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Pope Francis turns 80 with some churchmen aghast at his priorities

December 17, 2016 - VATICAN

Pope Francis turns 80 without the universal good wishes of his flock. Since his election as leader of the Catholic Church on Mar 13, 2013, he has won over rank-and-file Catholics, but has upset conservatives with his penchant for reforms, his embrace of environmentalism and a taste for making history. He has also scolded recalcitrant bishops, further fanning discontent in the Church hierarchy.

At their Oct 2015 Synod, facing down considerable opposition within their ranks, the bishops endorsed Pope Francis' reforms. They opened the door to cohabitating couples and gays and to Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried. Francis, an Argentine Jesuit, also wants to see the church decentralised. Meanwhile, conservative churchmen were scathing about his foray into environmentalism at the United Nations ahead of the 2015 environmental summit in France.

Two of his ecumenical moves in 2016 will go down in history. He met Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba on Feb 13. They called for restored Christian unity between the two churches at their meeting, the first between a Pope and a Russian Church head since the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity split in the 11th Century. In Sweden in October, he was mending fences with Lutherans who split with Catholicism almost 500 years ago. His supporters applaud his ecumenism; his critics condemn it as evidence of misguided priorities.

Some cardinals and bishops are openly resisting his reforms, according to the Associated Press, while others inside and outside the Vatican are simply waiting out his pontificate under the argument that popes come and go but the Curia remains.

In his Christmas message in 2014, the Pope publicly scolded the cardinals and bishops over Vatican bureaucracy.

Pope Welcomes Divorced and Remarried Couples Back to Church (NBC 25 Oct 2015)

Pope Francis (

As pope turns 79, conservative backlash mounts (AP/CBS 19 Dec 2015)

Pope tells Roman Curia to return to the essentials (Vatican Radio 25 Dec 2015)

Holy Orders (New Yorker 15 Sep 2015)

Date written/update: 2016-02-18