Pope speaks openly about possible schism

Pope Francis spoke openly for the first time this week about the possibility of a US Catholic conservative-led schism. His frank comments were made during a press conference while he was flying home after visiting Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius.

There have been many schisms in the Church’s 2,000-year history, he noted.

Although he said he is “not afraid of schisms,” Francis added that he prays there won’t be any as the “spiritual health of many people is at stake.”

He said is concerned about the “rigid” ideology that has already infiltrated the American church, which his critics use to mask their own moral failings.

Led by Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who stepped up attacks on the pope after Francis demoted him from a senior Vatican post, the conservative movement is growing.

Some conservative political movements in the United States have joined forces with religious conservatives to attack the pope.

Implying his critics are hypocrites, Francis confronted doctrinal issues raised in the U.S. and beyond by those who oppose his outreach to gay and divorced people and his concern for the poor and the environment.

“When you see Christians, bishops, priests, who are rigid, behind that there are problems and an unhealthy way of looking at the Gospel,” Francis said.

“So I think we have to be gentle with people who are tempted by these attacks because they are going through problems. We have to accompany them with tenderness,” he said.

Even though he is rejecting the conservatives’ stance, he said he welcomes “loyal” criticism that leads to introspection and dialogue.

Such “constructive” criticism shows a love for the church. In contrast, his ideologically driven critics don’t really want a response but merely to “throw stones and then hide their hand.”

“Let there be dialogue, correction if there is some error. But the path of the schismatic is not Christian,” he added.

Francis’ allies, including German Cardinal Walter Kaper and the head of Francis’ Jesuit order, have said the conservative criticism amounts to a “plot” to force the first Jesuit pope to resign so a conservative would take his place.

Asked about the criticism and risk of schism, Francis said his social teachings were identical to those of St. John Paul II, the standard-bearer for many conservative Catholics.

In a tweet posted yesterday, Rome correspondent Christopher Lamb says next month Burke will speak at a summit which includes a $500 per head priests’ conference and seminarians-only event.

The tweet continues: “Francis says ‘A schisms is always an elitist separation'”.


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