Pope Francis has decried what he calls a “reactionary” Catholic Church in the United States, where political philosophy has, in some cases, overtaken faith.
In the ten years after his election, Francis has faced criticism from conservative Catholics in the United States who reject changes such as giving women and ordinary Catholics more responsibilities and making the Church more accepting and less judgemental of some, especially LGBT persons.
Francis delivered his remarks on August 5 at a private meeting in Lisbon with members of the Jesuit order, of which he is a member, as part of his World Youth Day tour. The Jesuit newspaper Civilta Cattolica published them on Monday.
In a question-and-answer session, a Portuguese Jesuit said that during a sabbatical in the United States, he was saddened that many Catholics, including some bishops, were hostile to the pope’s leadership.
“You have seen that in the United States the situation is not easy: there is a very strong reactionary attitude. It is organised and shapes the way people belong, even emotionally,” the pope responded.
Religious conservatives in the United States often have aligned with politically conservative media outlets to criticize the pope over a host of issues such as climate change, immigration, social justice, his calls for gun control and his opposition to the death penalty.
“You have been to the United States and you say you have felt a climate of closure. Yes, this climate can be experienced in some situations,” Francis said.
“And there, one can lose the true tradition and turn to ideologies for support. In other words, ideology replaces faith, membership in a sector of the Church replaces membership in the Church,” he said.
Francis said his critics should understand that “there is an appropriate evolution in the understanding of matters of faith and morals” and that being backward-looking is “useless”.
As an example, he said some pontiffs centuries ago were tolerant of slavery but the Church evolved.
One of the pope’s fiercest American critics, Rome-based Cardinal Raymond Burke, wrote in an introduction for a recent book that a meeting of bishops called by Francis for this October to help chart the future of the Church risked sowing “confusion and error and division”.