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By Scott Greer

Pope Francis, who has been shocking the world with statements on faith and practice that seem conciliatory toward non-Catholic beliefs, demoted an outspoken and highly conservative cardinal who led the Vatican’s department on clergy.

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, an Italian who strongly supports traditional views concerning the liturgy and priestly celibacy, has been moved to an obscure department that reviews confessions of grave sins that only the pope can absolve, according to an Associated Press report.

The age-old tradition of clerical celibacy that Piacenza supports recently has come into question by senior members of the Catholic hierarchy. The secretary of state of the Vatican, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, declared earlier this month that clerical celibacy was not church dogma and is open for discussion. His statements echo remarks Pope Francis made before he became the Bishop of Rome.

In a 2012 interview with a Catholic newspaper, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said it “is a matter of discipline, not of faith.”

“It can change,” he said.

Piacenza’s replacement, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, has served in leadership roles for the church in Cuba and Colombia.

However, another conservative official, who has generated a considerable amount of controversy, retained his powerful post as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, as prefect, has overseen the crackdown on nuns who have preached liberal views on such matters as homosexuality. His department also supervised cases dealing with sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

Pope Francis generated controversy this summer with comments that appeared to tolerate homosexuality, seemed to indicate atheists could get into heaven and called for the church to stop obsessing over “small-minded ideas.”

There is even some speculation that Francis could be the “Last Pope,” as detailed in an old prophecy.

The author who predicted Pope Benedict XVI would be the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to resign believes the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th Roman Catholic pontiff lines up with a medieval prophecy that would make him the “final pope” before the end times.

Tom Horn, co-author with Cris Putman of the book “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here,” told WND in May that Bergoglio’s selection was a “fantastic fulfillment of prophecy.”

His book examines St. Malachy’s “Prophecy of the Popes,” said to be based on a prophetic vision of the 112 popes following Pope Celestine II, who died in 1144.

Malachy’s prophecies, first published in 1595, culminate with the “final pope,” “Petrus Romanus,” or “Peter the Roman,” whose reign ends with the destruction of Rome and the judgment of Christ.

Horn has said a pope of Italian descent would fulfill the prophecy, noting Bergoglio is the son of Italian parents and a Jesuit.

“Being a Jesuit is a very important aspect of our prediction in our book,” Horn told WND in an email.

Citing his book, Horn said the name “Petrus Romanus” in the prophecy “implies this pope will reaffirm the authority of the Roman pontiff over the church and will emphasize the supremacy of the Roman Catholic faith and the Roman Catholic church above all other religions and denominations, and its authority over all Christians and all peoples of the world.”

Horn pointed out the Jesuits order was organized “to stop Protestantism from spreading and to preserve communion with Rome and the successor of Peter.”

He also sees significance in Bergoglio naming himself after Francis of Assisi, an Italian, or Roman, priest whose original name was Francesco di Pietro (Peter) di Bernardone, “literally, Peter the Roman.”

As WND reported, Horn and his co-author predicted in their book Benedict would step down, making way for history’s “final pope.”

Their work was documented in the recently released film “The Last Pope?”

“The Last Pope?” is a documentary from WND that travels to Rome, Geneva, Belfast and the U.S. to discover the story of venerated Irish prophet St. Malachy.

Lost inside the Vatican archives for 400 years, Malachy’s “Prophecy of the Popes” emerged in the late 1500s at a time of great papal upheaval. Heralded at the time as a miraculous development, the origin and early years of the prophecy are cloaked in murky mysticism.

According to “Prophecy of the Popes,” a time of vast biblical significance is now at hand.

“The Last Pope?” calls on medieval historians, Vatican-affiliated experts, authors (including Tom Horn and Chris Putman, co-authors of “Petrus Romanus: The Last Pope Is Here”) and others. From Ireland to Italy, “The Last Pope?” tells a riveting story of eschatological intrigue.

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