Vatican ‘House of Cards’ as pro and anti-pope factions clash

A real-life version of the hit political drama "House of Cards" is unfolding at the Vatican, from cardinals openly defying the pope to anonymous posters sullying his name.

Vatican 'House of Cards' as pro and anti-pope factions clash
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

In the latest episode, a group of powerful Princes of the Church released a statement defending Pope Francis — but religious watchers warn the move could backfire and work in the favour of his conservative challengers.

“No pope controls everything,” said Vatican expert Luigi Accattoli. “There has always been some resistance, even from cardinals.”

But this time the critics are “louder and more numerous”.

The root of the row lies with the Argentine pontiff's calls for the church to be more understanding towards those it considers “sinners”, and in particular his intimation last year that some believers who have divorced and remarried should be able to take communion.

Traditionalists were horrified; Roman Catholic marriage is for life, so divorcing your first partner for whatever reason and marrying someone else is considered adultery.

Four conservative cardinals accused the pope of sowing confusion and demanded an answer to “doubts” about family guidelines Francis published in April.

Resistance, support

US cardinal Raymond Burke took on the guise of conspirator-in-chief, warning the 80-year-old pope in November that he could be sanctioned if he does not reply.

Burke has since become a rallying point for conservatives, often giving interviews criticising Francis's decisions.

Religious watcher Sandro Magister told AFP that inside the Vatican there was “great resistance towards a pope who opens doors in every direction and is ambiguous”.

Francis said he was “not losing sleep” over the challenge to his authority. But another run-in with Burke was in the offing.

The pontiff had already demoted the American two years previously when hemoved him from a top Vatican job in 2014 to be the “patron” of the Knights of Malta.

In January, after a row between the Vatican and the ancient order, Francis appointed a “pontifical delegate” to help run the Knights — sidelining Burke again.

As soon as he did, a series of anti-pope posters were plastered all over Rome by unidentified agitators. The following week, a satirical spoof of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano appeared, with a fake pontiff shown flip-flopping over the questions put to him by the four cardinals.

Francis's “C9” council of cardinal advisers clearly felt action was needed.

On Monday it issued a statement via the Vatican expressing its “full support”
for the pope.

'Unintended consequences'

C9 member Reinhard Marx said that while bickering may be par for the course in the ancient institution, the council had felt it was time to reaffirm its “loyalty”.

The German cardinal told journalists on Wednesday the C9 “didn't want to make a great thing of it, a great drama” in backing Francis.

Another cardinal, Francesco Coccopalmerio, released a book published by the Vatican press backing the pope's opening on the possibilities for remarried divorced people to take communion.

But Vatican expert John Allen said their support could be a double-edged sword and risked having “unintended consequences”.

“Generally speaking, you know a manager is in trouble when somebody has to put out a statement expressing 'full confidence' in his or her leadership,” he wrote in

“By engaging it in such a high-profile way,” the statement risked lending”a significance to the anti-Francis blowback” that it did not have before, he said.


Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.