Is the Pope purging conservatives?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 05, 2014

“Does Pope Francis have an enemies list?” That’s the eye-catching headline on John Allen’s column for the Crux site. Allen notes that three bishops have recently placed under scrutiny by the Vatican: Bishops Rogelio Livieres Plano in Paraguay, Mario Oliveri in Italy, and Robert Finn in Kansas City. (He might have added Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who was denounced as the “bishop of bling” and hurried into resignation in Germany.) Is it a coincidence that the bishops who are under the gun are all distinctly conservative?

Add the disciplinary crackdown on the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, and the unmistakable loss of influence by two prominent prelates in the Roman Curia (Cardinals Mauro Piacenza and Raymond Burke), and an overall trend seems clear.

There are two logical explanations for this trend, Allen remarks. One is that the Vatican under Pope Francis is conducting a sort of purge of conservative bishops. The other is that the Pope is determined to carry out a program of reform, and “is responding to reported breakdowns as they occur without really paying attention to the politics of the people involved.” But if it’s the latter, Allen writes, the Holy Father might want to explain, and in the process reassure conservatives who now feel nervous about the Pope’s intentions.

The short essay on the Crux site concludes with a point that may remind readers of Ross Douthat’s challenging “Pope and the Precipice” column. But even without that comparison, Allen’s final sentence is striking enough by itself:

Otherwise, the risk is that a good chunk of the Church may conclude that if the pope sees them as the enemy, there’s no good reason they shouldn’t see him the same way.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Flavian - Nov. 06, 2014 7:49 PM ET USA

    John Allen certainly deserves the respect of all Catholics for his careful and thoughtful reporting. When he writes about ideological issues as reflected in the opinions of various "liberal" and "conservative" bishops, I wonder if he is influenced by the ideology of his formter employer, The National Catholic Reporter? He seems to quote that publication much more frequently than First Things or The National Catholic Register.