Cardinal Sarah-Pope Confrontation? Public slap-down shows Pope is willing to use his autority

Christopher Lamb  in the Tablet, UK, 13 July 2016

Public rebuke for senior clergyman shows Francis can censure those who disagree. When it comes to those he disagrees with, Pope Francis’s approach is to avoid direct confrontation, preferring instead to ignore them and get on with his job. But in the case of Cardinal Robert Sarah he has made an exception.

(Note: In spite of being an embodiment mercy and compassion in Pastoral practice, Pope Francis has his very strong critics  among  conservative Cardinals and Bishops. Some, it has been reported, are even praying for his early death which we hope doesn’t happen.

The case of the African Cardinal Robert Sarah, 71, from  Guinea is a case in point. According to this uk based Catholic weekly, Tablet Sarah, who is in charge of matters liturgical,  publicly disagrees with Francis. He wants Mass to be said facing the Altar in prevatican style and Vatican had to publicly say that it couldn’t be done. He refused to include women in the footwashing service on Holy Thursday. He is an opponent of communion to divorced and remarried. He compares  “western homosexual and abortion ideologies” to Nazism and Islamic terrorism.

Cardinals like Sarah express  their opposition to Pope’s thinking publicly, because Francis, not only allows or tolerates dissent but also encourages it. He said it James Kottorseveral  times during the last two synods. What is to be cultivated in the Church is “critical loyalty and loyal criticism.”  This was not done by previous Popes. Therefore Francis has become a trail-blaizer in encouraging public disagreements with the pope in an agreeable way. james kottoor, editor)

Last week the 71-year-old Guinean prelate unilaterally announced that priests should start to turn their backs on the congregation and face east to say Mass – something which liturgical traditionalists often call for as it is how the priest celebrates the Old Rite Latin liturgy. 

This is all part of an agenda described as a “reform of the reform” which would make the Mass ordinary Catholics attend on Sunday more like the one celebrated before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. It means more latin, more chant and less participation from the congregation.  

Soon after the cardinal made his remarks, however, the Vatican released a statement saying there will be no changes to this part of the liturgy and, crucially, that this had been “expressly agreed” during a recent audience between the cardinal and the Pope. It added that the phrase “reform of the reform” should be avoided.

It is highly unusual for the Vatican to publicly slap down a Prince of the Church, yet not entirely surprising given how Cardinal Sarah has operated since his appointment to lead the Holy See’s liturgy department. 

There have been a series of incidents that reveal the cardinal is part of a faction making life difficult for this Pope: take, for example, the fact it took Cardinal Sarah’s department more than a year to implement Francis’ simple request that women should be included in the Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual. 

Among Rome’s conservative circles Sarah is often put forward as a future Pope, with Benedict XVI devotee, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, comparing the cardinal to the 5th century North African Pope Galasius (he made this comparison on the eve of Francis’ visit to Africa). 

Away from the liturgy, Sarah has written books opposing any change to Church teaching on communion for the divorced and remarried while during the synod on the family last October compared “western homosexual and abortion ideologies” to Nazism and Islamic terrorism. It is hardly the language of the Pope and his desire for a more merciful and compassionate Church. 

All this has left people wondering why Francis appointed the cardinal to his current role. At one level appointing a conservative has neutralised the liturgy wars, whereas putting a more liturgically progressive figure into the job during a radical papacy could have made divisions worse. 

For his part, Francis is not someone who obsesses about the liturgy: he celebrates his morning Masses facing the people in a simple, modern chapel in the Casa Santa Marta, while is happy with the use of Latin for big papal celebrations.   

And given all that is on his plate, the last thing he needs now is a fight over the liturgy. So despite his aversion to taking people on face-to-face, his handling of the Cardinal Sarah matter shows this Pope will use his authority if necessary. 

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. almayasabdam says:


    It is to be seen by the world whether Cardinal Robert Sarah dares to put into pratice what he has tried to preach i.e. turn his back to the faithful and say the mass.

    Regarding his objection  to the washing of the feet of women on Maundy Thursday, it hardly matters.  Many churches have already started practising what the Pope has shown by washing the feet of women in  jail & other places and many more will follow.

    Regarding Cardinal Sarah's comparing, at the October 2015 Synod, "Western homosexual and abortion ideologies" to Nazism and Islamic terrorism, the Cardinal must be reminded that Islamic terrorism does not believe in abortion but in large- scale rape(even of minors) and large-scale reproduction of future ISIS rebels. As a case study, he had better take  a relook at what Boko Haram is doing in his own continent.

    Isaac Gomes


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.