TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta Has Replaced Martial Law With an Equally Draconian Security Order

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gets in his car after the merit-making ceremony on the occasion of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's birthday at Sanam Luang in Bangkok
Damir Sagolj—Reuters Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gets in his car after the merit-making ceremony on the occasion of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's birthday at Sanam Luang in Bangkok on April 2, 2015

The Land of Smiles appears to be sinking further into dictatorship

Martial law has been lifted in Thailand, but replaced with a sweeping new security decree that grants virtually identical powers to the junta.

On Wednesday, King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave his much-expected rubber stamp to General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s decision to invoke Article 44 of the nation’s interim constitution, by which “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability” may be curbed.

Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams decried the Southeast Asian nation’s “deepening descent into dictatorship” since the May 22 coup d’état.

“Thailand’s friends abroad should not be fooled by this obvious sleight of hand by the junta leader to replace martial law with a constitutional provision that effectively provides unlimited and unaccountable powers,” he said in a statement.

The new order grants powers to the military to arrest anyone for suspected crimes against Thailand’s powerful royal family, as well as those who are deemed to be jeopardizing national stability or violating the orders of the junta. The military has also been granted powers to seize assets, censor the media, and detain suspects for up to seven days without charge.

Anyone found guilty of flouting the order faces a year imprisonment.

Since seizing power, the military has also used — under the guise of protecting the royal family — the nation’s draconian lèse majesté law to target critics and political opponents.

On Tuesday, businessman Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee, 58, was jailed for 25 years for allegedly posting defamatory comments on Facebook concerning the monarchy.

“Thailand’s return to democracy remains uncertain as the junta retains tight grip amid the unending climate of fear,” says Verapat Pariyawong, a Harvard-trained Thai lawyer and visiting scholar at the University of London. “Martial law may be lifted today, but Thailand remains deeply sunk in unchecked military rule.”

TIME Cuba

Airbnb Heads to Cuba in Major U.S. Business Expansion

A home in Havana, Cuba, April 1, 2015
Desmond Boylan—AP A home in Havana, Cuba, on April 1, 2015

Airbnb will allow American travelers to book lodging in Cuba starting Thursday

(HAVANA) — The popular online home-rental service Airbnb will allow American travelers to book lodging in Cuba starting Thursday in the most significant U.S. business expansion on the island since the declaration of detente between the two countries late last year.

For a half-century, the U.S. trade embargo has blocked such businesses from entering the Cuban market. In January, however, the Obama administration loosened a series of restrictions on U.S. business in an attempt to encourage the growth of the island’s small private sector.

Airbnb searches for “Cuba” will now turn up more than 1,000 properties across the island, with 40 percent in Havana and the rest in tourist destinations such as Cienfuegos a few hours away on the southern coast. The company has been sending teams of representatives to Cuba for three months to sign up home owners, and plans to expand steadily in coming months.

“We believe that Cuba could become one of Airbnb’s biggest markets in Latin America,” said Kay Kuehne, regional director for Airbnb, the website and mobile app that allows users to book rooms in more than 1 million private homes around the world. “We are actually plugging into an existing culture of micro-enterprise in Cuba. The hosts in Cuba have been doing for decades what we just started doing seven years ago.”

One of the most developed and important elements of Cuba’s entrepreneurial sector is a network of thousands of privately owned rooms and houses for tourists. Starting in the post-Soviet economic crisis of the 1990s as homey, bed and breakfast-style alternatives to Cuba’s generally grim state-run hotels, “casas particulares,” or private homes, have expanded into an industry with options ranging from small apartments in central Havana to multi-room beach houses with top-notch food and maid service.

The Airbnb announcement is the latest in a series of U.S. business moves into Cuba. In February, New Jersey-based IDT Corp. and Cuban state telecoms firm ETECSA agreed to connect phone calls from the United States directly to Cuba. Previously, they were routed through third countries such as Italy and Spain.

Netflix and MasterCard have also unblocked their services in Cuba, but only a handful of islanders have connections fast enough to stream Netflix, and most credit-card issuers still prohibit transactions from Cuba, making MasterCard’s move largely symbolic so far.

The Airbnb move could be the most significant development in terms of putting money in the pockets of entrepreneurs across the island and bolstering them in a stagnant state-run economy — leading goals for the Obama administration in warming relations with Cuba.

“I think this is going to help our business prosper, to definitely improve, not just private business, but everything here,” said Israel Rivero, who owns an immaculately renovated, pre-war apartment in central Havana. He charges $25 a night per room, but the price will go to $30 on Airbnb to cover fees and currency exchange costs.

Kuehne said Airbnb’s plans had been welcomed by Cuban and U.S. authorities. Cuba has been wrestling with how to accommodate a surge of travelers since the announcement of detente. Trips to the island have been up nearly 20 percent in recent months, mostly by non-U.S. travelers, and many hotels are fully booked, particularly the few able to offer service close to international standards.

For the time being, non-U.S. travelers will not be able to use Airbnb.

Because of continuing restrictions under the U.S. embargo, the company’s Cuba listing will only be available to U.S. travelers visiting under one of 12 U.S.-government approved categories of legal travel, ranging from professional research to religious activities.

While virtually all U.S. travel to Cuba previously required individual licenses from the U.S. Treasury Department, the January changes essentially shift it to an honor system by allowing travelers to fill out a form asserting they are going for one of the approved purposes.

A major drawback for the Cuban private lodging business has been the difficulty of renting from overseas on an island with one of the world’s lower rates of Internet penetration and a constantly malfunctioning phone system. While dozens of websites such as TripAdvisor have listings for lodgings, most only provide phone numbers or email addresses for owners instead of the quick online booking and guaranteed reservations that Airbnb will offer, as it does in more than 190 countries.

“Our plan is to make it substantially easier,” Kuehne said.

While that sentiment holds for travelers, owners still have to grapple with the lack of access to the Internet across the island. Most will have to turn to pricey state-run Internet centers or hotel lobbies to check on reservations. And with much of the international banking system off-limits to Cubans due to U.S. sanctions, owners will depend on friends or business associates to receive payments from Airbnb in non-U.S. bank accounts.

Collin Laverty, owner of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the largest firms organizing group tours to Cuba, said home owners have already been investing in amenities such as central air conditioning and improved water pressure in order to be able to charge far more than $25 a night for basic service.

“You’re starting to see places that can compete with three- and four-star hotels,” Laverty said.

TIME russia

At Least 54 Dead, 15 Missing as Trawler Sinks Off Eastern Coast of Russia

The vessel is believed to have hit ice

A Russian trawler capsized in the waters just off the country’s Kamchatka peninsula on Thursday, leaving at least 54 dead and another 15 still missing.

A total of 63 people from the Dalniy Vostok have been rescued by other fishing vessels, Russian news agency TASS reported.

Of the 132 on board, 78 were Russian nationals, while the rest were from Myanmar, Ukraine, Lithuania and Vanuatu.

A source from the regional emergencies ministry told TASS that the trawler might have hit drifting ice in the Sea of Okhotsk where it sank, around 150 miles south of the city of Magadan.

“The ship did not send a distress signal,” the source said.

TIME Mexico

Flames Engulf Mexico Oil Platform in Gulf, Killing 4 Workers

"There was nothing you could do but run"

(MEXICO CITY) — A huge ball of flames engulfed an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, killing four people and sending terrified workers leaping into the sea.

State-run oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said it had averted any significant oil spill following the blast, which also injured 16 workers, two seriously, and forced the evacuation of 300.

Pemex later said a total of 45 workers had received some form of treatment or health evaluation.

Firefighters were still working to put out the fire, which was consuming the oil that was on the platform, Pemex Director General Emilio Lozoya said late Wednesday afternoon, adding that efforts were “on the right track.” Ten firefighting and emergency boats were being used.

Speaking at a news conference in the nearby city of Ciudad del Carmen, Lozoya said the cause of the fire was still being investigated, but it appeared to be something mechanical.

Helicopters ferried workers with bandaged hands and faces and burn marks on their overalls to Ciudad del Carmen, where crowds of relatives of oil workers thronged outside hospitals.

A survivor of the blaze on the shallow-water Abkatun-A Permanente platform in the Campeche Sound said workers “jumped into the sea out of desperation and panic.”

“There was nothing you could do but run,” said Roger Arias Sanchez, an employee of Pemex contractor Cotemar who escaped the burning platform in an evacuation boat.

Many of the injured appeared to be Cotemar employees.

In a statement later Wednesday, Pemex said the accident “did not cause an oil spill into the sea, given that there was only a seepage, which is being taken care of by specialized vessels.”

The company said it had been able to cut off pipelines to avoid a spill, and suggested that the oil remaining in the pipelines was burning off.

Lozoya said the accident “would have a minimal impact on production, because this was a processing platform,” not a producing well. Production from nearby wells it normally serves could be rerouted to other processing platforms.

President Enrique Pena Nieto promised an investigation to “find whoever is responsible” and avoid such accidents in the future.

The Abkatun A platform largely serves to separate gas, oil and other petroleum products, and pump them to refineries onshore.

Previous spills from Mexican facilities have usually occurred at active offshore wells, not processing stations.

The Abkatun platform lies off the coast of the states of Campeche and Tabasco. It is farther out to sea than the platform involved in the last severe fire in the area, a 2007 blaze at the Kab 121 offshore rig.

That accident was caused by high waves that hit the rig, sending a boom crashing into a valve assembly. The blaze killed at least 21 workers and the rig spilled crude and natural gas for almost two months.

Mexico’s worst major spill in the Gulf was in June 1979, when an offshore drilling rig in Mexican waters, the Ixtoc I, blew up, releasing 140 million gallons of oil. It took Pemex and a series of U.S. contractors nearly nine months to cap the well, and a great deal of the oil contaminated Mexican and U.S. waters.

Pemex has had serious security problems in the past, mainly in its onshore pipeline network, where thieves drilled around 2,500 illegal taps in the first nine months of 2104 and stole more than $1 billion in fuel.

That problem got so bad that in February, the company announced it would no longer ship finished, usable gasoline or diesel through pipelines.

That apparently hasn’t stopped the thieves, though. On Wednesday, federal police announced they had seized three tanker trucks and 148,000 liters (39,100 gallons) of stolen fuel at several different sites throughout the country as well as locating two illegal pipeline taps.

TIME Terrorism

U.N. Report: More Than 25,000 Foreigners Fight With Terrorists

The flow is "higher than it has ever been historically"

(UNITED NATIONS) — The number of fighters leaving home to join al-Qaida and the Islamic State group in Iraq, Syria and other countries has spiked to more than 25,000 from over 100 nations, according to a new U.N. report.

The panel of experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against al-Qaida said in the report obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press that its analysis indicates the number of foreign terrorist fighters worldwide increased by 71 percent between mid-2014 and March 2015.

It said the scale of the problem has increased over the past three years and the flow of foreign fighters “is higher than it has ever been historically.”

The overall number of foreign terrorist fighters has “risen sharply from a few thousand … a decade ago to more than 25,000 today,” the panel said in the report to the U.N. Security Council.

The report said just two countries have accounted for over 20,000 foreign fighters: Syria and Iraq. They went to fight primarily for the Islamic State group but also the Al-Nusra Front.

Looking ahead, the panel said the thousands of foreign fighters who traveled to Syria and Iraq are living and working in “a veritable ‘international finishing school’ for extremists,” as was the case in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

A military defeat of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq could have the unintended consequence of scattering violent foreign terrorist fighters across the world, the panel said. And while governments are focusing on countering the threat from fighters returning home, the panel said it’s possible that some may be traumatized by what they saw and need psychological help, and that others may be recruited by criminal networks.

In addition to Syria and Iraq, the report said Afghan security forces estimated in March that about 6,500 foreign fighters were active in the country. And it said hundreds of foreigners are fighting in Yemen, Libya and Pakistan, around 100 in Somalia, and others in the Sahel countries in northern Africa, and in the Philippines.

The number of countries the fighters come from has also risen dramatically from a small group in the 1990s to over 100 today — more than half the countries in the world — including some that have never had previous links with al-Qaida associated groups, the panel said.

It cited the “high number” of foreign fighters from Tunisia, Morocco, France and Russia, the increase in fighters from the Maldives, Finland and Trinidad and Tobago, and the first fighters from some countries in sub-Saharan Africa which it didn’t name.

The panel said the fighters and their networks “pose an immediate and long-term threat” and “an urgent global security problem” that needs to be tackled on many fronts and has no easy solution.

With globalized travel, it said, the chance of a person from any country becoming a victim of a foreign terrorist attack “is growing, particularly with attacks targeting hotels, public spaces and venues.”

But the panel noted that a longstanding terrorist goal is “generating public panic” and stressed that the response needs to “be measured, effective and proportionate.”

It said the most effective policy is to prevent the radicalization, recruitment and travel of would-be fighters.

The panel noted that less than 10 percent of basic information to identify foreign fighters has been put in global systems and called for greater intelligence sharing. As a positive example, it noted that the “watch list” in Turkey — a key transit point to Syria and Iraq — now includes 12,500 individuals.

TIME

Iran Nuke Talks Extended Once Again After Faltering

Iran, world powers inch towards nuclear agreement
Laurent Gillieron—EPA US Secretary of State John Kerry looks at the view of Lake Geneva from his hotel room as the Iran nuclear talks continue, in Lausanne, Switzerland, April 1, 2015.

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program headed for double overtime on Wednesday, beset by competing claims and recriminations after differences forced diplomats to abandon their March 31 deadline for the outline of a deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry postponed his departure from the talks in the Swiss town of Lausanne for a second time and will remain until at least Thursday morning to continue negotiations, the State Department said. On Thursday, the latest round of talks will hit the weeklong mark with diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany scrambling to reach a framework accord with Iran.

“We continue to make progress but have not reached a political understanding,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said in announcing Kerry’s decision.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said negotiators were still facing a “tough struggle,” indicating the talks were not likely to end anytime soon. “Tonight there will be new proposals, new recommendations. I can’t predict whether that will sufficient to enable an agreement to be reached,” he said.

At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused his country’s negotiating partners, particularly the U.S., of having “defective” political will in the talks.

“I’ve always said that an agreement and pressure do not go together, they are mutually exclusive,” he told reporters. “So our friends need to decide whether they want to be with Iran based on respect or whether they want to continue based on pressure.”

The negotiators’ intention is to produce a joint statement outlining general political commitments to resolving concerns about the Iranians’ nuclear program in exchange for relief of economic sanctions against Iran. In addition, they are trying to fashion other documents that would lay out in more detail the steps they must take by June 30 to meet those goals.

But Iran has pushed back not only on the substance of the commitments the sides must make but to the form in which they will make them, demanding that it be a general statement with few specifics. That is politically unpalatable for the Obama administration which must convince a hostile Congress that it has made progress in the talks so lawmakers do not enact new sanctions that could destroy the negotiations.

Zarif said the result of this round of talks “will not be more than a statement.”

A senior Western official pushed back on that, saying that nothing about a statement had been decided and that Iran’s negotiating partners would not accept a document that contained no details. The official was not authorized to speak to the negotiations by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi named differences on sanctions relief as one dispute — but also suggested some softening of Tehran’s long-term insistence that all sanctions on his country be lifted immediately once a final deal takes effect.

He told Iranian TV that economic, financial, oil and bank sanctions imposed by the U.S., the European Union and others should be done away with as “the first step of the deal.” Alluding to separate U.N. sanctions he said a separate “framework” was needed for them.

Araghchi has spoken of a similar arrangement before. But both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have since demanded full and total sanctions lifting, and the floating of the approach now suggested an Iranian shift.

Araghchi also rejected U.S. demands of strict controls on Iran’s uranium enrichment-related research and development, saying such activities “should continue.”

The U.S. and its negotiating partners want to crimp Iranian efforts to improve the performance of centrifuges that enrich uranium because advancing the technology could let Iran produce material that could be used to arm a nuclear weapon much more quickly than at present.

The additional documents the U.S. wants would allow the sides to make the case that the next round of talks will not simply be a continuation of negotiations that have already been twice extended since an interim agreement between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany was concluded in 2013. President Barack Obama and other leaders, including Iran’s, have said they are not interested in a third extension.

But if the parties agree only to a broad framework that leaves key details unresolved, Obama can expect stiff opposition at home from members of Congress who want to move forward with new, stiffer Iran sanctions. Lawmakers had agreed to hold off on such a measure through March while the parties negotiated. The White House says new sanctions would scuttle further diplomatic efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear work and possibly lead Israel to act on threats to use military force to accomplish that goal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has campaigned tirelessly for months against the emerging agreement, said it would “ensure a bad deal that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world.”

“A better deal would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. A better deal would link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior,” he said.

TIME Iran

Iran Nuke Talks Stumble a Day After Missing Deadline

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif talks to members of the media while walking through a courtyard at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel during an extended round of talks in Lausanne on April 1, 2015.
Brendan Smialowski—REUTERS Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif talks to members of the media while walking through a courtyard at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel during an extended round of talks in Lausanne on April 1, 2015.

For nearly a week, Iran and six powers have been locked in negotiations

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says negotiators at the Iran nuclear talks are still facing a “tough struggle,” indicating the talks are not likely to end soon.

At the same time, he’s holding out hope that the sides will be able to negotiate a preliminary accord that will let them embark on a new phase of talks aiming for a final deal by June.

For nearly a week, Iran and six powers have been locked in haggling over what that initial understanding should look like. The talks were extended past the Tuesday deadline in an effort to bridge differences.

Steinmeier said Wednesday that he hopes when the talks end “we won’t just be reporting about closing gaps … but also over agreement about important points.”

TIME Nigeria

Twitter Courtesy Has Been a Factor in Reducing Post-Election Violence in Nigeria

NIGERIA-ELECTIONS-RESULTS
Nichole Sobecki—AFP/Getty Images Nigerians celebrate the victory of main opposition presidential candidate Mohammadu Buhar, in Kaduna on March 31, 2015.

Nigeria's election defied predictions for widespread violence and fraud. A concerted social media campaign may have played a part

For an election considered too close to call as Nigerians went to the polls en mass on Saturday morning, nothing was more surprising than the fact that for the first time in the country’s post-colonial history an opposition challenger succeeded in pushing out a sitting president via the ballot box. That and the fact that for all the dire predictions of doom and violence, the final results were accompanied by cheers and groans, not gloating and gunshots. Some of that just may be attributable to winning candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s remarkable Twitter feed, rife with positive thoughts and cheerful goodwill throughout.

Winning candidate Muhammadu Buhari, who will be sworn in as President on May 29, praised his rival President Goodluck Jonathan for peacefully relinquishing power. “President Jonathan was a worthy opponent and I extend the hand of fellowship to him,” Buhari told a gathering at his campaign headquarters on Wednesday. For his part, Jonathan, a former Vice-President turned two-time President who many had assumed would never willingly give up power, was gracious in his defeat, saying in a statement, “I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word.” He went on to encourage his supporters to stay calm and accept the results, no matter how disappointed. “Nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.”

While there was no shortage of rancor through out the campaign period — at one point Jonathan supporters spread the rumor that a long-planned speaking engagement for Buhari, 72, in the United States was in fact an emergency medical consultation for suspected prostate cancer — both candidates repeatedly professed a desire for a peaceful election and a mature, responsible electorate. By and large they got it, with minimal damage from protestors and a relatively low death toll of just a few dozen, compared to the slaughter of the 2011 election, which saw more than 800 die in widespread rioting. For most of the run up to the election, Buhari supporters and campaign activists hinted at dark conspiracies by Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party to rig the vote, prevent Buhari supporters from going to the polls, or manipulate the final count.

But throughout it all Buhari’s Twitter feed focused on the positive, rarely betraying the acrimony splashed across Nigeria’s partisan papers. Buhari came late to Twitter, signing on only on the last day of January with the verified handle @ThisIsBuhari, compared to early adopter Jonathan. Buhari demonstrated few of Jonathan’s grievous faux pas, among them the ill conceived #BringBackJonathan hashtag campaign for re-election, a tasteless imitation of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag slogan to recover the 257 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year. From earnest shoutouts to female candidates for state governor:

To exhortations for Nigerians to stay calm in the wake of terror attacks:

His final twitter missive to Nigerians, spelled out over 50 successive posts, qualifies as one of the more novel campaign uses of a medium designed to be brief.

Even when U.S and European officials expressed concern that there might be military and government manipulation in the final counting of the votes on Monday, Buhari urged his supporters to stay calm:

Most endearing of all was a tweet not scripted by Buhari himself, but retweeted in honor of his wife:

But after the celebrations come thorny issues such as taking on the Islamist militants Boko Haram. In a speech on Wednesday, Buhari said: “Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will. We should spare no effort until we defeat terrorism.”

TIME Religion

Pope Francis’s Divorce Dilemma

TIME Books

Somebody is going to feel betrayed no matter what he does

Though one probably should be cautious in using such language about a religious leader, Pope Francis seems to have painted himself into a “damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t” corner with regard to a mounting Catholic debate over divorce.

Whether a result of cunning, naiveté, or simply the inescapable dynamics of a trying to change a divided church, Francis has created a situation in which somebody is going to feel betrayed no matter what he does.

In a nutshell, Catholicism teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman (hence “no” to gay marriage), permanent (hence “no” to divorce), and must be open to children (hence “no” to birth control). Despite his reputation as a maverick, Francis has made clear that teaching will not change.

Yet there’s long been debate about how to care for believers living beyond the official boundaries, especially those who divorce and remarry outside the Church.

Under church law, such folk should be denied the sacraments of communion and confession. In practice, some priests and bishops over the years have quietly encouraged them to come anyway. It’s particularly tempting when the person isn’t at fault for the breakdown of the first marriage – for instance, a woman whose husband walked out – and who now has children in a second marriage.

There’s no precise estimate worldwide, but according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, some 4.5 million Catholics in the United States are divorced and remarried without an “annulment,” a declaration from a church court that the first marriage was invalid.

During the more relaxed Pope Paul VI era in the 1970s, the Vatican signed off on what’s known as an “internal forum” solution, meaning that a Catholic makes a private decision in conscience to take the sacraments, approved by a priest acting as a confessor. Pope John Paul II in 1981 reasserted the communion ban.

In 1993 a handful of German prelates, including Walter Kasper, then the Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and today a cardinal, announced they would welcome the divorced and remarried to communion anyway. Their stance triggered a Vatican crackdown the next year by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.

That’s where things stood until Francis, who’s sent mixed signals. In February 2013, the pontiff tapped Kasper to re-open a debate among cardinals about inviting the divorced and remarried back to the sacraments in at least some cases, but has also allowed several of his own aides to insist publicly that change is impossible.

Fueling controversy even more, Francis has called two summits of Catholic bishops, called “synods,” on family issues. A synod can’t decide anything; it can merely offer advice to a pope. But it’s a useful x-ray of where the world’s bishops stand.

During the first, held last October, battles lines were drawn for and against the “Kasper proposal” to loosen the rules, and signs are that the clash will be even more intense during round two this October.

In recent weeks, 500 conservative priests in the U.K. published an open letter asking the synod to defend the communion ban, prompting their more moderate boss, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, to tell them to keep their advice out of the papers.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, also a moderate, hinted that the German bishops might go their own way regardless of what the synod decides. His position was decried as “absolutely anti-Catholic” by fellow German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican’s top doctrinal overseer, and better suited “to the counter of a bar” by another more conservative German, Cardinal Paul Cordes, a former Vatican official close to Pope Benedict.

Staunchly conservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke warned in a recent interview that “confusion is spreading in an alarming way.” In a speech to German bishops, Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch actually compared calls to water down church teaching to the way some German Christians went along with Hitler.

Meanwhile, the influential Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, a Catholic rock star across Asia, came out in favor of making the rules more flexible. “Every situation for those who are divorced and remarried is quite unique,” Tagle said in a speech in the U.K. in mid-March. “We cannot give one formula for all.”

Though it’s common for Catholics at the grassroots to slug it out like this, cardinals doing so in full public view is unusual. It reflects a sense that the stakes are high, for a couple of reasons.

For one, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI took a clear stand on the issue. If Francis were to roll it back, it could send a signal that all papal edicts are only temporary, undercutting the ancient dictum that “Rome has spoken, the case is closed.”

For another, the dust-up over divorce and remarriage often functions as a proxy for more contentious matters, such as women priests or birth control. If a pope is willing to break with the past here, some hope and others fear, perhaps change will come elsewhere.

Francis is a pope of surprises, making it difficult to predict what he’ll decide. It’s far easier to forecast that whatever happens, a sizeable chunk of the Catholic Church is going to be deeply disenchanted.

John L. Allen Jr., is the author of THE FRANCIS MIRACLE: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church, published by Time Inc. Books.

TIME Egypt

See Egypt’s Pyramids From Space

The pyramids of Giza in Egypt, seen from space.
Samantha Cristoforetti—European Space Agency The pyramids of Giza in Egypt, (center left) seen from space.

Look for the triangular shadows

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took a photo of the famous pyramids of Giza in Egypt from her current home on the International Space Station. Follow her on Twitter @AstroSamantha.

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