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Pope Francis Says The S-Word

Pontiff tells reporters he's not afraid of schism

Hello, I’m on the flight back home from Yurp, and as I’ve not been asked to give a press conference, I’d like to dwell for a second on the one Pope Francis gave yesterday, flying back from Madagascar. Here’s the full transcript. Look at this:

An anecdote, the first thing that I found yesterday, entering the chancery, was a bunch of beautiful flowers. Who sent them? The grand imam. To be brothers. The human brotherhood that is at the base and respects all believers. Religious respect is important. For this, to missionaries I say: do not proselytize. Proselytizing applies to politics, to sports, “come on my team,” but not to faith.

But what does it mean for you, pope, what does evangelization mean? It is a phrase of St. Francis that has illuminated me a lot. St. Francis of Assisi said to his brothers: “Preach the Gospel, if necessary also with words.” That is, to evangelize is that which we read in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Witness. And that witness provokes questions. But why do you live like this? Why do you do this? And I explain to them: For the Gospel. The proclamation comes after the testimony. First to live as a Christian and if they question you, you say it. Witness is the first step. The missionary is not the protagonist of evangelization, it is the Holy Spirit that allows Christians and missionaries to give a witness. Then questions come or they do not come. But a witness of life. This is the first step. It is important to avoid proselytism. When you see religious propositions that go the way of proselytism, they are not Christian. They look for proselytes, not adorers of God and truth, of witness. I use [this moment] to say this about your interreligious experience, that it is very beautiful, and also that the prime minister told me, when they ask for help for one, we give the same to all and no one is offended because they feel like brothers. And this creates unity in a country. It is very important. Very, very important. Even at the meetings there were not only Catholics, but Muslims, Hindus, and other religions. Everyone was there, brothers.

I saw in Madagascar, somewhat, in the act of peace of the young people that the youth of different religions wanted to express how they live the desire for peace. Peace, fraternity, interreligious coexistence. No proselytism. They are things that we should learn for coexistence. This is a thing that I should say. Then, it touched me, and I made a reference.

I don’t get this at all. I agree that people of all religions should work hard to live peaceably together, but what on earth is a Pope doing telling people not to proselytize? I must be misunderstanding something. It seems clear from his words that he’s drawing a distinction between proselytism and evangelization. I don’t see the difference, except as a matter of politeness. If his had been the approach of the Catholic Church through the years, would the faith have ever spread? I certainly have encountered Christians whose pushiness in evangelism was quite off-putting, but I wouldn’t go as far as this pope does, and call what they did “not Christian.” As usual, I don’t get this guy. He would have condemned John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul as proselytes, it sounds like.

You can bet that the Evangelicals and Pentecostals who are drawing so many Latin American Catholics into their folds aren’t as fussy as Francis about proselytism.

But here’s the big news from his press-trip commentary. I’m going to quote the whole passage so there’s no confusion. The highlights below are mine:

Jason Horowitz (New York Times): Good morning, Holy Father. On the plane to Maputo, you acknowledged being under attack by a sector of the American Church. Evidently, there are strong criticisms, and there are even some cardinals and bishops, TV [stations], Catholics, American web sites — many criticisms. Even some very close allies have spoken of a plot against you, some of your allies in the Italian curia. Is there something these critics don’t understand about your pontificate, or is there something that you have learned from the criticisms [coming from] the United States? Another thing, are you afraid of a schism in the American Church and if yes, is there something that you could do, dialogue to help avoid it?

Pope Francis: First of all, criticisms always help, always, when one receives a criticism, immediately he should make a self-critique and say this: to me, is it true or is it not true, until what point? Of criticisms, I always see the advantages. Sometimes you get angry, but the advantages are there.

Then on the trip going to Maputo, one of you came… it was you who gave me the book?… One of you gave me that book… in French… yours? In French… The American Church attacks the pope… the Americans… No, the pope under attack by Americans… [Ed. note: he refers to the French book “How America Wanted to Change the Pope” by Nicolas Seneze of La Croix]. [A reporters’ voice: “How the Americans want to change the Pope”]. This is the book that you gave me a copy of, I’d heard of the book, I’d heard of it, but I have not read it. The criticisms are not only from Americans, they are a little from everywhere, even in the curia, at least those who tell me, who have the advantage of honesty to say it, and I like this. I do not like it when critics are under the table. They smile, they let you see their teeth and then they stab you in the back. This is not loyal, not human. Criticism is an element of construction and if your critic is not right, you [must be] prepared to receive the response and to dialogue, [to have] a discussion and arrive at a fair point. This is the dynamic of the true criticism instead of the criticism of arsenic pills, which this article that I gave to Fr. Vuela was talking about — throwing the stone but hiding the hand. This isn’t necessary, it doesn’t help, help the little closed groups that don’t want to hear the response to the criticism. A criticism that does not want to hear the response is throwing a stone and hiding the hand. Instead, a fair criticism, I think this, this, this… It is open to a response, and you build, help.

Before the case of the pope, “But I don’t like this of the Pope,” I criticize and wait for the response, I go away from him and I speak and I write an article and I ask him to respond. This is fair, this is love for the Church. To criticize without wanting to hear the response and without dialogue is not wanting the good of the Church. It is to go backward to a fixed idea, to change the pope, to change the style, to create schism, this is clear no? A fair criticism is always well received, at least by me.

Oh, brother. It has been years, but he still hasn’t answered the dubia, which were formal requests, made through the Church’s system, for theological clarification. And he has not explained in any detail his role in rehabilitating Ted McCarrick, or answered any of Archbishop Vigano’s pointed, detailed criticisms. The media have allowed him to get away with it, of course, but it is impossible to take Pope Francis seriously when he spites his Catholic critics while ducking legitimate criticisms and questions they offer (and yes, some of them are in bad faith).

More Francis:

Second, the problem of schism: in the Church there [have been] many schisms. After Vatican I, the last vote, that of infallibility, a significant group left. They separated from the Church, founded the Old Catholics, to be really honest to the traditions of the Church. Then they discovered a different development and now ordain women, but in that moment they were rigid. They were going backward to an orthodoxy that they were thinking the council had gotten wrong. Another group went without voting, silent silent, but not wanting to vote.

Vatican II created these things, maybe the best known break is that of Lefebvre. There is always schismatic action in the Church, always, no? It is one of the actions that the Lord always leaves to human freedom. I don’t fear schisms, I pray they don’t exist because there’s the spiritual health of many people [to consider], right? [I pray] there will be dialogue, that there will be correction if there is some mistake, but the path of schism is not Christian.

Schism is always and everywhere to be regretted … which is not the same thing as saying “to be avoided.” What about the matter of Truth? If schism is ruled out in principle, then how is that not saying that maintaining church unity is more important than standing for the Truth?

More Francis:

But let’s think back to the beginning of the Church, how the Church began with many schisms, one after another, it is enough to read the history of the Church. The Arians, the Gnostics, the Monophysites, all of these. Then it comes to me to recall an anecdote that I have told a few times: it was the people of God who saved [the Church] from schisms. Schismatics always have one thing in common: they separate [themselves] from the people, from the faith of the people, from the faith of the People of God. And when, at the Council of Ephesus, there was a discussion on the maternity of Mary, the people — this is historic — were at the entrance of the cathedral and when the bishops entered for the Council, they had sticks, they showed them the sticks and yelled: “Mother of God, Mother of God.” As if to say, if you do not do this, here’s what awaits you. The People of God always mend and help.

A schism is always an elite condition of an ideology separated from doctrine. An ideology may be right, but that enters into doctrine and separates and becomes ‘doctrine’ in quotes, but for a time. For this, I pray that there are no schisms. But I am not afraid.

This is a weird way of putting it. As I understand it, the US Catholics he has in mind as fomenters of schism are not criticizing him because they advocate some new doctrine. They criticize him because they believe that he has broken with, or is at grave risk of breaking with, the settled, authoritative doctrine of the Catholic Church. That Francis is disrespecting the “democracy of the dead” that is Tradition. Granted, in a hierarchical ecclesial polity ruled by an absolute monarch, it’s weird for anybody, especially that absolute monarch, to invoke “elitism” as a put-down.


To help, but what I am saying now, you are not afraid I respond to criticism, I do all this, maybe if someone comes to him, something I have to do, I will do it. To help.

But this is one of the results of Vatican II. It is not from this Pope or from another Pope or that other pope. For example, the social things that I say are the same that John Paul II said, the same. I copy him. “But the Pope is very communistic, huh?” Ideologies and doctrine enter, and when the doctrine strays into ideology, there is the possibility of schism.

And also there is the behaviorist ideology, that is, the primacy of a sterile morality over the morality of the People of God, who even the pastors should guide, the flock, between grace and sin. This is evangelical morality.

Instead, a morality of ideology, such as Pelagianism, to put it that way, makes you rigid and today we have many, many schools of rigidity inside the Church. They are not schism, but they are pseudo-schismatic Christian paths that in the end finish badly. When you see rigid Christians, bishops, priests, behind them are problems; there isn’t the holiness of the Gospel. For this we should be meek, not severe, with people who are tempted by these attacks, because they are going through a problem, and we should accompany them with meekness.

Yes, Holy Francis, meek and mild. The man brutalizes those he sees as his enemies. He’s eviscerated the John Paul II Institute in Rome. And now the new team will include an Italian priest and moral theologian who favors contraception, and who has recently said that sex within gay relationships can be a moral good. Even if you agree with that position, you have to be honest enough to admit that it is very nearly a 180 degree reversal from what the Catholic Church has authoritatively thought since forever.

Yet theologically conservative American Catholics are the ones fomenting schism? Wow.

Phil Lawler wrote the other day about Francis’s new additions to the College of Cardinals, who, after their October 5 reception, will signify that Francis will have appointed a majority of those who will elect his successor. Lawler writes:

Father Adolfo Nicolas, the former worldwide leader of the Jesuit order, reported that Pope Francis once told him that he hoped to remain as Pontiff until “the changes are irreversible.” Packing the College of Cardinals with like-minded electors is an obvious step in that direction.

The liberal Jesuit columnist, Father Thomas Reese, wrote in 2016 that the Pope’s selections to the College were “the most revolutionary thing Francis has done in terms of Church governance.” He admitted that if he were a conservative Catholic, looking at the Pope’s selections, “Frankly, I would have been outraged.”

Now, two consistories later, the pattern is even more unmistakable. In his analysis of the Pope’s choices, John Allen of Crux underlines the salient point:

This is a consistory in which Francis is elevating a cohort of like-minded churchmen, positioning them to help advance his agenda right now and also to help ensure that the next pope, whoever it may be, isn’t someone inclined to roll back the clock.

Read the whole thing. I had no idea that some of the men Francis is elevating to cardinal rank on October 5 were so radical.

Who could have predicted that the Catholic Church would go from the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI to a pope who raises the possibility of schism. I remind you that two cardinals have warned in the past year or so that the Catholic Church may be facing the Great Apostasy expected in the Last Days. Here are some jaw-dropping words from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who, until he was dismissed by Francis, was the Catholic Church’s chief doctrinal watchdog:

To keep silent about these and the other truths of the Faith and to teach people accordingly is the greatest deception against which the Catechism vigorously warns. It represents the last trial of the Church and leads man to a religious delusion, “the price of their apostasy” (CCC 675)  it is the fraud of Antichrist. “He will deceive those who are lost by all means of injustice, for they have closed themselves to the love of the truth by which they should be saved” (2 Thess: 2-10).

He was speaking back in February in his “Manifesto Of Faith,” clearly written in response to the doctrinal confusion emanating from this pontificate.

Let me ask Catholic readers of all theological orientations some questions:

  1. Do you think there will be a schism over Francis’s teachings? If so, what form will it take? and
  2. Do you think there should be a schism if things continue like this? Obviously schism is a grave condition, not to be desired. My question is whether or not you think that this Pope has erred, or will have erred, so much that he has ceased to be the Pope.


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