinals could lose their red hats he had said that popes in the past have taken such action but Pope Francis is "not a pope of old" and is unlikely to strip the cardinals of their positions.  

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