Catholic opposition to Pope Francis is scandalous and unprecedented, Washington, D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory said at a Nov. 21 panel.
The panel focused on the impact Francis has had during his six years leading the Catholic Church and challenges that he pope currently faces, particularly the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Gregory was joined by Helen Alvaré, an anti-abortion advocate and law professor at George Mason University, and John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University at the event in the Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart.
The panelists spoke about the resistance movement within the Catholic Church against Francis, as well as the implications of the issues he has chosen to prioritize on during his time as pope. The speakers also reflected on the challenges currently facing the church, including the clergy sexual abuse crisis and controversies about the role of women.
The extent of the pushback against the relatively liberal Francis, who was named pope in 2013, is anomalous, even for an ancient institution like the Catholic Church, according to Gregory.
“Opposition to the pope is not new, but what is new is the level and intensity that is there,” Gregory said. “It’s the insidiousness of the opposition movement that I think is scandalous for us.”
The Office of Mission and Ministry and the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life hosted the panel, “The Francis Factor Today,” as part of the Dahlgren Dialogues series. The series, which was started in October 2017, features conversations with leaders on contemporary issues involving faith and public life.
Francis has emphasized the church’s teachings on protecting the environment, embracing migrants and being more inclusive toward LGBTQ Catholics. Many Catholics oppose Pope Francis because of personal or political motivations, rather than with constructive criticism, Carr said.
“I think people try to use Francis to their own ends,” he said. “I think they try to score points. I think they try to get clicks. I think they try to lift up their own visibility.”
Public controversy over Francis’ leadership has lasted for years. Journalist Ross Douthat warned that Francis could increase opposition from conservative Catholics and divide the church in a 2015 article in The Atlantic. In 2017, a high-ranking German cardinal spoke out to oppose Francis’ support of reforming the church’s ban on divorced Catholics receiving communion.
The widespread use of social media can also explain why the opposition movement to Francis may appear to have more traction than opposition to previous popes, according to Gregory.
“Social media gives the opposition a megaphone,” Gregory said. “The Holy Father has to deal with divisions that are trumpeted with no control.”
The way the pope responded to his own mistakes handling the cover-up of the clergy sexual abuse scandal in Chile demonstrated his leadership, Gregory said.
While in Chile, Francis accused survivors of sexual assault of slandering the priests who abused them. Francis later apologized for his statements, saying he received inaccurate information and taking responsibility for contributing to the crisis. Gregory was impressed by the pope’s humility.
“His apology was stunning,” Gregory said. “He’s revealed his humanity in startling ways.”
The pope has also attempted to address the unequal representation of women in the church.
The direct way that Francis speaks about the need for increased involvement of women in the church is effective in bringing attention to the issue, according to Alvaré, who is the adviser to the Pontifical Council of the Laity and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“One of the cool things about Pope Francis is he’s very blunt steering a big ship,” Alvaré said. “He says big things about the role of women in the church, and he says them many times, and I’m glad for that because this ship has to be moved.”
The pope’s mantra of emphasizing service over servitude is something that should be applied to women’s role in the church, according to Alvaré.
“I think there needs to be more of an involvement of women on an ongoing basis,” Alvaré said. “We’re not starting from scratch. There’s women doing all kinds of things. But we’re not celebrating it enough, and we’re not realizing it enough.”
What’s scandalous is a pope who is harboring Bishop Zanchetta in Santa Marta in Rome. Zanchetta is also from Argentina, and the pope knew him very well. The Pope promoted Zanchetta to bishop knowing full well that Zhanchetta was a boy-chaser.
What’s scandalous is all the perfumed princes of the Church, safe in their jobs, NOT cleaning out the house.
Douglas Cole says
I think that the Pope shoild replace many of the most conservative opposition. It is time for the church to modernize, to move forward, giving women and married members more of a role in the church.
Yeah, we need to emulate the great success of the liberal Episcopalians, Doug.
“Mundus totus in maligno positus erat [the whole world was set in evil]: there was no longer any holiness; justice was failing and truth buried. Iniquity reigned, avarice ruled; Simon Magus possessed the Church, the bishops and priests were given over the sensual pleasure and fornication…Such was the the Church, such were the bishops and priests, such were some among the Roman Pontiffs.” St. Bruno, De Simoniacis
Could have been written just this morning! St. Bruno, pray for us!
James A Mitchell says
But what sort of response would you expect from such a scandalous and unprecedented pope?
But archbishop – in the words of your pope – who are you to judge?
Pope Francis is not my Pope. Pope Benedict was. I do have compassion for divorced and Gay people and Pope Francis’s urging that we as Catholics embrace them further. I also believe that knowingly doing harm to God’s Creation (the environment) is a sin whose gravity is dependent on the gravity of the action – potentially very grave.
But, he has also brought back known child molesters who were “purged” by Benedict. Much of the weirdness in the Church stems from having unmarried priests, which attracts people with Gay tendencies or unresolved sexual immaturity. So, I am also disaffected from that perspective. The Ukrainian Catholic Church, for example, allows married priests, but they must be married before attaining the rank of Deacon, otherwise not a chance. That is unfair as I know priests living under conditions of great loneliness and there is an open secret that they often engage in relations with post-menopausal women.
I don’t trust this Argentine Socialist who believes in One World government and Global Warming, issues that are outside of his brief and above his pay grade. The former would have us living under One World Tyranny and the latter ignores the Medieval and Roman warming period, which was warmer than today without human industry.
Finally, he coddles Islam, making false statements about what is in the Koran. Peacefulness does not require us to be delusional. In fact, we must insist on truth, because the Truth is our Lord. The Catholic Pope is not required to play “Useful Idiot” to Muslim leaders who say the exact opposite when speaking Arabic than they do when making false promises to the Pope. Read this:
So, I have made the decision that Pope Francis is not my Pope. If that makes me a bad Catholic, then that is a risk I am taking.
I see that what I wrote before is too hot for you and you would like to censor it. Shame on you! As I look at your website, it is full of weak and ill considered opinions, so no loss there for me.
TOM WELSH says
Since 1848 the Vatican Bureaucracy has been adrift without a rudder in a world caught up in a storm of change. At the heart of the matter is not a matter of doctrine or liturgy; it is the fact that the Vatican is a court. The catholic church is ruled by a monarch and as with all monarchies the courtiers seize privileges and power. In a monarchy it is not possible to abide by the principle of subsidiarity, a traditional catholic teaching, all power must flow from the centre. Finally, a monarchy denies all rights to its subjects just a the does the present code of canon law. Get real, folks!
Francis is undermining the Catholic Faith
John Evans says
The Catholic Church’s heroic faithful are being administered to by a batch of witless morons. Stand for Jesus, stand for The Creator of Heaven and Earth or stand down. Shallow men in dresses doesn’t impress unbelievers or serve God.
Lawrence t phelps says
Pope Francis with “Who am I to judge?”, to the Fillippjne people “practice “responsible parenthood” and don’t have to breed “like rabbits.”. Such arrogance.
Loved reading the article. Each time you believe you’re being dismissed God’s really diverting you to something better. Request that he give you the solidarity to press forward. Thanks for sharing.