Pope gets thumbs-up from his pre­de­ces­sor

Vote of con­fi­dence comes as Fran­cis marks his fifth an­niver­sary

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation & World - Ni­cole Win­field, The As­so­ci­ated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Fran­cis marked his fifth an­niver­sary as pope Tues­day by re­ceiv­ing a vote of con­fi­dence from his pre­de­ces­sor, even as sur­veys showed that his re­form-minded pa­pacy was turn­ing off some of the most faith­ful, church-go­ing Catholics.

First out of the gate to give him thumbs-up was Emer­i­tus Pope Bene­dict XVI, whose his­toric res­ig­na­tion paved the way for Fran­cis’ elec­tion on March 13, 2013.

In a let­ter re­leased on the eve of Fran­cis’ an­niver­sary, Bene­dict pub­licly dis­missed as “fool­ish prej­u­dice” the opin­ions of crit­ics who say Fran­cis has no the­o­log­i­cal heft and rep­re­sents a rup­ture from Bene­dict’s pa­pacy.

Bene­dict said a new Vatican-cu­rated vol­ume of books on Fran­cis’ the­ol­ogy “shows Pope Fran­cis is a man of pro­found philo­soph­i­cal and the­o­log­i­cal train­ing and helps to see the in­te­rior con­ti­nu­ity be­tween the two pon­tif­i­cates, with all the dif­fer­ences in style and tem­per­a­ment.”

Fran­cis fre­quently down­plays the work of the­olo­gians, and his crit­ics have flagged his cau­tious open­ing to al­low­ing di­vorced and civilly re­mar­ried Catholics to re­ceive Com­mu­nion as a sign that dogma un­der the Church’s first Je­suit pope is adrift.

Fran­cis’ sup­port­ers in­sist he is in com­plete har­mony with church teach­ing and Bene­dict’s doc­tri­naire pa­pacy. They say Fran­cis is merely em­pha­siz­ing “dis­cern­ment” to nav­i­gate com­plex pas­toral sit­u­a­tions.

But the de­bate is tak­ing its toll. A poll pub­lished Tues­day in France’s Le Fi­garo news­pa­per found a sig­nif­i­cant drop in the still-high sup­port for Fran­cis among church-go­ing, prac­tic­ing Catholics. The 86 per­cent who back him was 12 per­cent­age points lower than in 2015.

The poll, con­ducted by the BVA firm, par­al­leled the de­cline of sup­port among prac­tic­ing Catholics in the United States, as re­ported by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

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