The New York Times
Ross Douthat JULY 15, 2017
By the standards of the Francis papacy, things were rather quiet in Rome for much of 2017. The great controversy of the previous two years, the debate over communion for the divorced and remarried, had entered a kind of stalemate, with bishops the world over disagreeing and the pope himself keeping a deliberate silence. One long act of the pontificate seemed finished; the question was how much drama there was still to come.
The last month has supplied some. In rapid succession, four important cardinals have been removed from the stage. The first, George Pell, was both in charge of the pope’s financial reforms and a leading opponent of communion for the remarried. He has returned to his native Australia to face charges of sexual abuse — charges that either represent a culminating revelation in the church’s grim accounting on the issue, or else (as Pell’s defenders insist) a sign that the abuse scandal has become a license for prosecutorial witch hunts.
The second cardinal, Gerhard Mueller, was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office charged with safeguarding Catholic doctrine. Often sidelined by Francis, he had performed a careful tightrope walk on the pope’s marriage document, Amoris Laetitia, insisting that it did not change church teaching on remarriage and the sacraments while downplaying the signals that the pope himself thought otherwise. His five-year term was expiring; these are often renewed but his was not, and in a manner so brusque that the usually circumspect German publicly complained.