The crowds are quieter than they used to be.
At the Pope’s weekly audience in St Peter’s Square, tourists and pilgrims barely filled half the piazza. It was easy to get to the front of the crowd to watch Francis go by in his Popemobile.
In his address, he reflected on his recent trip to Ireland. “The meeting with eight survivors [of abuse by priests] left a deep impact,” he said.
The audience was a sombre reminder that the novelty of this papacy has given way to two main battles, which are now tangled into one.
The first of these battles puts the Pope up against those who accuse him of not doing enough to tackle child abuse in the Church.
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Pope Francis refused to respond to Archbishop Vigano’s 11-page letter as he returned from Ireland
“They sense this especially now, with questionable innovative teachings coming from the Vatican and reports of abuse cover up at the highest levels. I believe these Catholics’ voices should be heard, and, as a Catholic journalist, I see it as my job to try to make sure they are.”
Those voices include a number of cardinals.
In 2016, four of them wrote to Francis calling on him to clarify his teaching. It was seen as a highly unusual act of protest or even disobedience. Their letter, openly questioning the Pope’s judgement, foreshadowed the statement released by Archbishop Vigano.
Francis did not reply to the cardinals’ letter. Nor has he replied to Carlo Maria Vigano’s accusations.
The Pope has clearly decided that there is nothing to be gained by engaging in open battle with conservative critics.
“He is no pushover,” says Robert Mickens. “He is standing his ground.”
Popes can expect to find themselves taking on dissident factions within the Church.
In 1988, Pope John Paul II took the dramatic step of excommunicating some members of a renegade religious society led by the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre which had rejected Vatican reforms.
Benedict XVI took a strict line against priests who strayed from official teaching.
The fight against doctrinal opponents may be the easier of Francis’s two battles.
The Pope’s wider public fight to convince the other critics inside and outside the Church that he is capable of confronting the institution’s legacy of clerical sexual abuse may be much more difficult.