Can Pope Francis change the church while stonewalling on sex abuse?

To Francis’s allies much of the scandal is dismissed as a plot by his enemies, an attempted coup by frustrated conservatives.

But if so it’s the most ineffectual coup imaginable, with no actual plan for changing the direction of his pontificate. Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review likened Viganò’s bombshell to the failed putsch by Turkish officers against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which led nowhere because none of the higher-ups could execute a plan. So it is among the church’s conservative cardinals: To talk with anti-Francis churchmen is to encounter not Machiavellian plots but despair and bafflement and impotence.

Which the pope senses, seemingly, because his response to the scandals has been to refuse obvious adaptations — there have been no further resignations in his corruption-tainted inner circle, no Roman investigation of the American church despite the specific request for one from the American bishops — while plunging ahead boldly on other fronts. So far the current sex abuse agony has been punctuated by a papal revision of church teaching on the death penalty and a dramatic, high-risk deal with the Communist government in Beijing; this month’s synod may provide further doctrinal punctuation. No scandal is big enough, apparently, to derail the pope’s ambitions to leave the church permanently changed.