ROME — Pope Francis has blasted the “backwardness” of some conservatives in the U.S. Catholic Church, saying they have replaced faith with ideology and that a correct understanding of Catholic doctrine allows for change over time.
Francis’ comments were an acknowledgment of the divisions in the U.S. Catholic Church, which has been split between progressives and conservatives who long found support in the doctrinaire papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, particularly on issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.
Many conservatives have blasted Francis’ emphasis instead on social justice issues such as the environment and the poor, while also branding as heretical his opening to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive the sacraments.
Francis made the comments in a private meeting with Portuguese members of his Jesuit religious order while visiting Lisbon on Aug. 5; the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, which is vetted by the Vatican secretariat of state, published a transcript of the encounter Monday.
During the meeting, a Portuguese Jesuit told Francis that he had suffered during a recent sabbatical year in the United States because he came across many Catholics, including some U.S. bishops, who criticized Francis’ 10-year papacy as well as today’s Jesuits.
The 86-year-old Argentine acknowledged his point, saying there was “a very strong, organized, reactionary attitude” in the U.S. church, which he called “backward.” He warned that such an attitude leads to a climate of closure, which was erroneous.
“Doing this, you lose the true tradition and you turn to ideologies to have support. In other words, ideologies replace faith,” he said.
“The vision of the doctrine of the church as a monolith is wrong,” he added. “When you go backward, you make something closed off, disconnected from the roots of the church,” which then has devastating effects on morality.
“I want to remind these people that backwardness is useless, and they must understand that there’s a correct evolution in the understanding of questions of faith and morals,” that allows for doctrine to progress and consolidate over time.
Francis has previously acknowledged the criticism directed at him from some U.S. conservatives, once quipping that it was an “honor” to be attacked by Americans.