Those who oppose Pope Francis

“Never before in the 20th century has a Pope faced so much resistance as Francis has” and “the fact that there is so much resistance shows that the Pope really is changing the Church.”

Mar 27, 2014

“Never before in the 20th century has a Pope faced so much resistance as Francis has” and “the fact that there is so much resistance shows that the Pope really is changing the Church.” These strong and in some ways surprising words came from Professor of Church history, Andrea Riccardi, in his latest commentary published in the Italian weekly magazine Famiglia Cristiana. Vatican Insider asked him some questions about his above remarks.

You wrote that no Pope in the last century has faced so much resistance as Francis. Don’t you think that’s a bit of an exaggeration?
“I made these observations as a historian. Francis is facing internal opposition from within ecclesiastical bodies, the episcopates and the clergy. But his alliance with the people is clearly strong.”

What about the opposition to Paul VI and the recent and famous opposition faced by Benedict XVI?
“The only Pope who faced strong opposition was Paul VI, that’s true. But the Church and also society at the time were going through a period of general protest. In the case of Benedict XVI, which you rightly mentioned, the opposition came from the outside, from the international public, than it did from the inside. As I said, the resistance Francis is facing is stronger and it’s coming from within the Church.”

Could you give some examples?
“Some resistance has been public, whilst in other cases it has been muttered or not expressed at all, through silence and detachment. There are some who can’t stand it when papal preaching insists, even slightly, on ethical issues. But then there’s Francis’ pastoral approach which calls bishops’ method of leadership into question as they hear people asking: ‘Why don’t you do as the Pope does?’ I don’t want to generalise too much but I am certain that there is resistance. Francis laid down his thoughts and the areas that needed to be worked on and changed, in the first six months of his pontificate. Unlike Paul VI who was a man of many words and tried to make balanced statements. Resistance comes from those who don’t want to be questioned and are averse to change.”

Why do you see silence as a form of “resistance”?
“It’s a way of pretending nothing happened, as if the Pope had not set an example to be followed. There are some who claim the Pope is not much of a “theologian.” It makes me smile when I think back to when people used to say Benedict XVI was too much of a theologian, which is proof that a Pope’s predecessor is always seen as the “good” Pope. It is also worth noting that those who are showing resistance now, went on for years about the importance of the Pope’s authority and of showing obedience to the Pope. Strangely enough, some believe that if the Pope is not how they think he should be or do what they think he should do, he is only half a Pope. But Catholicism is not an ideology; it is an energetic force that grows throughout history. I repeat: I do not wish to generalise because there are also many enthusiastic bishops and when Francis’ message gets through (let us remember it doesn’t always get through and doesn’t always reach everyone), there is a really positive reaction and people’s faith is revived.”

Some of the most fiery attacks against the Pope appear on so-called traditionalist websites and blogs but are also launched by intellectual media circles, such as some articles published by Italian newspaper Il Foglio …

“Yes, but the articles you are referring to express opinions that are shared by certain ecclesiastical circles. These kinds of reactions spring from an unfulfilled vision of how secularised society should be a society in which the Christian minority is struggling to defend certain ethical values. But what Francis is talking about is a people’s Christianity, a missionary Christianity.”

How do you view the movements’ reaction to the new pontificate?
“Christianity isn’t an ideology; the Church doesn’t change its line of thinking but grows throughout history as I said. Catholics are faithful to the Pope, from Pius XII to Francis. This is what being Catholic is about. Otherwise we are just a bunch of ideologists. Today there are ideological visions that are collapsing. The movements should also get in tune with the Evangelii Gaudium instead of self-reproducing.”

In the early months of Francis’ pontificate some predicted and in some cases actually hoped that the Pope’s so-called honeymoon with the media and the people would come to an end. But it seems to be continuing…
“The honeymoon isn’t over because it’s much more than just a media phenomenon. What the Church needs to do is to recognise the example Francis is setting and the evangelisation and pastoral care model he is proposing. It is a model that rises to the challenges of the modern world we live in and it is being proposed by a Pope who was born, who lived and served as a bishop in a city like Buenos Aires.”

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