Unrest at the Vatican; reassurances backfire

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 14, 2017

What in the world is going on in Rome this week?

First the Vatican press office issues a statement from the Council of Cardinals, supporting the Pope. It would certainly be news if the Council of Cardinals did not support the Pope. But why was this statement newsworthy? Why did the Council thank the Pontiff in February for a speech he delivered to the Roman Curia in December? Is there any way to see this message as something other than damage control—as a bid to reassure the world that the increasingly evident tensions within the Catholic hierarchy are not tearing the Church apart?

Unfortunately, the evidence of those tensions continues to mount. Today the Vatican press launched a book by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, backing the German/Maltese/Argentine interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. So now Cardinal Coccopalmerio, the Vatican’s top official on matters canonical, is in direct conflict with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the top official on matters doctrinal. If the Coccopalmerio book was intended to quiet questions about the dubia, it will inevitably fail, just as yesterday’s odd press release predictably failed to calm concerns about intramural Vatican conflicts. The universal Church does not need one more prelate’s personal reading of the papal document; we need a definitive answer, which can only come from the Pope himself.

But there’s more. After the Vatican announced a press conference for the launch of the Coccopalmerio book—with enough ballyhoo to confirm the impressions that this was a bid to end the debate—the cardinal himself failed to appear for the event. The cardinal’s office explained that he had a scheduling conflict.

Now wait just a minute. If you are a publisher, planning the launch of a new book, the very first thing you do is make sure the author will be available for the press conference. If you are the author, and a date is suggested, the very first thing you do is check for potential conflicts. Are we really expected to believe that neither the author nor the publisher did the very first thing to ensure that the press conference would be a success? If this book (a booklet, really) was considered so important, why couldn’t the cardinal rearrange his schedule to attend the press conference, even if he did have a conflict?

Rumors of intrigue are always circulating around the Vatican. But in recent weeks the rumor mill has been spinning at a fearsome pace, churning out disturbing reports that are, alas, not easily dismissed. Is the situation really as tense and volatile as those rumors suggest? If the public announcements of the past two days were designed to convince us that it’s business as usual at the Vatican, they have failed utterly.

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: claude-ccc2991 - Feb. 15, 2017 1:19 PM ET USA

    When the Ark of the Covenant was made, the Israelites were told not to touch it owing to its great holiness. But Uzzah steadied it with his hand while transporting it by cart (a violation). He was struck dead on the spot. This isn't a veiled wish for anyone to be struck dead when receiving the Eucharist in mortal sin. I'm simply saying that the Eucharist is at least as holy as the Ark, and all should take to heart Paul's warning to discern our state of grace when we receive Him (1 Cor 11:28-30).

  • Posted by: DanS - Feb. 15, 2017 11:32 AM ET USA

    With all due respect, Phil, we do not need a "definitive answer" from the Pope: the doctrine is as clear today as 1,000 years ago. The evidence of the Pope's actions, words, and silence suggest he is "altering" doctrine. The sleeping beast of the Spirit of Vatican II awakes, and those prelates who would put their politics before their faith are emboldened. Perhaps this pontificate is meant to test our commitment to the Truth upheld and articulated by JPII and Ben XVI?

  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Feb. 15, 2017 2:01 AM ET USA

    We can only pray that some bishops or cardinals - who would almost by definition have a difficult time opposing a Pope (it didn't stop the Euro bishops in the 90s from opposing JPII in the Cologne Declaration - but JPII didn't look for scalps after controversy). It should be clear that Bergoglio wants to cripple or dispose of the entire concept of Church tradition and the Church's role in forming conscience. If so, Christianity Lite rules in Rome. There must be opponents. I pray so.

  • Posted by: john.n.akiko7522 - Feb. 15, 2017 12:35 AM ET USA

    I disagree that "we need a definitive answer, which can only come from the Pope himself." We already have a definitive answer; it comes from the constant teaching of the Church and it was reaffirmed by JP11. Those living in a state of adultery cannot receive Holy Communion. Certainly many prelates want to change this teaching, which would amount to destroying the Catholic Church. They are trying by various means, but Our Lord is preventing them; "the gates of hell will not prevail."

  • Posted by: mwean7331 - Feb. 14, 2017 6:54 PM ET USA

    Yes they are continuing to fail miserably. My "deep" feeling is that there is subterfuge present in the Vatican which has been evolving since the Death of Pope John Paul. it could be that Pope Benedict was "nudged" to retire or he saw no other "graceful" way "out" I feel that the German Bishops are heavily involved and found a way to get a Pope elected who at least is willing to compromise . D dangerous and could lead to another schism. Please Holy Spirit move in.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Feb. 14, 2017 5:04 PM ET USA

    To think this week is somehow novel is to misunderstand the problem. It is not new. It is an advance of something that has been in motion for some time. The conditions have become more favorable, but the persons have not suddenly changed for ill. There is simply more candor. These prelates opposing established teaching did not suddenly become unorthodox. They have been patient and motivated. And they hardly intend for this to be the extent of it. Slowly or with haste, more is to come.