VATICAN CITY — Catholics should speak up when things go wrong in the Church, but theirs must be constructive criticism delivered with love, Pope Francis said, otherwise the devil is at work.
“One must point out the defects in order to correct them, but when one reports the defects, denounces them, one must love the Church. Without love, it’s the devil at work,” the pope said Feb. 20 during a meeting in St. Peter’s Basilica with pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Benevento, Italy.
Francis visited the archdiocese last year to highlight St. Padre Pio, who was born and ministered in the southern Italy region. The pope told the pilgrims the saintly Capuchin friar was an exemplary model of faith in God, hope in eternal life, dedication to people and fidelity to the Church.
“Let me pause on this point,” the pope told the pilgrims. “He loved the Church — with all the problems the Church has, with its many adversities and many sinners.”
“The Church is holy; it is the bride of Christ,” he said. “But we, sons and daughters of the Church, are all sinners — some big ones — but he (Padre Pio) loved the Church as it was and did not destroy it with his tongue as is the fashion today.”
Although the Benevento pilgrimage coincided with preparations for the Vatican summit Feb. 21-24 on child protection and the sex abuse crisis, the pope did not specifically mention the crisis.
Like Padre Pio, the pope told the pilgrims, “those who love the Church know how to forgive because they know they are sinners and need God’s forgiveness.”
Of course, Francis said, Padre Pio and anyone else who loves the Church will want to help it be better, “but always with forgiveness.”
“One cannot live his or her whole life accusing, accusing, accusing the Church,” he said. “Do you know who the official ‘accuser’ is? The one the Bible calls ‘the great accuser’? It’s the devil.”
Those who spend their whole lives blaming, accusing and indicting others while never recognizing their own faults, he said, are “friends, cousins, relatives of the devil.”