Why Pope Francis could be facing a Catholic schism

If the battle over communion for the remarried doesn’t die down, one side or the other may take drastic measures

The Spectator, By Luke Coppen, April 11

A scurrilous rumour recently swept Rome: the Pope had summoned the Vatican’s finance czar over his expenses. When Cardinal George Pell admitted spending more than £3,000 on a designer kitchen unit, Francis quipped: ‘What, is it made of solid gold?’

That never happened, of course, but the tittle-tattle served a purpose. The story appeared in an Italian magazine just as Francis was deciding how much power to give Cardinal Pell over the curial accounts. Influential figures wanted to keep their money away from the cardinal’s prying eyes. What better way than to present him as a rogue who demanded receipts for every cappuccino while shelling out on marble counter-tops?

Vatican politics haven’t been this unpleasant since the bleakest days of Benedict XVI’s reign, when a papal butler leaked stacks of sensitive letters to the press. As one veteran Catholic commentator put it, ‘The nasty is back.’ And it’s likely to get nastier still in the run-up to this year’s crunch synod of bishops in Rome. Catholic bloggers are talking about the ‘great division’.

In truth, ‘the nasty’ never really went away. Although Francis was elected two years ago with a mandate to overhaul the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy looks much the same as when he arrived (with the exception of Cardinal Pell’s new Secretariat for the Economy). The threat of imminent redundancies has kept the Pope’s opponents on the back foot, but also lowered morale among loyal and diligent officials. When Francis addressed the Curia last December, no one expected him to bounce out like the former Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer, shouting, ‘I love this company!’ But many were taken aback when he accused workers of being gripped by 15 sicknesses of the soul, including ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s’ and ‘vainglory’. One news outlet summed up the speech with the headline: ‘Merry Christmas, you power-hungry hypocrites.’

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