ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE – Pope Francis today said he is “honored” by the fact that a group of conservative, right-leaning Catholics from the United States attack him.
The pope was speaking aboard a papal flight to Mozambique, the first stop of a three-nation swing through Africa, when he was presented a new book on conservative opposition to the papacy written by a French reporter on the flight.
“For me, it’s an honor that Americans are attacking me,” Francis told La Croix‘s Nicolas Seneze, author of How America Wanted to Change the Pope.
As Francis handed the book to one of his aides, he joked, “this is a bomb.”
After the pope’s comments, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists on the papal flight that “in an informal context the pope 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.”
A long-time Vatican reporter from the French Catholic daily, Seneze told the pope that he wanted to explain the roots of American opposition to the Argentine, which has the support of several right-wing news outlets. In his book, Seneze names EWTN, founded by the late Mother Angelica, and Canada-based LifeSiteNews.
The criticism against Francis is based on several points: His cautious opening to allowing the divorced and remarried to receive the Sacraments, his emphasis on the environment, his strong condemnation of the death penalty, and his criticism of the capitalist economic order championed by conservatives in the United States.
In his book, Seneze explains the origin of the hostility against Francis in terms of two documents by the pope: Evangelii Gaudium, his first apostolic exhortation and considered the Magna Carta of his pontificate, and Laudato Si, an encyclical letter on the environment originally intended to ensure adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement pertaining to climate change.
The French journalist argues the ultimate goal of the opposition to Francis from some American quarters is to trigger a conclave to elect a new pope, and to guarantee the election of someone more aligned with their interests and vision of the Church and the world.
One of several initiatives to secure this, according to Seneze, is a project called the Red Hat Report, which the “The Better Church Governance Group” hopes to release by April 2020.
The Red Hat Report claims to be drawing on nearly 100 researchers, academics, investigators, and journalists to investigate every single cardinal elector, with the aim “to hold the hierarchy of the Catholic Church accountable for abuse and corruption, and to develop and support honesty, clarity, and fidelity in Church governance.”
Seneze also points to American millionaire Tim Busch as a key figure in this “war” against Francis. Busch sits on the board of EWTN and is a member of the Papal Foundation, a U.S.-based organization that gives donations to charities supported by the pope.
Several members of the Papal Foundation severely criticized a request by the pope for a $20 million bridge loan for a debt-ridden and scandal-plagued Church-owned hospital in Rome.
Seneze spoke to reporters after the pope’s remarks.
“I wanted to explain the difficulties between the pope and Americans, and how they are attacking him,” he said.
Seneze’s book comes just a year after Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former papal representative to the United States, released a letter accusing the pope of covering up for now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has been accused of abusing minors and seminarians.
The letter, which was released through conservative news organizations, requested that Francis resign from office.
During the flight, the pope also prayed for the victims of Hurricane Dorian, especially those in the Bahamas.
In addition, Francis publicly praised a new book by Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, the dean of the Vatican press corps.
Grecia and the Others: Women of Hope Against Violence, written with Father Luigi Ginami, looks at cases of violence against women across the world.
Alazraki is missing her first papal trip in decades, having been on 154 previous papal flights.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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