On the return of his trip abroad to Southeast Africa, Pope Francis again held an impromptu press conference – and announced his church-internal critics the fight.

By Jörg Seisselberg, ARD Studio Rome

Again a return flight from a foreign trip. Again a press conference standing in front of the traveling journalists. Once again, Pope Francis places something spectacular – this time a message to his critics: he is not afraid of them, but wants a confrontation with an open visor. For the first time, Francis took the word "schism" (divisiveness) in his mouth.

"I'm not afraid of schisms, I pray that they will not happen because of the spiritual well-being of many people, a schism is always an elitist decision, an ideology that is breaking away from the existing teaching, so I pray for it that there will be no schisms, but I'm not afraid. "

He called his critics to seek dialogue with him. Because criticism, said Francis, he sees basically as something positive, something that can lead to better solutions – if the criticism is constructive and open. But, Francis emphasized:

"I do not like it when it's criticism under the table, if they smile at you broadly and then stab you in the back of the dagger – that's not fair, it's not human."

Stricter attacks on Francis

Conservative forces among US Catholics in recent weeks have aggravated their attacks on Francis. Cardinal Burke, for example, had criticized the Pope's desired Amazon Synod, which is also about a possible softening of celibacy. The anti-Franciscan wing in the Catholic Church also includes several prominent German clerics, such as the two Cardinals Müller and Brandmüller.

Francis himself gave no names, but said the charges against him came "a little bit from everywhere, including the Curia." The Pope spoke of criticism in the form of "arsenic pills". In terms of content, Francis resisted the attempt of his opponents to put him in the left corner.

"The social stuff I'm saying is the same one John Paul II said, the same one! I copy it, but still it says: the pope is too communist and so on."

Francis accused his critics of ideological hardening, but announced that he would respond to it mildly and with gentleness.

Pope: Splitters never win

A possible schism, said the Pope, do not scare him even with a view to recent history. For never have the splitters won. As an example, Francis among others called the traditionalists to the French archbishop Lefebvre, who had split off in the 1960s. Among other things, they had resisted the changes after the Second Vatican Council.

To an open dispute between on the one hand Francis and the forces supporting him – among which, among others, the leadership of the German Bishops' Conference under Cardinal Marx counts – and his critics could come next month around the Amazon Synod. The Pope's strongest opponents are not sitting there at the table, but they could still use the meeting for new attacks. The Synod has gained in explosiveness, among other things because it is also to be discussed whether married men in the future may become priests. An issue that upsets the traditionalists in the Catholic Church.

On his recent trip to Southeast Africa, it was interesting that Francis was conspicuously holding back on the subject of birth control – although he visited countries where this issue had almost forced itself in view of the extremely high birth rates there. The restraint of the Pope at this point may be a sign that Francis does not want to incite the currently very tense mood in the Catholic Church with other irritating topics.

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