Pope Francis holds line against conservative pushback

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Four cardinals threaten to censure the pope if he does not respond to the letter

Pope urged priests to be more accepting of divorced Catholics, gays and lesbians


Pope Francis has a fight to fight – and it comes from within his own Church.

Four senior Catholic cardinals this month released a private letter they sent to him earlier, asking him to make it clear whether he is liberalizing the Church’s practice on divorced and remarried Catholics.

The letter, called dubia, is an official request for a Yes or No answer from the Pope.

Francis refused to respond and so on November 14 the cardinals published their letter on various Catholic news sites.

The cardinals’ complaint is that Francis is implying that priests should have some leeway to give communion to Catholics who have remarried after a divorce.

And they threaten unprecedented censorship of the Pope if he does not meet their demands.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the signatories of the letter, told the National Catholic Register that if Francis did not respond, he would spearhead a « formal act of correction » from the Pontiff – something that is not was never before produced in the Catholic Church.

The conservative quartet responds to a landmark document the pope released in April titled Amoris Laetitia, or “Love in the Family.” In it, he urged priests to be more accepting of divorced Catholics, gays and lesbians, and others living in what the Church considers « irregular » family situations.

The issue of communion for remarried Catholics has become a touchstone for Catholics, determining which side of the conservative/liberal divide they fall on.

Conservatives say giving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics would break with the Church’s millennial teaching that second marriages are adulterous.

They quote Jesus himself, who says in the Gospel of Luke 16:18: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.

The doctrine was affirmed by Church Fathers and Popes before Francis, including more recently by John Paul II.

But liberals say the problem is not unique. They say there may be cases where divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive Communion.

Bishops and Catholics around the world are openly arguing over what the pope means.

Newly appointed U.S. Cardinal Kevin Farrell has chastised his brother Bishop of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput, for telling Catholics in Philadelphia that divorced and remarried couples cannot receive Communion.

« I don’t share the point of view of what Bishop Chaput did, no, » he told the Catholic News Service. « I think there are all kinds of different circumstances and situations that we have to look at…you’ll never find two couples who have the same reason for divorcing and remarrying, » he said.

Chaput responded to Farrell’s objections by saying, “The words of Jesus himself are very direct and sweeping on the issue of divorce.

« I wonder if Cardinal-designate Farrell has actually read and understood the guidelines from Philadelphia that he seems to be questioning, » Chaput added.

Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, a friend of the Pope, says the Conservatives' questions have already been answered.

Pope Francis did not respond directly to the cardinals, but he criticized « a certain legalism » in responding to his document.

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« Some people still don’t understand, » he said in a November 17 interview with the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire. « Think of some responses to Amoris Laetitia – it’s either black or white, though it’s in the flow of life to be discerned. »

And a papal confidant penned an exclusive article for CNN on Monday, saying the questions conservatives are asking have already been answered.

The pope’s refusal to answer cardinals’ questions directly is emblematic of how Francis is effecting change in the Catholic Church: He doesn’t deal with doctrinal details but goes directly to the people — via his priests — regardless of the rules.

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