A few days after Pope Benedict XVI died, the Italian newspaper La Stampa ran a shocking story saying that a group of conservative cardinals were planning to get rid of Pope Francis. The story spread quickly all over the world, especially in the British tabloid press.
According to La Stampa, a cardinal told them that the conservative faction is ready to move against the "communist" Pope. The secret plan will be formulated on various axes and phases, but it will have one objective − to place the pontificate under such stress that Francis will have to resign. "The opponents of Francis know that right now they are in a minority, that they will need time to both win a consensus and to weaken [him]."
The cardinal added that the campaign would hinge upon "the progressive weakening of the Holy Father as well as his doctrinal choices, which will create a great deal of discontent which can be used against him."
Pope Francis, then known as Cardinal Bergoglio, became pontiff in 2013 following the resignation of the ultraconservative Benedict XVI.
Benedict XVI - 265th Pope (from April 19, 2005 to February 28, 2013).
With his critique of capitalism and his openness toward homosexuality, abortion, communion for remarried divorcees, and celibacy for priests, his appointment marked a significant shift in the Catholic Church. According to La Stampa, some opponents will openly criticize the pope, while others will operate "in the shadows."
Cardinal Georg Ganswein, who served as Pope Benedict's personal secretary for 19 years and was dubbed "the George Clooney of the Holy See" due to his attractive looks, is a prominent figure in the opposition to Francis.
Questions have been raised as to what Francis would do with Ganswein following the publication of his tell-all book, "Nothing But the Truth: My Life Beside Pope Benedict XVI," last week, now that Ganswein's primary role of caring for Benedict has ended with his death.
Some Vatican observers view the book as the opening salvo in a new phase of anti-Francis attacks by the conservative right, for whom Benedict remained a sentimental reference point in retirement. Benedict's death and Ganswein's postmortem discoveries have destroyed the illusion of two popes living in harmony.
In the text, Ganswein discloses previously unknown information about the ten years Benedict lived as a retired pope following his 2013 decision to step down as the first pope in six centuries to do so.
In one of the most dramatic passages, Ganswein claims he was "stunned and dumbfounded" when Francis virtually sacked him from his position as head of the papal household in 2020 due to a scandal involving a book co-authored by Benedict. Francis instructed Ganswein to cease going to the office and focus on caring for Benedict, so terminating Ganswein's role as the "bridge" between the pontificates.
Ganswein disclosed that Francis denied Benedict's entreaties to take him back by publishing hitherto secret correspondence between the two popes and by reporting confidential discussions with both. Ganswein, enraged, portrayed Francis as insincere, irrational, and sarcastic when determining his fate, and said that Benedict made fun of Francis when informed of the decision.
Ganswein claimed in his autobiography that he was unable to establish a "climate of trust" with Pope Francis and that he was "stunned and dumbfounded" when he lost his post in the papal household in 2020.
Other members of the traditionalist movement include American cardinal Raymond Burke and Benedict XVI's close associate Gerhard Ludwig Müller.
But, returning to the La Stampa story, because the cardinal who told La Stampa that conservative cardinals are plotting to force Pope Francis to resign has chosen to remain anonymous, questions have been raised about whether the conspiracy is real − or whether the exposure of the forces that allegedly want Francis gone is rather part of a media strategy to generate support and sympathy for Pope Francis?
Isn't it unlikely that a group of cardinals plotting Pope Francis' deposition would go public and speak so freely about it? Wouldn't it be better for them to operate in secret and make it appear as if Pope Francis made the choice himself in case they were successful in forcing him to resign?
If the anonymous cardinal is a Pope Francis fan, the claim that conservatives are plotting against him could be a ploy to build sympathy for Pope Francis if he decides to resign.
To add to the confusion and rumors in the Vatican, Pope Francis openly stated in an interview with the Spanish daily ABC just a few days before Pope Benedict XVI's death that he had already written his resignation letter in case of health concerns.
For Catholics around the world, the issue is not so much whether the pope stands down or is forced to do so, but rather the immense confusion and disorientation that the talk about it creates in a moment when the entire world is faced with uncertainty.
Unfortunately, the Vatican appears to be acting like any other political party right now, divided and in disarray. The foundation of the Catholic Church is unity. The pope's primary responsibility is to maintain unity; if two factions are at odds, his task is to ensure that they reconcile rather than quitting or leaving under pressure.
The only basis for overthrowing a pope is if there is strong evidence that he is going directly against tradition and faith. If a pope is removed for any other reason, the Church goes against its own foundation. The election of a pope, according to Church doctrines, is a supernatural event involving the Holy Spirit, not just a vote.
In these dark times, the world needs a light to lead the nations, which is the Church's role. Not to act like any other parliament.
Main photo: Francis. 266th pope. Elected March 13, 2013.