In more than a dozen interviews, including with seven senior church officials, insiders say the change has left the hierarchy more polarized over the direction of the church than at any point since the great papal reformers of the 1960s.

The conservative rebellion is taking on many guises, in public comments, yes, but also in the rising popularity of conservative Catholic Web sites promoting Francis dissenters; books and promotional materials backed by conservative clerics seeking to counter the liberal trend; and leaks to the news media, aimed at Vatican reformers.

In his recent comments, Burke was also merely stating fact. Despite the vast powers of the pope, church doctrine serves as a kind of constitution. And for liberal reformers, the bruising theological pushback by conservatives is complicating efforts to translate the pope’s transformative style into tangible changes.

“At least we aren’t poisoning each other’s chalices anymore,” said the Rev. Timothy Radcliffe, a liberal British priest and Francis ally appointed to an influential Vatican post in May. Radcliffe said he welcomed open debate, even critical dissent within the church. But he professed himself as being “afraid” of “some of what we’re seeing”