Pope Francis has criticized the “backwardness” of certain conservative factions within the U.S. Catholic Church, arguing that they have substituted faith with ideology. He contended that a proper interpretation of Catholic teaching is open to change over time.
The Pope’s remarks come in the context of ongoing divisions in the U.S. Catholic community, which has been polarized between progressives and conservatives. His comments were made during a private gathering with Portuguese Jesuits in Lisbon on August 5. The Vatican-approved Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica subsequently published the conversation’s transcript.
In that meeting, a Portuguese Jesuit shared his experiences of facing criticism from Catholics, including some U.S. bishops, during a sabbatical year in the United States. These individuals criticized both Pope Francis’ decade-long papacy and contemporary Jesuits.
The Pope, an 86-year-old Argentine, validated these concerns by pointing out a “very strong, organized, reactionary attitude” in the U.S. Church, which he termed as “backward.” He cautioned that such a mindset results in a closed-off attitude, which he deemed mistaken.
“Doing this, you lose the true tradition and you turn to ideologies to have support. In other words, ideologies replace faith,” Pope Francis said.
He went on to assert, “The vision of the doctrine of the church as a monolith is wrong.” A backward perspective, according to Francis, severs the connection with the Church’s roots and leads to negative moral consequences.
“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,” indicating that doctrine can evolve and strengthen over time.
Pope Francis has previously noted the criticisms aimed at him from some corners of U.S. conservatism, even joking once that he considered it an “honor” to be the target of such attacks.
Some conservatives have taken issue with Pope Francis’ focus on social justice topics such as environmental protection and poverty. During his papacy, Pope Francis has consistently criticized income disparity, the global capitalist system, and its impact on both people and the planet.
He has lauded labor unions as “prophets” and labeled unchecked capitalism as the “dung of the devil,” positions that have unsettled some conservative Catholics in the United States. Additionally, Francis has advocated for policies that are more welcoming to refugees. His 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, urged for a heightened sense of responsibility towards the environment.