NY Times: “Change is rattling the hierarchy” under Francis

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Fresh from the USCCB gathering in Baltimore:

Change is rattling the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, and the bishops here say they now feel it even if they do not yet understand where Pope Francis is leading them. The change is reflected not only in appointments — with the Chicago seat the main indicator so far — but also in Francis’ call for the church to open discussion on sticky matters long considered settled, such as communion for the divorced and remarried, same-sex relationships, couples who live together without being married and even polygamists in Africa.

Some prelates, like Bishop Cupich, are exhilarated at the pontiff’s fresh message and the prospect of change, while others, like Cardinal George, are more wary. A few have been downright resistant, including Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American in Rome who has publicly challenged Francis and was removed on Saturday from his position as head of the Vatican’s highest court.

“The pope is saying some very challenging things for people,” Bishop Cupich said in an interview Tuesday. “He’s not saying, this is the law and you follow it and you get to heaven. He’s saying we have to do something about our world today that’s suffering, people are being excluded, neglected. We have a responsibility, and he’s calling people to task.”

The bishops are gathered in Baltimore only weeks after a contentious Vatican meeting on marriage and family ended in Rome. That meeting — the first of two synods being held one year apart — has potentially resurfaced a split in the church between theological conservatives and liberals that had remained relatively dormant during the 20-month honeymoon with Francis. But now Francis’ pontificate has entered a more delicate phase, with some bishops asking whether he has a coherent vision of where he wants to take the church and a plan for how to get there.

“He says wonderful things,” Cardinal George said about Francis in an interview on Sunday, “but he doesn’t put them together all the time, so you’re left at times puzzling over what his intention is. What he says is clear enough, but what does he want us to do?”

Cardinal George, who is 77 and being treated for cancer, remains a voting cardinal until age 80 and says he would like to travel to Rome to see Francis: “I’d like to sit down with him and say, Holy Father, first of all, thank you for letting me retire. And could I ask you a few questions about your intentions?”

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