Off With Their Hats: Cardinals Who Queried Pope's Teaching Could Be Demoted

Pope Francis has been criticised for his document on the family, Amoris Laetitia.Reuters

Four cardinals who publicly queried Pope Francis over his document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, may be disciplined by being demoted, a senior Vatican judge has suggested.

The four, who include the conservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke, published a letter asking the Pope to "dispel all ambiguity" over the document. Technically called a "dubia", the letter refers to "a grave disorientation and great confusion of many faithful". It asks Francis to clarify whether divorced Catholics who have remarried in a civil ceremony can be admitted to communion – a traditional prohibition of the Church which chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia appears to soften. It says that "what is at stake in Amoris Laetitia is not only the question of whether or not the divorced who have entered into a new union can – under certain circumstances – be readmitted to the sacraments.

"Rather, the interpretation of the document also implies different, contrasting approaches to the Christian way of life."

The letter from the cardinals represents a push-back from conservatives troubled by Pope Francis' approach to pastoral issues, which emphasises the need to approach people as individuals and demonstrate the maximum flexibility consistent with adherence to the Church's teaching.

Now Father Pio Vito Pinto, appointed by Pope Benedict as head of the Vatican's main court, has described their action as a "very grave scandal, which could even lead the Holy Father to take away their red hats, as it's happened already in some other times in the Church".

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Speaking to the to the Spanish news site Religión Confidencial and reported by Crux, he said the cardinals were questioning "two synods of bishops on marriage and family. Not one but two! An ordinary and an extraordinary one. The action of the Holy Spirit is beyond doubt!"

He continued, "the truth is that many baptized celebrate civil marriages or live together out of wedlock".

He asked: "What do we do? Turn the Church into a prison? Stand at the door of the parish and say: 'You yes [can go in], you no?'"

Pinto – who stressed he was talking about what the Pope could do, not suggesting it would happen – is not the only figure to spring to Francis' defence. The president of the Bishops' Conference of Greece, Bishop Frangiskos Papamanolis, condemned the four cardinals in an open letter saying they should have resigned before they wrote to the Pope and claiming they were themselves receiving communion "sacrilegiously". He concluded his letter: "Dearest brothers, may the Lord enlighten you to recognise your sin as soon as possible, and to make good the scandal you have given."

While in theory Francis could demote the cardinals, in practice he is highly unlikely to do so as he would risk further offending conservative Catholics.

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