Ever since Pope Francis took office, he has been under attack by a very determined bunch of conservative cardinals. More recently, however, the intensity of these attacks has been ratcheted up. Pope Francis has now been accused publicly of promoting "heretical" positions.
On 19 September 2016, four cardinals wrote to Pope Francis expressing their need to clarify whether Pope Francis intends to modify the position of John Paul II respecting if and when divorced Catholics who have entered into a civil marriage may receive Communion. John Paul II insisted that, in exceptional cases, this might be allowed if the couple was repentant and willing to live together as brother and sister (no sex).
Pope Francis, in contrast, has taken the position that the rules of the Church cannot be applied rigidly and uniformly for all cases. Rather, following the example of Jesus, attention must always be given to exceptional circumstances. If a Catholic woman has been abandoned by her spouse, for example, does this mean that she is obliged to live the rest of her life without the right to remarry and without sexual intimacy? The four cardinals would certainly think so. The sixth commandment does not allow for exceptions! Or does it?
When Pope Francis failed to respond "yes" or "no" (as to whether he is changing the Catholic tradition) the four cardinals felt, in conscience, that they should openly publish their letter of September 19. Other Cardinals added fuel to the fire. Cardinal Burke, one of the original formulators of the September 19th letter, has publicly made it known that, if the silence of the Pope continues, he would have to defend the true faith [of John Paul II] by publicly admonishing the Pope.
Most recently 62 scholars and priests openly corrected Pope Francis. In their letter of 24 Sep 2017, they do not accuse the Pope of committing heresy, but they claim that the publication of Amoris Laetitia, and the Pope’s subsequent words and actions, have led to the spread of “heresies and other errors”. In effect, the latest critics regard the silence of Pope Francis has tacitly enabled deviations from the norms set out by John Paul II to be officially promoted by many bishops.
Pope Francis, accordingly, has his back up against the wall. To begin with, he does not believe that he has the right as Pope to resolve any and all pastoral and doctrinal issues. His accusers, meanwhile, believe that no pope can openly change the considered teachings of those who went before him.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, firmly believes that all the rules of the Church must be implemented with a pastoral sensitivity that refuses to create impossible situations whereby evil is done by a wooden application of the commandments of God and of the Church. This is the theme of Amoris Laetitia and well as the theme of Pope Francis when he has clearly and repeatedly condemned the use of absolute rules when addressing the cardinals and bishops.
So what can Pope Francis do to win over some of his critics? And if he cannot, what then? How might he persuade Catholics generally that he has the right path?