Pope Francis has expressly spoken out against conservative U.S. Catholics, heavily chastising them for their “backwardness” and accusing them of replacing faith with ideology. The pontiff’s remarks come as the most recent criticism of the American Catholic Church’s ideological rift between progressives and conservatives, a disagreement that has been exacerbated by his opening to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments.
In a meeting with various Portuguese members of the Jesuit order, while paying a visit to Lisbon on August 5th, the Pope criticized a “very strong, organized, reactionary attitude” in the U.S. church, which he said was “backward”. He warned that such an attitude leads to a “closed-off” mentality that is disconnected from the church’s roots.
“Doing this, you lose the true tradition and you turn to ideologies to have support. In other words, ideologies replace faith,” Francis said. He went on to condemn the “backward” mentality, encouraging members of the Church to embrace evolution in the understanding of questions of faith and morals, which in turn allows for doctrine to progress and consolidate over time.
Pope Francis’ criticism of U.S. conservatives has not been well-received by all members of the church, with some accusing the pontiff of diluting Church doctrine and undermining traditional values. "There is a growing tide of Catholics, especially the Catholic faithful in the United States and in Europe, who are increasingly disquieted by Pope Francis’ decision to downplay traditional morality and doctrine," writes Professor Robert Royal of the Faith & Reason Institute.
Regardless of the divided opinion, scholars believe the rift between conservatives and progressives is unlikely to end anytime soon. “These internal disagreements are unlikely to be resolved in the near future,” says Mathew Schmalz, a professor of Religious Studies at the College of the Holy Cross. He adds, “Pope Francis’ comment paints a picture of a very divided U.S. church.”
The disagreement between conservatives and progressives in the church is likely to continue, but one thing is certain: Pope Francis has made it clear that he will not tolerate backward thinking in the Church that leads to a “closed-off” mentality.