By Philip Pullella and Tom Heneghan
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Three years after the election of Pope Francis, Roman Catholic conservatives are growing increasingly worried that he is quietly unraveling the legacy of his predecessors.
Francis’ popularity with most Catholics, and legions of non-Catholics, has given him the image of a grandfatherly parish priest who understands how difficult it sometimes is to follow Church teachings, particularly those on sexual morality.
Conservatives worry that behind the gentle facade lies a dangerous reformer who is diluting Catholic teaching on moral issues like homosexuality and divorce while focusing on social problems such as climate change and economic inequality.
Interviews with four Vatican officials, including two cardinals and an archbishop, as well as theologians and commentators, highlighted conservative fears that Francis’ words and deeds may eventually rupture the 1.2 billion member Church.
Chatter on conservative blogs regularly accuses the Argentine pontiff of spreading doctrinal confusion and isolating those who see themselves as guardians of the faith.
“Going to bed. Wake me up when this pontificate is over,” Damien Thompson, associate editor of the British weekly “The Spectator” and a conservative Catholic commentator tweeted last month. Thompson was among conservatives stung by a freewheeling news conference Francis gave on a flight home from Mexico.
In it, he stirred up the U.S. presidential debate by criticizing Republican candidate Donald Trump’s immigration stance and made comments that were interpreted as an opening to use contraceptives to stop the spread of the Zika virus.
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