Is Pope Francis purging conservative prelates?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 29, 2015

Many traditionalist Catholics have complained that the bishops who have been forced to resign during this pontificate (Finn, Livieres Plano, Tebartz-van Elst) and the cardinals who have been removed from influential Vatican posts (Burke, Piacenza) all are identified as conservative. In a characteristically balanced commentary on that phenomenon, John Allen of Crux observes that there are two possible explanations. Either the Pope is conducting an ideological purge, or he is trying to reform the episcopate and the Vatican, and it’s coincidental that conservative prelates have been the first ones removed. Allen continues:

If that’s the case, Francis might need to find an occasion to explain in his own voice why he’s going after the people and groups that find themselves in his sights. 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.

John Allen is not the first observer to point out that the Pope runs the risk of alienating tradition-minded Catholics. Ross Douthat of the New York Times, for instance, has made a similar point on more than one occasion. But Allen’s comment is significant precisely because he is not one of the Pope’s conservative critics.

This isn’t just a question of paranoia on the Catholic Right—although, frankly, there’s more than enough of that to go around. It’s a real problem that the Pope should address.

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 See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Apr. 29, 2015 11:23 PM ET USA

    I've been reading Cdl. Robert Sarah's "Dieu ou rien" and I'll say, Cardinal Sarah is refreshingly conservative and speaks with great affection of Pope Benedict XVI. Among other points he is quite critic of Marxism (His homecountry underwent a red dictatorship) and is very critical of certain Vat II misinterpretations. And he has been nominated by the Pope for the Congregation for Divine Worship which, I must assume, has a great role in liturgical matters. So there's more than meets the eye here.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Apr. 29, 2015 7:42 PM ET USA

    It seems worth pointing out that Allen's editorial was published almost six months ago. Bishop Finn's recent removal may make it relevant again, but it is not something Allen just wrote.