Pope Francis made headlines recently by ripping the conservative Catholics who dominate the U.S. church as a “reactionary” cohort who have replaced faith with ideology. It was the pontiff’s most pointed criticism of the influential Americans who have been his harshest foes since he was elected more than a decade ago. The comments came in a meeting last month with fellow Jesuits in Portugal, where one of the priests remarked that he had spent a year in the United States and was shocked by the anger directed at Francis.
The pope replied at length, saying he knows the issues all too well and explaining that, to his mind, the loudest voices in American Catholicism are “backward-looking” moralists (“indietristi”) “disconnected from the roots of the church.” Catholic tradition and history, Francis said, is about moving forward, changing to live the Gospel message in the midst of current realities. The pope’s words were both surprisingly frank and frankly unsurprising, given the persistence of right-wing anger directed at his modernizing approach.
This episode could be read as part of a long saga of tensions between Rome and the U.S. church. […]