By Hannah Brockhaus and Ed Pentin
Speaking aboard the papal plane from Madagascar to Rome Tuesday, Pope Francis said he welcomes criticism if it is given openly, fairly, and with a willingness to be debated.
“Of criticisms, I always see the advantages. Sometimes you get angry, but the advantages are there,” he said Sept. 10 during an in-flight press conference.
“A fair criticism is always well received, at least by me.” He said when receiving criticism one should examine it for truth, but that he appreciates when the criticism is given honestly and to his face.
“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,” he said.
Critics who, he said, give criticism without being willing to hear an answer do so like they are giving someone “arsenic pills,” or “throwing a stone and hiding the hand.”
“This does not help,” he added.
Francis said the “fair” way to criticize the pope, in a way that demonstrates “love for the Church,” is to voice criticism and wait for a response.
Whereas, he added, “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?”
Pope Francis spoke about criticism on the flight back to Rome after a six-day trip to three countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius.
He answered a question addressing an informal comment he had made during the flight from Rome to Mozambique Sept. 4.
Accepting a book authored by La Croix reporter Nicolas Seneze, entitled “How America Wanted to Change the Pope,” Francis joked that the book is “a bomb” and told Seneze that he considered it “an honor that Americans attack me.”
After the pope spoke with reporters, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni clarified that the pope’s remarks were directed at critics, and were not intended to insult American Catholics.
“In an informal context, the pope wanted to say that he always considers criticisms an honor, particularly when it comes from important thinkers, in this case, from an important nation,” Bruni said.
The book purports to describe concerted efforts by conservative Americans to undermine and ultimately replace Francis as pope. It is only available in French.
During the in-flight press conference, Pope Francis said he is not afraid of possible schism, because there have been schisms throughout Church history, but he is praying it will not happen.
Describing schism as “an ideology separated from doctrine,” he said it is “not Christian.”
“It is one of the actions that the Lord always leaves to human freedom,” he stated.
He also said he believes, however, that the People of God will speak up and help in such circumstances, “that there will be a correction if there is some mistake.”
“Today we have many, many schools of rigidity inside the Church, that are not schism, but they are Christian pseudo-schismatic paths that in the end finish badly,” he said.
“When you see rigid Christians, bishops, priests, behind them there are problems, there is not the holiness of the Gospel, for this we should be meek, not be severe, with the people that are tempted by these attacks, because they are passing through a problem, and we should accompany them with meekness.”