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ROME, September 10, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis returned to the topic of his critics in America today, saying that he values honest and constructive criticism but not those who dispense “arsenic pills” or “throw a stone and then hide their hands.”
He also said that while he prays a schism will not occur, he is not afraid of it as it has always been part of the Church’s history.
The Pope’s remarks were in response to a question from the New York Times on Tuesday, during an inflight press conference on his return from a seven-day visit to the nations of Madagascar, Mozambique and Mauritius.
They come one week after Pope Francis said “for me it’s an honor if Americans attack me,” after being handed a new French book, How America Wanted to Change the Pope, by its author.
Picking up on last week’s comments, NYT reporter Jason Horowitz said:
Holy Father, on the flight to Maputo, you acknowledged being under attack by a sector of the American Church. Clearly there are strong criticisms, and there are even some cardinals and bishops, TV [stations], Catholics, American websites — many criticisms. Even some very close allies have spoken about a plot against you, as have some of your allies in the Italian curia.
Is there something these critics don’t understand about your pontificate or is there something that you have learned from the criticisms [coming from] the United States? Are you afraid of a schism in the American Church and if so, is there something that you could do, dialogue to help avoid it?
Pope Francis responded by saying that “criticism is always helpful” and that one ought to ask oneself: “for me, is it true or is it not true, and up to what point?”
“Sometimes you get angry,” he said, but there’s always something to learn from it.
Expounding on his recent comments, Pope Francis then observed that Americans aren’t his only critics. “Criticism is coming from everywhere, even from inside the curia,” he said.
A promoter of “parrhesia,” or frankness, the Pope insisted that he “likes” it when people are “honest” enough to criticize him to his face. “What I do not like is when critics operate under the table. They smile … and then they stab you in the back. This is not loyal,” he said.
True criticism can be a constructive tool, he observed, but one has to be ready for a response and dialogue. On the other hand, those who disguise their criticism dispense “arsenic pills, somewhat like throwing a stone and hiding your hand. This doesn’t help, and it comes from closed [minded] people who don’t want to hear the response.”
When it comes to criticizing the pope, he said, “saying what you don’t like, writing an article and asking for a response, this is loyal. This is loving the Church. Instead, voicing a criticism without dialogue, without wanting an answer, is not loving the Church … it is to want to change the pope, to create schism.”
“A fair criticism is always well received, at least by me,” he said.
“On the question of schism,” the Pope continued, “in the Church there have been many.” Noting examples of breaks that followed the First and Second Vatican Councils, he said that many have been rooted in a “rigid” attitude cloaked in a quest for “orthodoxy.”
The “best known break,” he said, was that of the traditionist prelate Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who founded the Society of St. Pius X after Vatican II.
“There has always been a schismatic option in the Church. It is one of the actions that the Lord always leaves to human freedom,” he said.
“I do not fear schisms. I pray for them not to happen, as the spiritual health of many people is at stake,” he said. “[I pray] there will be dialogue, that there will be correction if there is some mistake, but the path of schism is not Christian.”
It is possible that Pope Francis is thinking of his exchange with Bishop Athanasius Schneider, as he has gone some way to try to correct the misunderstanding arising from the Abu Dhabi document, which states that the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God.” Pope Francis and Bishop Schneider discussed the matter openly, in person and in writing, in March and April 2019.
Although Pope Francis has given indications that his private understanding is that the statement regards the permissive will of God, he has so far omitted to make an official clarification of its meaning.
For many this is not sufficient, as the difference between a private clarification and an official correction is no small thing in so grave a matter. Bishop Schneider has said the Vatican’s support for the spreading of the Abu Dhabi document, absent of an official clarification, is tantamount to “promoting the neglect of the first Commandment” and a “betrayal of the Gospel.”