Synod: Forces inside church working against reform

Rumours and discontent to the fore as Pope Francis’s ‘reform process’ meets opposition

If anyone ever had any doubt that there are forces inside both the Catholic Church and the Roman Curia working against Pope Francis and his "reform process", they need only look at events of the last three weeks during the Vatican's synod on the family.

To the non-Catholic world, the conclusions might look tame in that they represent no significant (doctrinal) changes, rather an amount of pastoral fine-tuning. Much ado about nothing?

Curiously, though, somebody somewhere seemed to care. Did a series of “outside the synod” events in Rome in the last three weeks not suggest that diverse, presumably minority, groups of anti-Francis dissidents are alive and active?

For example, the synod "opened" with the coming-out of Polish monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, a middle management theologian at the Vatican's Congregation For the Doctrine Of The Faith (CDF), ex-Holy Office. He and his partner appeared together in a Roman cafe the day before the synod, announced their relationship and then suggested there were plenty more like them within the Holy See. As Francis tries to keep everyone on board, that did not help.


One day into the Synod, an arguably more heavyweight protest surfaced when a small number of senior cardinals wrote to the pope expressing their concerns about a potentially “pre-cooked” synod outcome (of a progressive tendency).

Media invention

The third “event” came this week with Italian media speculation that Pope Francis has a brain tumour. There seems little doubt that this is a media invention, circulated by those who wish to undermine Francis. Head of the Catholic University of Buenos Aires Victor Fernandez said it appeared to be a strategy to “discredit the person in control” .

There is no indication whatsoever that Francis is worried by these mutterings. What is clear, though, is that some of his fellow priests, especially in the Roman Curia, remain perplexed about the direction in which his "reform process" seems headed. This is a curia which, to some extent, has never fully accepted the pope's decision to live in the Vatican residence of Santa Marta rather than in the Apostolic Palace. That decision was about more than the obvious desire to use modest, less grandiose lodgings. The point is that Vatican's Secretariat of State, the nerve centre of Holy See governance, is also based in the Apostolic Palace.

In other words, prior to Francis, popes lived literally over the office. But we now have the situation where the banda di Santa Marta – Francis, his secretaries and his G9 "privy council" of cardinals – effectively govern the church from Santa Marta, leaving the Curia to look increasingly abandoned, if not redundant.

Major clean-up

Worse too, for some, is the fact that the “Santa Marta” governance has prompted a major clean-up of Vatican finances, in particular the Vatican Bank IOR. Asked about the brain tumour speculation, the archbishop of Los Angeles, Josè Gomez, downplayed talk of internal dissidence, saying “that’s all just Italian stuff”.

He is right, of course, in that there is a Holy See “caste” which, under Francis, has lost advantages, privileges and even business opportunities, given that IOR sometimes served as an off-shore bank for a small number of clients. The dissidence is more than just “Italian stuff”. It is also born out of concern in the traditionalist, conservative side of the church that Francis will one day effect radical change.