Pope Francis is one of the most hated men in the world today.
Those who hate him most are not atheists – or protestants – or Muslims – but some of his own followers.
Outside the church he is hugely popular as a figure of almost ostentatious modesty and humility.
From the moment that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became pope in 2013 his gestures caught the world’s imagination: the new pope drove a Fiat – carried his own bags and settled his own bills in hotels; he asked of gay people ‘Who am I to judge?’ and washed the feet of Muslim women refugees.
But within the church Francis has provoked a ferocious backlash from conservatives who fear that this spirit will divide the church and could even shatter it.
This summer one prominent English priest said to me: ‘We can’t wait for him to die.
It’s unprintable what we say in private.
Whenever two priests meet they talk about how awful Bergoglio is … he’s like Caligula: if he had a horse he’d make him cardinal’.
Of course after 10 minutes of fluent complaint he added: ‘You mustn’t print any of this or I’ll be sacked’.
This mixture of hatred and fear is common among the pope’s adversaries.
Francis – the first non-European pope in modern times and the first ever Jesuit pope – was elected as an outsider to the Vatican establishment and expected to make enemies.
But no one foresaw just how many he would make.
From his swift renunciation of the pomp of the Vatican – which served notice to the church’s 3,000-strong civil service that he meant to be its master – to his support for migrants – his attacks on global capitalism and most of all his moves to re-examine the church’s teachings about sex – he has scandalised reactionaries and conservatives.
To judge by the voting figures at the last worldwide meeting of bishops – almost a quarter of the college of Cardinals – the most senior clergy in the church – believe that the pope is flirting with heresy.