- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pope Francis blasted critics of his 11-year pontificate Sunday, saying conservative Catholics manifest “a suicidal attitude.”

In a unique interview with a Western news agency, Francis delivered that judgment after CBS News anchor Norah O’Donnell asked him about U.S. bishops who have criticized his policies such as approving blessings for partners in same-sex relationships.

“There are conservative bishops in the United States that oppose your new efforts to revisit teachings and traditions. How do you address their criticism?” Ms. O’Donnell said.

“Conservative is one who clings to something and does not want to see beyond that. It is a suicidal attitude,” said the 87-year-old pontiff.

Francis spoke with Ms. O’Donnell on April 24, and the network will air the interview Sunday evening on “60 Minutes.” CBS said it will broadcast a one-hour version Monday, and both programs will be available on the Paramount+ streaming service.

Francis said traditions must be viewed carefully.

“One thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past,” he told Ms. O’Donnell. “But quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box. A bishop must be a shepherd and the shepherd must be in the middle of his herd and maybe right in there with his flock, be it pretty, ugly, big, small, good or bad.”

“We could not divide the world into conservatives or non-conservatives and those are ideological divisions that are no good at all,” he added.

Critics would say the Argentinian-born pontiff, the first Jesuit to serve in that position, has stoked his own ideological divisions. In December, the Vatican said priests could give a “blessing” to those in “irregular” relationships including same-sex relationships, so long as those blessings did not resemble a Catholic marriage rite.

In November, Francis removed Bishop Joseph Strickland, at the time the head of the Catholic diocese in Tyler, Texas. The prelate had been a staunch critic of Francis’ pontificate.

At roughly the same time, reports emerged that Francis had stripped retired Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, of his Vatican salary and rent-free apartment. The cardinal had twice sent critical questions, known as “dubia,” to the pontiff, which were later made public.

Billed as the first American network television interview with a pope, Francis’ remarks follow his lowest-yet survey rankings among American Catholics. In April, the Pew Research Center found his overall approval at 75%, down 8 percentage points from September 2021.

Pew said a “large partisan divide” among U.S. Catholics was a big factor in the pope’s lower approval numbers.

In August 2023, during a meeting with Jesuits in Lisbon, Portugal, Francis said a “reactionary attitude” among some American Catholics was “useless,” saying they “need to understand that there is an appropriate evolution in the understanding of matters of faith and morals.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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