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Pope Responds to Questions About ‘Schism’ and Criticism in US Church & Beyond, Returning from 4th Apostolic Visit to Africa

Holy Father Also Says Trips in Europe Will Focus on Smaller Countries, But Will Visit Spain ‘If I Live’

While flying back from Madagascar and returning toward Rome, the Holy Father held his traditional in-air press conference with journalists.

Before leaving for the airport, Francis also greeted about ten poor elderly women at the apostolic nunciature where he was staying who represent those who the nunciature assists every Friday.

At 9:40 a.m. local time (8:40 Rome time) Sept. 10, the Madagascar Airlines A340neo papal flight carrying the Pope, his entourage and journalists, took off from Madgascar’s Antananarivo Airport, en route for Rome’s Ciampino Airport.

The Holy Father’s Sept. 4-10 visit to the ‘three ‘M’s’ of Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius, marked the Pope’s fourth visit to Africa, his second to Sub-Saharan Africa, and represented the Holy Father’s attention to the peripheries and the poor. It also marked his 31st Apostolic Trip.

Each of these nations had been visited by St. Pope John Paul II during his pontificate.

During the press conference, the Holy Father thanked the journalists for their work and company, and then answered questions.

Responding first to a question about the Pontiff’s hopes for Mozambique, the Pope expressed his wish, and “prayer,” that the peace process continue.

“I invite everyone,” the Holy Father said, “to make an effort to ensure that this peace process is carried forward – because, as a Pope before me said, everything is lost through war, and everything is won through peace. (Pius XII) This is clear, and it must not be forgotten.”

The Pope also took two questions from the Spanish journalist of EFE, given it is the Spanish agency’s 80th anniversary.

Asking him if he would visit Spain, the Pontiff reflected:  “I would need a crystal ball… I will go to Spain if  I am alive, but my priority regarding my journeys in Europe is for the smaller countries, then the larger ones.”

The question from the English-speaking group addressed some critics of the Church in the United States and discussed schism. The Holy Father acknowledged that criticism does not only come from the US, but “from the Curia,” and other places. Noting he welcomes constructive criticism, the Pontiff encouraged dialogue and said he prays schism would not happen, as it has occurred throughout the history of the Church.

Here is the question posed to the Pope, and below is the Pope’s full response:

Question of English-speaking journalists, asked by Jason Horowitz of the New York Times:

On the flight to Maputo, you acknowledged being under attack by a segment of the American Church. Obviously, there is strong criticism from some bishops and cardinals, there are Catholic Television stations and American websites that are very critical. And there are even some of your closest allies who have spoken of a plot against you. Is there something that these critics do not understand about your pontificate? Is there something that you have learned from your critics? Are you afraid of a schism in the American Church? And if so, is there something that you could do – a dialogue – to keep it from happening?

Pope Francis’ full response (from Vatican News’ unofficial translation)

“First of all, criticism always helps, always. When someone receives criticism, that person needs to do a self-critique right away and say: is this true or not? To what point? And I always benefit from criticism. Sometimes it makes you angry…. But there are advantages. Traveling to Maputo, one of you gave me that book in French on how the Americans want to change the Pope. I knew about that book, but I had not read it. Criticisms are not coming only from the Americans, they are coming a bit from everywhere, even from the Curia. At least those that say (criticize) have the benefit of the honesty of having said them. I do not like it when criticism stays under the table: they smile at you letting you see their teeth and then they stab you in the back. That is not fair, it is not human. Criticism is a component in construction, and if your criticism is unjust, be prepared to receive a response, and get into dialogue, and arrive at the right conclusion. This is the dynamic of true criticism. The criticism of the arsenic pills, instead, of which we were speaking regarding the article that I gave to Msgr Rueda, it’s like throwing the stone and then hiding your hand… This is not beneficial, it is no help. It helps small cliques, who do not want to hear the response to their criticism. Instead, fair criticism – I think thus and so – is open to a response. This is constructive. Regarding the case of the Pope: I don’t like this aspect of the Pope, I criticize him, I speak about him, I write an article and ask him to respond, this is fair. To criticize without wanting to hear a response and without getting into dialogue is not to have the good of the Church at heart, it is chasing after a fixed idea, to change the Pope or to create a schism. This is clear: a fair criticism is always well received, at least by me. Secondly, the problem of the schism: within the Church, there have been many schisms. After the First Vatican Council, for example, the last vote, the one on infallibility, a well-sized group left and founded the Old Catholic Church so as to remain “true” to the tradition of the Church. Then they developed differently and now they ordain women. But at that moment they were rigid, they rallied behind orthodoxy and thought that the council had erred. Another group left very, very quietly, but they did not want to vote. Vatican II had these things among its consequences. Perhaps the most well-known post-conciliar split is that of Lefebvre. In the Church, there is always the option for schism, always. But it is an option that the Lord leaves to human freedom. I am not afraid of schisms, I pray that there will be none because what is at stake is people’s spiritual health. Let there be dialogue, let there be correction if there is an error, but the schismatic path is not Christian. Let’s think about the beginnings of the Church, how it began with many schisms, one after the other: Arians, Gnostics, Monophysites… An anecdote is coming to mind that I would like to recount: it was the people of God who saved [the Church] from the schisms. The schismatics always have one thing in common: they separate themselves from the people, from the faith of the people of God. And when there was a discussion in the council of Ephesus regarding Mary’s divine maternity, the people – this is history – were at the entrance of the cathedral while the bishops entered to take part in the council. They were there with clubs. They made the bishops see them as they shouted, “Mother of God! Mother of God!”, as if to say: if you do not do this, this is what you can expect… The people of God always correct and helpful. A schism is always an elitist separation stemming from an ideology detached from doctrine. It is an ideology, perhaps correct, but that engages doctrine and detaches it… And so I pray that schisms do not happen, but I am not afraid of them. This is one of the results of Vatican II, not because of this or that Pope. For example, the social things that I say are the same things that John Paul II said, the same things! I copy him. But they say: the Pope is a communist… Ideologies enter into doctrine and when doctrine slips into ideology that’s where there’s the possibility of a schism. There’s the ideology of the primacy of a sterile morality regarding the morality of the people of God. The pastors must lead their flock between grace and sin because this is evangelical morality. Instead, a morality based on such a pelagian ideology leads you to rigidity, and today we have many schools of rigidity within the Church, which are not schisms, but pseudo-schismatic Christian developments that will end badly. When you see rigid Christians, bishops, priests, there are problems behind that, not Gospel holiness. So, we need to be gentle with those who are tempted by these attacks, they are going through a tough time, we must accompany them gently.”

As is customary, Pope Francis visited Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to thank Our Lady for the fruits of the trip, and for her help and protection, confirmed the Holy See Press Office on Twitter.

This morning, the Pope held his weekly General Audience in the Vatican, where he spoke about his trip.

***

On ZENIT’s Web page:

Full Unofficial Vatican News Press Conference Text:  https://zenit.org/articles/full-text-of-pope-francis-in-flight-press-conference-returning-from-africa/

About Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is a Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in four languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight, and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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