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Pope Francis addressed journalists on his flight back from a weeklong trip to Africa speaking about a schismatic option in the Roman Catholic Church in reference to attacks by conservative cardinals who frequently take aim at his papacy. “There has always been a schismatic option in the church, always,” Francis said while answering a question from reporters. “I am not afraid of schisms. I pray that they won’t happen, because the spiritual health of a lot of people is at stake,” he added, as Religion News Service reports. The most famous schism in the Church was the Great Schism of 1054 between Eastern and Western Christianity and it lasted for almost 1,000 years. The last division in modern history happened in 1988 after ultra-traditionalist French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre ordained bishops without papal permission, starting his own movement.
Talks about a formal separation from the Holy See are not entirely new and Pope's opponents have warned him about this possibility. Since Pope Francis' election, there have been some tensions between his pontificate and some well-financed conservative factions of the Catholic Church. They have accused Pope Francis of heresy and called for his resignation while his allies have even spoken about a plot against him. The main point of criticism from conservative Catholics in the United States is Pope's stance on immigration, climate change and social issues. A conservative United States cardinal Raymond Leo Burke is the fiercest and most vocal critic of Pope Francis and his pontificate. He has criticized in particular Pope Francis's handling of the clerical pedophilia crisis and he has blamed it on homosexuality.
At the beginning of September the Pope has already reacted to criticism from American Catholics. When the journalist presented the Pope with a copy of his new book, "How America Wanted to Change the Pope,” which details conservative American Catholics’ opposition to the election of the Argentine pontiff, Francis told him that it is an honor when Americans attack him. According to the Religion News Service, newly appointed Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni tried to clarify the pope’s response, saying Francis meant that “he always considers criticism an honor, particularly when it comes from authoritative thinkers, and in this case from an important country,” but to little avail.
Francis also talked about criticism while addressing journalists on his flight back from Africa. While he told reporters that “criticism is always helpful,” he also said that certain types of criticism — “arsenic criticism,” as he called it — can “sometimes make you angry.” “I don’t like it when the criticism comes from under the table,” he said, as Religion News Service reports. “They smile at you and show their teeth and then they stab you in the back. This is not fair. It’s not humane.”