One week after Pope Francis said he felt “honored” to have American Catholics criticizing him, the Holy Father said he welcomes an open dialogue with those who disagree with him.
According to the National Catholic Register, the Roman Pontiff made his comments during an inflight press conference from Madagascar when Jason Horowitz of the New York Times asked him if the parts of the American Catholic Church were at risk of schism and how he planned to dialogue with his fiercest critics.
“Is there something that you have learned from your critics?” Horowitz asked. “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?”
In a markedly different tone than his previous in-flight press conference, Pope Francis said that he welcomes criticism so long as it becomes a dialogue rather than a war of words.
“First of all, criticism always helps, always,” Pope Francis began. “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.”
Last week, during another in-flight press conference, Pope Francis told French reporter Nicolas Seneze that he felt “honored” certain Americans were criticizing his papacy. His comments came in response to Seneze’s book — “How America Wanted to Change the Pope.”
“For me, it’s an honor that Americans are attacking me,” Francis said at the time.
Shortly after the flight, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni attempted to clarify the pope’s comments by saying they were made “in an informal context” and that the Holy Father “wanted to say that he always considers criticisms an honor, particularly when it comes from important thinkers and, in this case, of an important nation.”
In the same interview with Horowitz this week, Francis largely echoed Bruni’s sentiments regarding his past comments and even clarified that all the criticism directed towards him comes from all corners of the world and not just the United States.
“Criticisms are not coming only from the Americans, they are coming a bit from everywhere, even from the Curia,” said the pope. “At least those that say them 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 to the right conclusion,” he continued. “This is the dynamic of true criticism.”
Pope Francis added that people who criticize without “wanting to hear a response” or get into a dialogue about certain issues ultimately do the church little justice.
“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,” he said. “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.”
In conclusion, Pope Francis characterized some of his critics as “rigid,” whom he said have a “pseudo-schismatic” theology that “will end badly.”
“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,” he said. “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.”