Cardinal Reinhard Marx has said the Council of Cardinals’ unexpected statement this week expressing its “full support” for Pope Francis was well received, but he gave no details about why the affirmation was needed, or made.

Informed sources meanwhile have told the Register that the recent plastering of posters across Rome critical of Francis was the reason for the statement as the cardinals are concerned they could be part of a coordinated effort to oppose the Pope.

Cardinal Marx, one of nine members of the Council advising the Holy Father on curial reform, told reporters at the Vatican Wednesday that the cardinals “didn’t want to make a great thing, a great drama” about their pledge, but that they felt it was “time to repeat from our group that we are supporting the Pope, that we are going together with him.”

At the start of their three-day meeting on Monday, the Council of Cardinals issued the declaration that read:

"In relation to recent events, the Council of Cardinals pledges its full support for the Pope’s work, assuring him at the same time of its adhesion and loyalty to the figure of the Pope and to his Magisterium.”

L’Osservatore Romano made the statement their main story on the newspaper's front page on Monday, and the declaration was repeated today in a Vatican statement to mark the end of the Council's meeting. 

Cardinal Marx said the cardinals issued the pledge because “discussions, tensions” are normal in the Church, that “it will ever be like this,” and that “in a time like this it is also clear that loyalty to the Pope is [important] for the Catholic faith and for Catholic believers.” He said “the reception and the reaction” to the statement “showed it was good and well accepted that the Council of Cardinals underlined it.”

Pressed if the cardinals’ pledge was made in response to 200 fly posters plastered across Rome Feb. 4 criticizing the Holy Father for a lack of mercy in some of his actions, Cardinal Marx said: “I will not add [to what's been said]. We reflected on the sentence so I will leave it at that. We had the text and we said, ‘That’s enough.’ I will say, today, it’s enough, it’s all in there.”

However, informed sources have told the Register that the posters were the reason for the statement, and that the stunt was taken “much more seriously” than many might have expected. The concern is that it is part of a coordinated effort, the sources said.  

The posters featured the Pope looking stern, with irreverent words in Romanaccio — Roman dialect — underneath that read: “Hey Frank, you’ve taken over congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, ignored Cardinals…where the heck is your mercy?”

Some asserted that Rome has not witnessed such public criticism of a Pontiff since the fall of the papal states and the unification of Italy in the 19th century.

The message referred to real events that have taken place but which have been largely underreported. The first concerns the Pope’s dismissal of numerous curial officials, in particular three priests from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith who were fired with no notice or reason, and in the face of strong opposition from the Congregation prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Müller.

The second concerns the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Pope’s ordering of its Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing, to resign, the reinstatement of its Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager whom Festing had dismissed, and the appointment of a papal delegate to help run the Order. 

The third charge, of ignoring cardinals, was a reference to the dubia — five questions put by four cardinals in an attempt to obtain clarification on certain passages in Amoris Laetitia to ascertain whether they are consistent with Church teaching. The Pope has yet to respond to the questions, sent to him last September. He has indirectly addressed them, saying that some “persist in seeing only white or black, when rather one ought to discern in the flow of life.”

The final reference, to the Franciscans of the Immaculate, referred to the fact that, after an investigation, the Pope dismissed the Order’s founder and allowed sanctions to be taken against the Order's members, many of whom had a preference for celebrating Mass in the Extraordinary Form, or the Old Rite.

Hours after the posters appeared, Rome authorities covered them with the words “abusive posting.” They had removed the majority of the posters by the following morning, although additional ones were reportedly put up last week along the Lungotevere, the road bordering the Tiber river.

Pope Francis was said to be “serene” about the criticism and Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, substitute at the Secretariat of State who has become a frequent spokesman for Francis, said the Pope “laughed about it” and “has loved Romanesco.”

But the cardinals’ statement, and news that the Vatican police have been investigating the source of a parody cover of L’Osservatore Romano, indicate more than a little concern in Santa Martha about growing opposition to the Francis' leadership of the Church. 

 

C9 Meeting Ends

The Council of Cardinals' eighteenth meeting which ran from Monday to Wednesday this week was dedicated to considerations of further reform of various curial dicasteries, the Vatican said today.

As well as their loyalty pledge, the cardinals also examined the Vatican’s judicial system, the selection of candidates to the episcopate, and the progress of financial reform.

They also learned about the latest in the reform of the Holy See’s communications, including the unification of Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Centre, and increased use of social networking.

Also discussed was reform of the Vatican publishing house, the Libreria Editrice Vaticana, expected to begin soon.

The next meeting of the Council of Cardinals will take place 24-26 April.