The Catholic Church today is divided by a power contest between conservatives and liberals. The two camps are represented by the popes, Benedict and Francis.
What makes this prospect of a division within the Church more severe, and far riskier, than the usual bickering is the presence of two Popes, both reside in the Vatican, each with his own loyal and vociferous following.
The liberals have Francis, but the conservatives have his predecessor, Benedict XVI. If Francis is the living, reigning Pope, Benedict is his shadow, the undead Pope emeritus.
The hostilities reached new heights when Francis was visiting Ireland. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the formal papal nuncio to Washington, D.C., and a prominent conservative, issued a letter accusing Francis of turning a blind eye to sexual abuse and calling on him to resign as Pope.
Viganò’s most serious charge is that Francis had reversed sanctions that Benedict had placed on the American cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who had been accused of sexually abusing adult seminarians as well as an altar boy.
Francis was embarassed when later after being confronted by a mountain of evidence, he was forced to expel the former cardinal and Archbishop of Washington from the priesthood after he was found guilty of sexual abuse.
The move appears to be the first time any cardinal has been defrocked for sexual abuse — marking a critical moment in the Vatican’s handling of a scandal that has gripped the church for nearly two decades.