Italian Cardinal: ‘Constructive Critics’ Are Not the Pope’s Enemies

Pope Francis speaks during a mass to mark the newly established "Sunday of the Word of God" on January 26, 2020 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP) (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images)

ROME — The former president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference acknowledged Pope Francis does have his critics in the Church but stressed that engaging in constructive criticism does not make a person an enemy of the pope.

In an interview this week with the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, the influential Cardinal Camillo Ruini was asked whether there is an “international conservative movement” against Pope Francis. In reply, the cardinal said that opposition to Francis “exists in some form” but “only a few can be considered ‘against’ Pope Francis,” but not “all those who have expressed some criticism with constructive intentions.”

Some progressive Catholic journalists who identify as “team Francis” have posited an antagonistic “us vs. them” relationship between the pope and Catholic conservatives, suggesting that any criticism is a sign of disloyalty, an interpretation that Cardinal Ruini roundly rejects.

In 2018, for instance, Michael Sean Winters decried “a coordinated attack on Pope Francis,” declaring that a “putsch is afoot” and warning that if the U.S. bishops do not, as a body, stand up to defend the Holy Father “we shall be slipping towards schism.”

As the pope’s enemies, Winters identified several conservative groups — “Church Militant, the Cardinal Newman Society, LifeSiteNews” — calling them “the church’s drunk yahoos,” akin to those who spot UFOs.

In his October 6 interview, Cardinal Ruini also expressed his distress over very public scandals among the Vatican curia, notably the recent case of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was recently forced to resign his Vatican post in the midst of a series of dark financial dealings.

While insisting he has no privileged information to allow for a certain evaluation of the case, Cardinal Ruini said that the media are understandably attentive to such “negative events.”

“Corruption, especially in the high places, is one of the most serious wounds of the Church,” Ruini said. “When I was young, I thought it was a problem from the distant past, but I was deluding myself. I continue to hope that we will come out of it, with God’s help and each one doing his or her part.”

The cardinal also stated that there has been a political-cultural decline of the Italian Church, tied to the decline of Italian culture.

“This decline cannot fail to cause worry,” he said. “We need to react. This is a task that belongs to lay believers, but also to the Church as such. Today it is more difficult than a few years ago; but it is not impossible.”

“We must have more confidence in the goodness and relevance of a culture that has Christianity at its roots,” he said. “A healthy and fruitful relationship between Catholics and politics passes through the mediation of culture.”

“Then, of course, political skills and a great love of freedom are needed,” he added. “Putting a halt to de-Christianization is very difficult. It cannot be done only on a cultural and even less on a political level. An authentic Christian witness — personal and communal — is decisive.”

Asked whether being Italian is now a handicap for a cardinal to become pope, Ruini said he doesn’t think so.

“I would rather say that it is no longer a pre-requisite, or even an advantage, but this is a good thing,” he said. “The one who is deemed most worthy and suitable, regardless of nationality, must be elected.”


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