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Letter from Rome

The Vatican’s former doctrinal chief warns Pope Francis of a looming schism. What’s behind this ominous threat?  

Letter from Rome

Cardinal Gerhard Müller has launched an attempt to condition the pope’s freedom in guiding the Church. (Photo Andreas Solaro/AFP)

Robert Mickens, Rome
Vatican City

December 6, 2017

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Pope Francis is about to conclude his history-making visit to Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh.

But just hours before he even embarked on his 21st journey abroad last Sunday, Italy’s most authoritative daily newspaper published an interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller. In it, the cardinal launched what amounts to a shot across the bow and an attempt to condition the pope’s freedom in guiding the Church.

The former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) basically issued this ultimatum: Francis must open a dialogue with the tiny fringe of traditionalist Catholics that don’t like the direction in which he’s leading the Church or there will be a schism.

Schism. That’s one of the most serious and dangerous words in the Roman Catholic lexicon.

Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) there has been only one formal fracture in the Church’s communion. It came in 1988 when, in direct defiance of Pope John Paul II, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (d. 1991) ordained four bishops for the Priestly Society of St Pius X (SSPX) and fell into schism.

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