Civil war in the Vatican as conservatives battle Francis for the soul of Catholicism

Source: the Guardian

As the pope leaves Rome for a retreat to mark Lent, rebellion and turmoil are in the air
Pope Francis
Pope Francis conducting his general weekly audience on Ash Wednesday in Rome. Photograph: Alessandra Benedetti/Getty Images

When Pope Francis was elected nearly four years ago, on 13 March 2013, he was escorted – like every pope before him – from the Sistine Chapel to the Room of Tears. It is the place where a new pope pauses for a moment – and no doubt many of them do shed a few tears, thinking of the momentous responsibility upon their shoulders – before stepping out on to the balcony of St Peter’s to greet the world as the new leader of the Roman Catholic church.

When Francis, known until then as Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, first appeared that night, he appeared remarkably sanguine, joking that the cardinals had gone to the ends of the Earth to choose the next pope. If he’d had any inkling of what these last four years would be like, he would surely have wept in that Room of Tears.

While hugely popular across the globe with Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Francis has struggled against fierce opposition from the Vatican establishment to haul the Roman Catholic church into the 21st century, fought to reform its government, tried to persuade cardinals to revise their thinking on the divorced and remarried, and been openly opposed by rebel prelates.

Last week marked the start of Lent, one of the most important periods of the church’s calendar, a time when Catholics fast, give alms and reflect on humanity’s sinfulness in the run-up to their commemoration of the crucifixion and of Easter. It is usually marked by quiet prayerfulness, and on Sunday the pope, along with members of the Roman Curia, will leave Rome to begin a five-day retreat. He will leave a Vatican beset by tension, turmoil and rebellion. There are even rumours that growing numbers of Vatican hands think he should quit.

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