Pope Francis is facing growing dissent among members of the Catholic Church over recent decisions that opponents portray as contrary to traditional church doctrine.

The most controversial has been the publication of a document in December by a Vatican bishop, with the pope’s approval, mooting the “possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples.” While the document stressed that it did not change the church’s stance on homosexuality, it brought a joint letter from Catholic clergy and scholars calling on others to disregard it.

Previously in his 11-year tenure as the head of the church, the pontiff has raised eyebrows by suggesting that even atheists could go to heaven and saying that he did not judge homosexuals, as well as taking a softer stance on abortion and remarriage.

Experts who spoke to Newsweek cast these tensions as an ideological clash between those in the church who wish to reform its message and those who want to conserve its traditional teachings, which reflects a broader culture war between liberal and conservative ideals.

They said that rather than departing from the core principles of the faith, Francis was attempting to reach out to those who might not conform to a traditional view of family life to give them greater spiritual guidance without seeking to alter church doctrine.

While the dissent is expected to continue, Francis is unlikely to face calls for his removal, the experts said, and a split within the church is highly unlikely, owing to its historical structure.

“When Pope Francis first became pope, I’d say very early on he really distinguished himself from his immediate predecessors Benedict and John Paul II,” Michele Dillon, a sociologist and dean of the University of New Hampshire’s College of Liberal Arts who specializes in the Catholic Church, told Newsweek.

“He said that, really, the church needs to go and walk with people where…they’re at, and that the church needs to be pastoral,” she said.

Dillon said this approach was designed to “recognize the complexity of everybody’s lived reality” in the modern world, allowing the clergy to continue “working with them to keep them close to God, close to the church.”

In the open letter opposing the possibility of same-sex blessings, which was published in February, over a hundred Catholic thought leaders called on Francis to “urgently withdraw this unfortunate document, which is in contradiction with both Scripture and the universal and uninterrupted tradition of the Church.” They argued that this would be tantamount to condoning “objectively sinful” relationships.

The pope in turn accused the naysayers of “hypocrisy,” arguing that they were willing to let him bless someone who exploits people despite it also being considered a sin.

He also recently provoked criticism for suggesting Ukraine should be willing to negotiate a peace settlement with Russia, but Dillon said this was a political controversy rather than a religious one.

She interpreted Francis’ sentiments on the invasion as arising from “his commitment to [the] sanctity of life, basically that war is not a good thing and, being realistic, to what extent can the valiant efforts of the Ukrainians…actually defeat Russia.”

By gvoice

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