‘Say it to my face’, says Pope Francis of mounting criticism of progressive agenda

Pope Francis has instructed his critics to “say it to my face” in response to a growing number of attacks from his conservative opponents.

The pope said he was not greatly disturbed by the criticism from senior Vatican figures, describing it as “like a rash that bothers you a little bit”.

“All I ask is that they do it with my face, because that’s how we all grow, right?” he told the Associated Press in an extensive interview.

“You prefer that they do not criticize, for the sake of peace.”

At the same time, it was important that cardinals and bishops feel they had the freedom to speak out and that the papacy not become a distant “dictatorship,” he said.

His many conservative critics seem emboldened by the December 31 death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Benedict’s moderating influence on traditionalists who dislike Francis’ relatively liberal agenda on issues such as homosexuality, communion for divorcees and support for migrants has now dissipated.

Benedict’s death could open the way for Francis to resign, should he decide to do so, as it removes the unprecedented scenario of three popes being in the Vatican at the same time.

Vatican insiders publish books critical of Francis

Since his death, several books have been published by Vatican insiders that are highly critical of Francis and his decade-long papacy.

They include books by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Benedict’s former personal secretary, conservative German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, and a book by Benedict himself that was published posthumously.

It was also recently revealed that a highly critical open letter circulated in Vatican circles last year and published under a pseudonym was written by Australian Cardinal George Pell, another conservative at odds with Francis.

In the letter, he described Francis’s papacy as “a catastrophe” and a “poisonous nightmare”.

The 86-year-old pope dismissed speculation that his predecessor’s death had opened the floodgates of criticism from his conservative opponents.

“I wouldn’t associate it with Benedict, but because of the wear and tear of a 10-year reign,” he said, referring to his pontificate.

His election as the first-ever South American pope was initially greeted with joy and “surprise”, but then disillusionment set in “when they began to see my flaws and dislike them,” the pope said in his first interview since death from Benedict.

He expressed concerns about his health – he underwent bowel surgery in 2021 and often has to use a wheelchair due to a broken bone in his knee. “I could die tomorrow, but it’s under control. I am in good health,” he said.

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