In high summer, Rome may be crawling with tourists, but most of the inhabitants have either fled the stifling heat or are hunkered down behind shuttered windows. In the Vatican, once the celebrations for Ss Peter and Paul are over, there is an aura of winding down.
This year, as is often the case, the feast is being marked by the creation of new cardinals. Ahead of the consistory, there was speculation that, for the second time in a row, Pope Francis would not preside over a plenary session of the Sacred College.
That would be unusual, but not unprecedented. The cardinals are supposed to be the Pope’s chief advisers. Given their number and geographical dispersal, opportunities for wide-ranging consultations are rare. Francis has established an inner circle of nine cardinals who meet regularly to advise him. But it does seem strange that he would consider passing over once more an opportunity to sound out a more representative gathering.
Inevitably, this has led to speculation that Francis is trying to avoid forums in which growing discontent might be expressed. Foremost among the causes of this rumbling unease is the continuing controversy over the interpretation and application of Amoris Laetitia, the 2016 document that has raised debate about the admission of the divorced and remarried to Communion.
Readers will remember that last November four cardinals – Carlo Caffara, Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner – made public four questions, or dubia, seeking clarification of statements in Amoris, which they deemed in potential conflict with Catholic doctrine. They took the unusual step of publicising their doubts when it became clear that Francis, equally unusually, had no intention of answering them, although they were submitted through the proper channels and in time-honoured form fully respecting papal prerogatives.
Rather than take the overtly confrontational step of issuing a formal correction if Francis continued to ignore the questions, as was at one point suggested, the four chose instead to appeal for dialogue. In early May they wrote requesting a meeting with the Pope, saying that the ambiguities were leading to differing interpretations in different countries, and that this was harmful to the unity of the Church. There was no reply.
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