Altamar’s 26th episode takes a look at a brewing civil war in the Vatican, and the implications it may hold for the Catholic Church at a time of massive political, demographic, and geographic change.
Peter and Muni are joined by Jimmy Burns, a former Financial Times correspondent, longtime Vaticanologist, and author of Francis, Pope of Good Promise. Jimmy helps put the schisms in the Church in context and explains what a rapidly changing world entails for a millennia-old institution.
While the current sex abuse scandal may be what’s making headlines, Jimmy says the bigger story is underneath, in the form of a long-running battle between conservative and reformist factions in the Church.
“The minute Pope Francis was elected,” Jimmy says, the conservative faction “couldn’t wait to see the back of him.”
“They think he’s this sort of Latin American neo-Marxist, an anti-capitalist siding up to the Chinese, who’s far too nice about Middle Eastern refugees. All these things don’t play out greatly among certain conservative sectors.”
Still, Jimmy believes the embattled pontiff is likely to survive the intense opposition. “Despite the unprecedented attack on him,” he says, “I don’t think this is the end of the road for Pope Francis by any means.”
The fact of the matter is that, unsavory as he may be to traditionalists in the clergy, Francis is precisely the kind of figure the Church needs to navigate an era of seismic shifts in its following.
“I think Pope Francis sees the future of Catholicism very much in Asia, in Africa, and in Latin America. Both in terms of numbers, and because he feels that the way people practice their faith there is incredibly powerful, that the Catholic movement is important. Whereas in Western Europe, there’s a sort of sense of decadence and decline.”