Bombshell memo to cardinals on next papal conclave

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at

After years of doctrinal confusion and disciplinary inconsistency, prominent cardinals are clearly growing restive about the leadership of Pope Francis.

Today Cardinal George Pell issued a highly unusual public statement, calling for a Vatican rebuke to two other prominent prelates whose public statements have suggested a “wholesale and explicit rejection” of Church teachings on sexuality.

And on the same day, a prominent Italian journalist made public a memorandum which, he said, is now circulating among members of the College of Cardinals, pronouncing “that this pontificate is a disaster in many or most respects: a catastrophe.”

Sandro Magister of L’Espresso, who published the bombshell menu, is a veteran Vatican-watcher, with excellent sources, who does not shy away from controversy. Magister writes that the author “is unknown, but shows himself a thorough master of the subject. It cannot be ruled out that he himself is a cardinal.”

The memo—like the public statement from Cardinal Pell—points to the German hierarchy, whose “Synodal Path” has become an open conduit for dissent from Church teaching, and to Cardinal Hollerich—to whom the Pope has entrusted the leadership of the next worldwide Synod of Bishops—who (as the memo puts it) “rejects the Christian teaching on sexuality.” The silence from the Vatican in response to these expressions of dissent, the memo’s pseudonymous author continues, contrasts sharply with the “active persecution of the traditionalists and the contemplative convents.”

“If there was no Roman correction of such heresy, the Church would be reduced to a loose confederation of local churches, holding different views, probably closer to an Anglican or Protestant model, than an Orthodox model,” the memo warns.

The memo’s author, who identifies himself only as “Demos,” goes on to issue a blanket indictment of current Vatican leadership. He devotes several paragraphs to financial mismanagement but also bemoans the chaotic administrative style that has exacerbated tensions within the Vatican and demoralized the faithful. Among his complaints:

  • ”Phone tapping is regularly practiced.”
  • “The financial situation of the Vatican is grave.”
  • There has been “…no public support for the loyal Catholics in China…,” nor “for the Catholic community in Ukraine, especially the Greek Catholics…”
  • The College of Cardinals has been “weakened by eccentric nominations…” and because the Pope has not allowed for meetings of the College, the cardinals are now “unknown to one another.”
  • The extensive preparations for the Synod on Synodality will “consume much time and money, probably distracting energy from evangelization and service…”
  • The Amazon Synod heard virtually no mention of the “disastrous decline in Catholic numbers and Protestant expansion in South America.”

There are hopeful signs, Demos says, noting for instance that young priests are “almost completely orthodox, sometimes quite conservative.” But the overall situation, he insists, is grave, and calls for decisive action. In his memo, looking forward to the next papal conclave, he summarizes the challenge that the cardinals reading this memo will face:

The first tasks of the new pope will be to restore normality, restore doctrinal clarity in faith and morals, restore a proper respect for the law, and ensure that the first criterion for the nomination of bishops is acceptance of the apostolic tradition.