The “level and intensity” of Catholic opposition to Pope Francis is unprecedented, according to the archbishop of Washington, DC, Wilton Gregory.
Speaking at a November 21 panel at Georgetown University titled “The Francis Factor Today,” Archbishop Gregory said that Catholic resistance to the agenda of Pope Francis is “insidious” and is aggravated by the use of social media that provides a bullhorn to critics.
“Opposition to the pope is not new, but what is new is the level and intensity that is there,” Gregory said. “It’s the insidiousness of the opposition movement that I think is scandalous for us.”
“Social media gives the opposition a megaphone,” Gregory said. “The Holy Father has to deal with divisions that are trumpeted with no control.”
The archbishop was referring to critics inside the Church, including prominent theologians, bishops, and even cardinals, who have taken issue with the pope’s emphasis on political issues such as immigration and climate change while downplaying the importance of Catholic doctrine.
For example, the former doctrinal chief of the U.S. Bishops Conference (USCCB), Father Thomas Weinandy, wrote a strong letter to Pope Francis in 2017 in which he listed five points that illustrate the “chronic confusion” that seems to mark the Francis pontificate, namely, intentional ambiguity, disdain for doctrine, the naming of heterodox bishops, sowing division in the Church, and vindictiveness in the face of criticism.
Gregory acknowledged that the pope had made mistakes, such as mishandling the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse in Chile but asserted that Francis had demonstrated his humility by recognizing his errors.
During a trip to Chile in early 2018, the pope accused sex abuse victims of “slandering” Bishop Juan Barros, a Francis appointee who turned out to be guilty not only of covering up abuse, but also of taking part in it.
Worse still, the Associated Press (AP) revealed at the time that Francis had, in fact, heard about the abuse problem in graphic detail from a victim in 2015, despite the pope’s insistence that he had no knowledge of the allegations.
In a letter hand-delivered to the pope in 2015, Chilean abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz complained of a homo-erotic circle of priests and boys around serial abuser Father Fernando Karadima in which Bishop Barros himself participated. Cruz explicitly accused Barros, who had been a protégé of Father Karadima, of carrying on an openly homosexual relationship with the priest and of being present for the abuse of the boys around him.
After reports emerged confirming the guilt of Bishop Barros, Francis apologized for his statements, saying he had received inaccurate information.
In an April 2018 letter to 32 Chilean bishops, the pope spoke of his “shame” and “pain” for the suffering of the victims. “I have made grave mistakes in the assessment and my perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information,” Francis wrote.
The pope also met with three of the abuse victims and reportedly acknowledged, “I was part of the problem, I caused this, and I apologize to you.”
During Thursday’s panel discussion, Archbishop Gregory said he was moved by the pope’s humility in owning his mistakes.
“His apology was stunning,” Gregory said. “He’s revealed his humanity in startling ways.”