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Pope reacts to ‘rigid’ critics

November 18, 2016

Pope Francis defended himself against critics in a lengthy interview with the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire.

The Pope said that he is leading the Church along the path set by Vatican II, moving away from “a certain legalism, which can be ideological.”

Although he did not explicitly mention the four cardinals who have issued a public call for clarification of Amoris Laetitia, the Pontiff made his meaning clear: “Some people—think of the responses to Amoris Laetitia—still do not understand,” he said. He complained that his critics think of issues in “black and white,” rather than discerning the distinctions in each individual’s case.

Pope Francis mentioned that he has been criticized for his participation in ecumenical events, by Catholics who, he said, fear that he will “Protestantize” the faith. But he said that he would not be swayed by such criticism.

“I’m not losing sleep over it,” the Pope said. He said that constructive criticism can be helpful “when there’s not a nasty spirit.” But added that in some cases it is clear to him that critics who are trying “to justify preconceived positions aren’t honest.” In those cases, he said, the critics act “with a nasty spirit to sow division.” He went on to suggest that the rigid attitudes of these critics may betray psychological problems—that they “are born from something missing.”

In the lengthy interview with Avvenire, the Pope also said:

He did not have a grand overall strategy for the Jubilee Year, but “let myself be guided by the Holy Spirit.”

“Proselytism is a grave sin,” a betrayal of the Church’s mission. “The Church is not a soccer team that goes around seeking fans,” he explained.

The temptation to “give glory to each other” and to exploit the faith for one’s own purposes is a persistent “cancer in the Church.” The Pope credited Martin Luther with rejecting “an image of the Church as an organization that can go ahead ignoring the grace of the Lord, or considering it as a possession to be taken for granted.” Returning to a theme that he had emphasized frequently in the early days of his pontificate, he said: “This temptation to build a self-referential Church, which leads to conflicts and divisions, always keeps coming back.”


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  • Posted by: scotty - Nov. 22, 2016 12:58 PM ET USA

    God gathers all men, from every nation...(Acts 10:34-38). This is what the mission of Jesus is ultimately about. Bringing everyone together requires a lot of time and effort to those that have not been "graced" with a number of blessings many of us have. When the flock decides to move on their own without/against the shepherd, the shepherd must work to not only gather those that are lost, but to close the cracks that "the faithful" have opened. The evil one needs only a small crack to get in

  • Posted by: - Nov. 19, 2016 12:18 PM ET USA

    Matthew 28; vs. 18-19 is a simple but truthful answer.

  • Posted by: ALC - Nov. 19, 2016 10:36 AM ET USA

    It is alarming to me that the pope refers to Martin Luther as a model to look to regarding the Church when he demeans and insults his own cardinals who are desperately trying to stem the tide of confusion and division that this pope has created. He is the one who is so rigid he cannot charitably respond to his own prelates who are trying to clean up the mess he made with his synods and documents on divorce/remarried and the Holy Eucharist.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 19, 2016 5:19 AM ET USA

    Having been increasingly alarmed at the seemingly conctanr criticism of the Holy Father on this site, perhaps you could publish an answer to the Holy Father's comments Mr Lawler.

  • Posted by: claire5327 - Nov. 19, 2016 1:58 AM ET USA

    Luther judged himself above Pope Leo X! One sinner judged the other as unworthy, thus, divorced himself from the Holy Church and formed his very own. It was like cutting Jesus into two ! Luther had committed Idolatry; he worshiped himself, formed a church on his own without the Presence of Christ! "Not one of his bones shall be broken!"He Had One Body! He gave His two keys of heaven and earth to Peter alone ~One Catholic Church! Where is Truth within those over 30000 Protestants Denominations?

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Nov. 18, 2016 9:49 PM ET USA

    Utter pabulum, utter nonsense and proof of rigidity! You had a straightforward opportunity to clarify that which is confusing, to affirm that which is being bent and twisted and this is the best you can do? Keep on praising the dear old Martin and maybe reform for me will take the form of reforming where I attend.

  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Nov. 18, 2016 8:48 PM ET USA

    Proselytism is a grave sin?? As I recall the Apostles, who whose shoes present bishops walk, were instructed by the ascending Jesus to be his witness "to the end of the earth." Can anyone out there give any support for Francis' bizarre claim that proselytism is a "grave sin?" The man has no judgment and is doing great damage.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Nov. 18, 2016 8:10 PM ET USA

    Pope sounds like Obama when you do not have a good response to criticism that personal attacks are in order. But this is supposed to be the Pope the leader of Church. Good question.

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Nov. 18, 2016 5:06 PM ET USA

    It is sad to see the Holy Father often enough resort to name-calling which amounts to a personal attack on his critics. Again the rigidity canard instead of encountering individuals concerned about the integrity of the Church's teaching on marriage who reach out to him. Is seeking to spread the Faith and evangelize the Catholic Church seeking "fans" for a soccer team? That's simply a caricature. To spread the Catholic Faith is a Gospel mandate. Truth is truth. Heresy is false teaching.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 18, 2016 4:58 PM ET USA

    Let’s see. The four Cardinals (and, by extension, the rest of us) who ask for clarity in a papal document are “nasty…[dis]honest…born from something missing…a cancer in the Church…” Might they perhaps be related to the “basket of deplorables…racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic -- you name it. [T]hey are irredeemable.”?

  • Posted by: koinonia - Nov. 18, 2016 4:05 PM ET USA

    “This temptation to build a self-referential Church, which leads to conflicts and divisions, always keeps coming back.” This is striking. What is the Church but the Mystical Body of Christ? There is something innately "self-referential" about the Church. She necessarily refers to Christ. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace..." Jesus said. He essentially called himself the catalyst for conflict. The Church is transcendent only in Christ. This changes everything. Flectamus genua.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Nov. 18, 2016 2:26 PM ET USA

    If nothing else, I increasingly find it surprising how a pope who considers himself so pastoral, increasingly uses ad hominem attacks to describe those who disagree with him. I do agree with him that the Church is not a soccer team seeking fans; it is the Bride of Christ with a mission to go and make disciples of all nations.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Nov. 18, 2016 11:56 AM ET USA

    There is none so blind and he who will not see.