A worker covers with a banner reading "illegal poster" a poster depicting Pope Francis and accusing him of attacking conservative Catholics, in Rome, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Max Rossi/File Photo

World cardinals back pope after anonymous attacks by conservatives

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Senior Roman Catholic cardinals from the around the world defended Pope Francis against a spate of recent attacks from conservatives challenging his authority.

In an unusual move, nine cardinals in a group advising Francis on Vatican economic and structural reforms issued a statement Monday (Feb. 13) expressing "full support for the pope's work" and guaranteeing "full backing for him and his teachings."

The statement was unusual in that the cardinals — from Italy, Chile, Austria, India, Germany, Congo, the United States, Australia and Honduras — customarily issue statements only at the end of their meetings, which are held four times a year.

The statement said the cardinals expressed their solidarity with the pope "in light of recent events," which Vatican sources said was a clear reference to the attacks.

On Feb. 4, mystery activists working under cover of dark plastered posters around Rome criticizing the pope for moves seen as targeting conservatives in the church.

They featured a picture of a stern-faced pontiff and the slogan: "Where's your mercy?" The posters accused Francis of several controversial acts, including what they called "the decapitation of the Knights of Malta."

This was a reference to an ancient Catholic order of knights which is now a worldwide charity. Its former grand master, or top leader, handed in his resignation after he and his main backer, American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, lost a battle with the Vatican for control of the order.

Last week, a fake electronic edition of the Vatican daily newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, was sent anonymously to Vatican officials and journalists.

It poked fun at the pope for not having responded to a rare public challenge in November by four conservative cardinals, led by Burke, who accused him of sowing confusion on important moral issues such as homosexuality and divorce.

Cardinals are the highest-ranking Catholic prelates below the pope and those under 80 years old can vote in a conclave to elect his successor.

Burke has become a rallying point for conservatives who think the pope is taking the 1.2 billion member church too far to the left and accuse him of showing more concern for social issues such as poverty and climate change than moral doctrine.

The cardinal was demoted from a senior Vatican position in 2014 and shunted to the post of chaplain to the Knights of Malta. On Jan 28, he was effectively sidelined from that post as well when the pope appointed a delegate to help run the order until a new grand master is elected.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella)


  1. “It poked fun at the pope for not having responded to a rare public challenge in November by four conservative cardinals, led by Burke, who accused him of sowing confusion on important moral issues such as homosexuality and divorce” Argghhhhhhhhh! No! The conservatives expected him to be definite on these things! How could they get more money into the church then?

  2. Nine out of two hundred and nine Cardinals go on the record. Something tells me that these men did not come from a random draw.

  3. 1. The Knights actually involved, Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing and Grand Chancellor Albrecht von Boeselager, both stated Burke had nothing to do with their disagreement nor the outcome.
    2. Two thirds of the bishops at the synod voted against changing the doctrine on civilly remarried Catholics. As of Dec. 21, 11 of the 18 cardinals and bishops so far who have spoken on the issue sided with Burke and the 3 other cardinals who questioned (not “challenged”) the pope’s lack of clarity.
    3. If Burke is any kind of “leader” (in fact he holds no office) it is only due to the US media’s elevating him to the false status of chief papal nemesis.
    4. The “conservatives” beef with the pope is because he referred to them as having “closed hearts,” “blinkered viewpoints,” judging “sometimes with superiority and superficiality,” “a nasty spirit in order to sow division,” and are psychologically “born from something missing, from trying to hide one’s own sad dissatisfaction behind a kind of armor.” He warns that they are a “cancer of the Church” in pursuit of glory rooted in “the logic of ambition and power.”

  4. Exactly. They were hand picked by the pope. Analogous to stating any leader’s personal advisers agreed with him/her.

  5. I find it hard to believe the Francis/Burke feud had nothing to do with the recent Knights of Malta incident.

  6. Festing said it concerned “an extremely grave and untenable situation [becoming] apparent” regarding von Boeselager’s previous work as Grand Hospitaller of the Order.
    Boeslager’s provided a two-page “Personal Statement” stating that the reasons Festing gave in requesting his resignation were not true and that “the procedures used to remove me from office were undertaken without any legal basis.” No mention of Burke being involved other than as a witness.
    Eugenio Ajroldi di Robbiate, Communications Director for the Knights of Malta, “explained that since the Order functions more like a State that has diplomatic relations with the Holy See, Cardinal Burke, who serves as a quasi-ambassador, ‘is not involved’ in decisions made by their hierarchy. “How would he be involved?” Robbiate asked, explaining that “like any other ambassador, the cardinal has no voice” on the internal decisions of their leaders.

  7. I realize that’s what they’re saying, I just don’t buy it. In any event, isn’t Boeslager saying Festing is lying about the whole caper? So who to believe anyway?

  8. The point wasn’t what Festing and Boeselager said about each other but that Burke wasn’t involved. I understand “I just don’t buy it” because the US media has completely misrepresented the Francis/Burke feud by elevating Burke to a position of importance which isn’t factual.

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