Pope Francis recently delivered an apparent rebuke to an American Catholic cable-and-satellite network EWTN for having “no hesitation” in attacking his eight-year-old pontificate, slamming what he termed attacks on the Roman Catholic Church from such critics s “the work of the devil.”
Francis, the first member of the Jesuit order to become the supreme leader of the world’s 2.2 billion Roman Catholics, made his comments during a meeting with 53 Jesuit priests in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Sept. 12.
The Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica (Catholic Civilization), reported the comments in the 171-year-old Jesuit biweekly published in Rome.
In what observers call a reference to EWTN Global Catholic Network, based near Birmingham, Alabama, the pope called out those who a questioner said viewed him “with suspicion.”
Francis responded, “There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope. I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the [Catholic} Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.”
EWTN, founded in 1981, says it is the world’s largest “religious media” organization, with 11 networks broadcasting “in multiple languages … to over 310 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.” The group also claims more than 500 domestic and overseas AM and FM radio affiliates and publishes “The National Catholic Register” newspaper.
Rival independent Catholic newspaper National Catholic Reporter said Tuesday that EWTN is one of the pontiff’s most persistent critics. “No other Catholic media conglomerate has regularly featured such open criticism of Francis,”according to Vatican correspondent Christopher White.
Mr. White singled out EWTN personality Raymond Arroyo as hosting a “papal posse” of critics, as well as the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. The reporter reported that current apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre “had expressed displeasure” about the coverage to Michael Warsaw, chief executive at EWTN.
An EWTN spokeswoman did not immediately have a comment when contacted by The Washington Times.
The pontiff also struck back at Roman Catholic clergy who publicly criticize his pronouncements.
“There are also clerics who make nasty comments about me,” Francis said. “I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it and that’s why I prefer to preach, preach.”
Francis also told the Slovakian Jesuits he felt ideology surrounding the issue of gender “is dangerous” and that ideologies should be exposed “at their roots.”
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He explained, “It is [dangerous] because it is abstract with respect to the concrete life of a person, as if a person could decide abstractly at will if and when to be a man or a woman … the abstraction in which everything is possible, not about the concrete life of people and their real situation.”
The pope distinguished gender identity from “the homosexual issue,” saying, “If there is a homosexual couple, we can do pastoral work with them, move forward in our encounter with Christ.”
Francis, who brought 12 Syrian refugees from a Greek island camp to the Vatican in 2016, told one of the Slovakian Jesuits that nations should overcome a fear of refugees.
“I believe that we must welcome migrants, but not only that: We must welcome, protect, promote and integrate,” the pope said. “All four steps are needed to truly welcome. Each country must know how much it can do. Leaving migrants without integration is leaving them in misery; it is equivalent to not welcoming them.”
He also addressed critics of his July 2021 move to restrict the use of the traditional Latin Mass in Catholic churches. He told of a cardinal who instructed two new priests who wanted permission to study Latin to first learn Spanish and Vietnamese so they could celebrate the Sacrament in the language of these constituencies in their diocese. After mastering those languages, the cardinal reportedly said, “I will give you permission to study Latin.”
Francis said this cardinal “made them return to earth” by focusing their attention on community needs. He added, “I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution. I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.”
The pontiff, who underwent surgery in July in which half of his colon was removed, will turn 85 in December. He also suffers from sciatica and, earlier in his life lost half of a lung. One Vatican blogger, Luis Badilla,said at the time that Francis’ medical condition is “severe and degenerative.”
Francis admitted to his peers in Bratislava that “undergoing that surgery was a decision I didn’t want to make. It was a nurse who convinced me.”
He also jibed those ready to consign him to a crypt inside St. Peter’s Basilica, the traditional resting place of his predecessors.
Asked how he was physically, Francis replied, “Still alive, even though some people wanted me to die. I know there were even meetings between prelates who thought the pope’s condition was more serious than the official version. They were preparing for the conclave. Patience!”