Mike Lewis writes:
What I and many other Catholics recognized in Pope Francis was how he put the principles of our faith—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—into action. This was reinforced by his words. In his homilies, addresses and interviews, he constantly admonished us to understand that without humility, repentance, conversion, transformation and a heart filled with tenderness and hope, our faith was hollow and self-referential.
It was also clear to me that Pope Francis’ vision for the faith is precisely the cure for the embattled, embittered and polarized church in the United States.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the U.S. church agrees.
Since the early days of this papacy, there has been a growing and concentrated effort to undercut Pope Francis’ message….
The opposition to Francis—bolstered by the publication of a document signed by four cardinals who insinuated that “Amoris Laetitia” violated immutable Catholic doctrines on marriage, adultery and objective truth—has become relentless. Well-known Catholic apologists who openly encourage opposition to Pope Francis and the bishops—including extreme voices like Michael Voris of Church Militant and the popular YouTube commentator Taylor Marshall—have wildly popular multimedia platforms and go largely unchallenged by church leaders.
This is not simply a social media phenomenon. Many Catholics across the country hear figures like Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò—the former Vatican nuncio to the United States who has repeatedly attacked Francis after calling for the pope to resign in 2018—praised from the pulpit. Articles disparaging the pope are shared among groups of Catholics and posted on parish websites. I have several friends who belong to Catholic book clubs where members will refuse to read anything by Pope Francis.
Since I began writing and speaking publicly about this phenomenon, I have heard from hundreds of Catholics who have seen their families and communities divided over Pope Francis. In some parishes—and even some diocesan seminaries—negativity toward Francis has become so commonplace that those who support him feel compelled to keep their views to themselves. One priest told me that several seminarians referred to their seminaries as “Francis-free zones.”
Francis’ less reactionary critics have done little to stem the rise of their much more vicious counterparts. Nor has this story received significant public attention from U.S. bishops or Catholics who support the pope. Quite often, they will actively discourage others from speaking out publicly against these reactionary leaders, arguing that to do so would give them the attention they crave. But as we have witnessed in the United States and international politics, the “establishment” can no longer afford to ignore these powerful populist movements.