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Top Cardinal: Many Catholics ‘Unnerved’ by Church Under Pope Francis

A leading cardinal and papal adviser has said that many faithful Catholics are troubled by the state of affairs in the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, despite the pontiff’s popularity.

In a talk Monday at St Patrick’s Church, London, Cardinal George Pell said that “a number of regularly worshipping Catholics” are “unnerved by the turn of events” in the church.

The Australian cardinal, who spearheaded the Pope’s financial reforms in the Vatican and is a member of the Pope’s “C9” group of closest advisers, said that while Francis has “a prestige and popularity outside the Church” greater than perhaps any previous pope, he has made many Catholics uneasy.

The uneasiness was epitomized by a recent challenge by four important cardinals regarding doctrinal ambiguities in the Pope’s teaching concerning marriage, divorce, conscience, and Holy Communion.

In September, the cardinals—Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller, and Joachim Meisner—wrote a private letter to Pope Francis asking him to clarify five serious doctrinal questions proceeding from his 2016 apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). In their letter, they asked the Pope whether certain specific Church teachings about marriage, Holy Communion, and the moral law are still valid.

Cardinal Pell defended the four cardinals Monday, and when asked whether he agreed with their questions, replied: “How can you disagree with a question?”

Pell also said that the asking of the five questions was “significant.”

When the Pope failed to reply to the Cardinals’ September letter, they proceeded to publish it online on November 14, hoping to elicit a response.

One of the signers, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former head of the Vatican’s Supreme Court and an expert in Canon Law, said in an interview that if Pope Francis does not clarify serious doctrinal doubts arising from Amoris Laetitia, the cardinals will be forced to initiate “a formal act of correction of a serious error.”

Cardinal Pell said that much of the present confusion swirls around the question of the “primacy of moral conscience” and how it should be understood.

Conscience is “not the last word in a number of ways,” the cardinal said, adding that it must be formed according to revealed teaching and the moral law. Quoting Blessed John Henry Newman’s writings on conscience, Pell said that many have embraced a “miserable counterfeit” of conscience, which Newman understood as nothing more than “the right of self-will.”

Pell also noted the irony among those trumpeting “the primacy of conscience,” since they only seem to apply it to sexual morality. How many people are advised to “follow their conscience” on issues of racism or when resisting to help the poor and vulnerable? the cardinal asked.

A man who was sleeping with his girlfriend asked his priest whether he could receive Holy Communion, Pell related. In this case, it would be completely “misleading” to simply tell the man to follow his conscience, he said.

Along with Cardinal Raymond Burke, Pell was recently removed from the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Vatican office on the liturgy.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

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