On the weekend that posters of a scowling Pope Francis were plastered over Rome by traditionalists protesting against his “bullying” tactics, news filtered through that Rome is on the verge of signing a deal with the Society of St Pius X. This year, the Lefebvrists could be fully reconciled to the Holy See. By the alleged Modernist bully on the posters. And with virtually no strings attached.

This is surreal; but then everything in Rome is surreal now. It’s as if the scriptwriters of The Young Pope have been let loose on the Bergoglio pontificate.

Relations between Francis and conservative Catholics are more toxic by the day. The Holy Father has just torn up the constitution of the Order of Malta; it’s a complicated dispute, but one that clearly pits the Pope and his allies against the super-orthodox Cardinal Burke, who is the order’s patron – for the time being.

Burke recently compared himself and other cardinals aghast at Amoris Laetitia to St John Fisher, who went to his death rather than recognise the King of England’s headship of the English Church. It’s not hard to work out who is Henry VIII in this analogy.

In the eyes of traditionalists, Pope Francis’s catalogue of errors is so long that, to quote one priest in the Vatican, “a lot of us are emotionally, even if not intellectually, sedevacantists”.

A sedevacantist, as the name implies, believes that the chair of Peter is empty and the man sitting in it is an imposter. This conservative priest doesn’t believe that. But the thought haunts him, as he watches the ban on divorced-and-remarried Catholics receiving Communion disappear in Malta and Germany – with the tacit approval of the Vicar of Christ.

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