The following comes from a March 11 Reuters article by Philip Pullella and Tom Heneghan:

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.

“I wonder if he realizes how much confusion he is causing,” said a conservative Rome-based cardinal who took part in the conclave that elected Francis three years ago and spoke on the condition of anonymity. He would not say if he voted for Francis because participants in conclaves are sworn to secrecy.

Another senior official, an archbishop in an important Vatican ministry, said: “[His off-the-cuff] comments alarm not only tradition-minded priests but even liberal priests who have complained to me that people are challenging them on issues that are very straight-forward, saying ‘the pope would let me do this’ why don’t you?'”

Francis first shocked conservatives just months after his election on March 13, 2013, when he said “Who am I to judge?” about Catholic homosexuals who were at least trying to live by Church rules that they should be chaste.

He caused further upset when he changed Church rules to allow women to take part in a male-only Lenten service, ruled out any campaigns to convert Jews and approved a “common prayer” with Lutherans for joint commemorations for next year’s 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation.

“It really has gotten more shrill and intense since Francis took over because he seems to get only positive feedback from the mainstream media. Therefore in the strange logic of (conservative) groups, he is someone who is immediately suspect if only for that,” said the Catholic blogger Arthur Rosman.

One of the leading conservative standard bearers, Ross Douthat, the Catholic author and New York Times op-ed columnist, has expressed deep worry about the long-term repercussions of the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried.

“It may be that this conflict has only just begun,” Douthat said in a lecture to American conservatives in January. “And it may be that as with previous conflicts in Church history, it will eventually be serious enough to end in real schism, a permanent parting of the ways.”

Conservatives are also worried about Francis’ drive to devolve decision-making power on several issues from the Vatican to regional, national or diocesan levels, what the pope has called “a healthy decentralization”.

This is an anathema to conservatives, who say rules should be applied identically around the world. They warn that a devolution of power would leave the Vatican vulnerable to the splits seen in the Anglican and Orthodox Churches.

“If you look at these two big Churches, they are not in very good shape,” said Massimo Faggioli, a Church historian and associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. “That’s why conservatives are nervous. They think Francis does not understand the danger.”