Pope Francis recently accused a “large Catholic television channel” of “attacks and insults” against him and opined that some people wanted him dead, adding that certain unnamed Catholic prelates had met to plan a new papal election while he was in surgery for diverticulitis of the colon.
The pontiff also complained that people regard him as a “communist” and accused them of wanting to “go backward,” accusing people of being “frightened” by his doctrines on communion for the divorced and remarried, on “accompany[ing] people with sexual diversity,” and lamenting that priests wish to celebrate the Mass in Latin.
The comments were made in a meeting with Slovak Jesuits conducted during his trip to Bratislava on September 12, but were only reported today by the Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica.
Although Francis didn’t name the “large” Catholic channel that has attacked him, the statement led the Associated Press to suggest that Francis was referring to the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and its criticisms of the pope’s recently-imposed restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass.
“Some people wanted me to die”
Asked how he was, Francis responded, “Still alive, even though some people wanted me to die.”
“I know there were even meetings between prelates who thought the pope’s condition was more serious than the official version,” he added. “They were preparing for the conclave. Patience! Thank God, I’m all right.”
The comments about his critics came in response to a Jesuit who told Francis that “some even see you as heterodox while others idealize you,” and asked, “How do you deal with people who look at you with suspicion?”
“There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope,” responded Francis. “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.”
“Yes, there are also clerics who make nasty comments about me,” the pope added. “I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it and that’s why I prefer to preach, preach.”
“Some people accuse me of not talking about holiness,” said Francis. “They say I always talk about social issues and that I’m a communist. Yet I wrote an entire apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate.”
“The temptation to go backward”
One Jesuit told the pope that “under communism I experienced pastoral creativity. Some even said that a Jesuit could not be formed during communism, but others disagreed and we are here. What vision of Church can we follow?”
“You said something very important, which identifies the suffering of the Church at this moment: the temptation to go backward,” Francis responded. “We are suffering this today in the Church: the ideology of going backward. It is an ideology that colonizes minds. It is a form of ideological colonization.”
The pontiff added that people “look back to the past to seek security” and pointed specifically to those who have been discomfited by his doctrines on communion for the divorced and remarried and his “accompaniment” of “people with sexual diversity.”
“It frightens us to celebrate before the people of God who look us in the face and tell us the truth,” said Francis. “It frightens us to go forward in pastoral experiences.”
The pope recalled the “work that was done . . . at the Synod on the Family to make it understood that couples in second unions are not already condemned to hell,” adding, “It frightens us to accompany people with sexual diversity. We are afraid of the crossroads and paths that Paul VI spoke of. This is the evil of this moment, namely, to seek the path in rigidity and clericalism, which are two perversions.”
“I’ll repeat something I said to the ecumenical group I met here before you: freedom scares us,” said Francis. “In a world that is so conditioned by addictions and virtual experiences it frightens us to be free.”
Among the traditional practices the pontiff classified with “going backward” was the “ancient rite” of the Mass, which he called “automatism,” a term he did not explain. He claimed he was restoring the “true intentions” of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI by restricting its use.
“Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II,” said Francis. “My decision is the result of a consultation with all the bishops of the world made last year.”
“From now on those who want to celebrate with the vetus ordo must ask permission from as is done with biritualism. But there are young people who after a month of ordination go to the bishop to ask for it. This is a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.”
Francis encouraged the Jesuits in “closeness” to God in prayer, among themselves, with the bishop, and with the “people of God.” He told them not to “speak ill of a bishop” but rather to go to him in private to discuss things with him, adding, “And when I say bishop, I also mean the pope.”
The pontiff stated during the discussion that he knew his words would be reported by La Civiltà Cattolica, whose editor, Antonio Spadaro, had arranged the meeting specifically for that purpose.
“The idea of inviting Jesuits to meet me on my apostolic journeys is Fr. Spadaro’s because it gives him material for La Civiltà Cattolica,” said Francis. “They always publish these conversations!”
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