Pope Francis on plane: ‘I am not afraid of schisms. I pray they do not happen.’

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Antananarivo, Madagascar, to Rome on Sept. 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Antananarivo, Madagascar, to Rome on Sept. 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“I am not afraid of schisms. I pray that they do not happen,” Pope Francis said at a press conference on his plane returning to Rome from Madagascar on Tuesday, Sept. 10. He was responding to the question of whether he feared a schism in the United States church, given that some in that church, including a small number of both clergy and lay leaders, have been publicly and consistently critical of him in secular and Catholic media outlets.

Francis recalled that there have been schisms throughout the history of the church, including after the First Vatican Council and again after the Second Vatican Council, under John Paul II, with the Lefebvrites. He also characterized many groups in the contemporary church as having a “rigid” morality.


Today’s question followed an informal exchange between the pope and a French journalist on the flight from Rome to Maputo on Sept. 4. On that flight, Nicolas Senèze presented Francis with a copy of his new book, How America Wants to Change the Pope. The book describes how a wealthy and often traditionalist sector of the U.S. Catholic Church—both clerical and lay—has been highly critical of Pope Francis. In a private conversation with Mr. Senèze, the pope was overheard saying, “It was an honor to be attacked by the Americans,” referring to those mentioned in that book.

Pope Francis: “I don’t like it when the criticisms are made under the table, and they smile and show their teeth and then there is a knife in the back.”

Francis responded to six questions during the hour-long press conference, including three from journalists from the countries he had visited over this past week—Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius—and one from the Spanish news agency EFE about the environment and the Amazon region. The question about schism came at the end, and it prompted the pope to offer substantially new remarks.

It was asked by Jason Horowitz of The New York Times on behalf of the 15 or so English-language reporters on the flight. He inquired whether there was something about Francis’ pontificate that this sector of the U.S. church did not understand and whether he had learned anything from the criticisms. Then he asked whether Francis was afraid of a U.S. schism.

Pope Francis replied: “First of all, criticism is always useful, always. If someone receives criticism, he should immediately do a self-criticism and ask, ‘Is this true or not, or how much so?’ I always learn from criticism. Sometimes [criticisms] make you mad, but there are advantages.”

Referring to How America Wants to Change the Pope, he said, “I knew about the book, but I hadn’t read it.” In any case, he said, “the criticisms aren’t just from Americans, they are a little bit everywhere, even in the Curia. At least those who criticize [openly] have the honesty to say it. I like that. I don’t like it when the criticisms are made under the table, and they smile and show their teeth and then there is a knife in the back. This is not loyal; this is not human.”

“Today we have many, many schools of rigidity within the church that are not schisms but are pseudo-schismatic Christian ways.”

He added, “A critic that doesn’t want to hear the answer is [like] throwing a stone and then hiding your hand.” On the other hand, he said, “a loyal criticism” that has “openness to an answer is constructive. It is helpful.”

The pope offered the example of someone who says: “I don’t like the pope. [So] I criticize him and wait for the answer. I go to him, write an article and ask him to respond.” Francis said, “This is loyal, this is loving the church,” but “to criticize without wanting to hear the answer and without engaging in dialogue is not loving the church. It’s following a fixed idea: Change the pope, change the style, make a schism.”

Pope Francis recalled that “in the church there have been many schisms. After Vatican I…a sizable group left, and detached itself from the church,” referring to the Old Catholic Church that split off over the question of papal authority. “They had a different development, and today they ordain women, but in that moment they were very rigid. They followed an orthodoxy which thought that the council was wrong.”

The pope also said: “There is always schismatic action in the church. It is one of the actions that the Lord always leaves to human freedom…. I am not afraid of schisms. I pray that they do not happen, because the spiritual welfare of so many people is involved. [I pray] that there is dialogue, that there is correction if someone has gone wrong, but the journey in schism is not Christian.”

He recalled that the history of the church contains many heresies and schisms, saying that what they had in common was that the promoters of schisms “detach [themselves] from the people of God, from the faith of the people.” He said that “a schism is always an elitist state, from ideology detached from doctrine.”

Francis explained: “What I say on the social issues is the same that John Paul II said, the same. I copy him. But [some say], ‘This pope is too communist.’... Ideologies enter in the doctrine, and when doctrine slides into ideology there is the possibility of a schism.”

Referring to a “dry morality” imposed upon “the morality of the People of God,” the pope expressed concern about any ideology that is “so Pelagian” that it leads to rigidity. “Today we have many, many schools of rigidity within the church that are not schisms but are pseudo-schismatic Christian ways.”

Pope Francis concluded: “When you see Christians, bishops, priests [that are] rigid, behind this there are problems. There is not the holiness of the Gospel. For this we must be meek.” Of those who are rigid, he said, “They are going through a problem, and we must accompany them with meekness.”

Jake Gallerano
5 days 14 hours ago

The Pope's lesson on the flaw in ideological rigidity has application in any number of human endeavors - interesting man, interesting perspective on schisms, criticism and human engagement. He says a great deal in a very few words.

Jorge Rebasa
5 days 12 hours ago

There will never be a schism....ever. To think these cowardly protesting Bishops could run parishes that survive on the tithes of less than 500 Catholics (I’m being generous), give up their mansions, their personal attendants, necessitate having a real job like Protestant ministers do to support themselves, forget it. That would never happen.

James Schwarzwalder
5 days 11 hours ago

I like Pope Francis and also Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia. Pope Francis has engaged in these spontaneous press conferences on the airplane too many times to count. It is his style. That being said, I think these impromptu sessions leave the reader or listener to figure out what the Pope's off the cuff comments mean to each individual. There is the dichotomy of using "familiar" or everyday language versus "formal" or "authoritative" statements. Plus the translations to numerous languages. Pope Francis is obviously a friendly guy. As a kid, I recall Pope Pius XII looked like a taciturn statue in his photograph's. I never saw a smile on Pope Pius XII's face. Never.

Tim O'Leary
5 days 9 hours ago

James - I like both men too. It seems to me much of this antagonism is created by the media, putting books or article the pope hasn't read in front of him so that he will say something imprudent, only to have it later qualified by the Vatican press office. The Holy Father said many excellent things in this off-the-cuff interview:

1. He welcomes honest criticism as long as it is not done surreptitiously. He in fact sees it as an opportunity to self-reflect.
2. He notes that the criticisms of him come from around the world, and not just Americans, undermining the thesis of the book he referred to.
3. He is against schisms because souls can be lost. So am I. I don't think any orthodox American bishops would even think of such a thing.
4. He jokes about the Old Catholics who left the Church after Vatican 1 because of the teaching on infallibility and ended up ordaining women!
5. He confirms that his moral teaching is the same as that of John Paul II. He is fully faithful to the Catechism, even if he has a different communication style.

All in all, there is much to like here. I do wish he would release the curial documents on Cardinal McCarrick, so that he can move past this sorry event.

Douglas Fang
5 days 11 hours ago

Exactly! There are many commenters here stated that the Pope criticized or attacked America as a whole in his previous statement. This is a blatant lie and total disinformation! He did not criticize all American Catholics, only a small number of rigid, narrow-minded, self-centered, and ultra-conservative ones. Most American Catholics around me, even not devout or religious ones, have profound respect and affection for this Pope.

God bless the Holy Father!

Michael Bindner
5 days 11 hours ago

This is all about airplane ride comments on the recent papal trip to Africa on a French book about plans formented at a CUA Busch School cocktail party. It is the same group that wants to form a non-profit the investigate instances of sexual abuse in the American Church. So far the Better Church Governance Group has produced a Mission Statement on a website. Too much scotch by people with too much money looking for a way to not pay taxes on it. They are an argument on Why tax rates on the rich need to go up with no deduction for charitable giving.

Schism is when bishops take their flocks to another or their own sect. There is no evidence if that here or EWTN. Not even the local ordinaries care enough to notice them. Policing the Internet is not their job. We must spend our time lifting constructive voices up. We are not hard to find and like vigorous discussion. We care about the Church as it is now, not the Church of 1958.

Jorge Rebasa
5 days 10 hours ago

Great points Michael.

karen oconnell
5 days 9 hours ago

what a guy!!! Lord bless him. we are so lucky.

Adeolu Ademoyo
5 days 7 hours ago

May God in His infinite mercy, love and kindness continue to strengthen, enable, guide, and bless Pope Francis. Through your spiritual example, enabled by the grace of God, I learned and continue to learn how -(with joy and humility) - to be a perpetual servant of God and His Church. Humility is a grace of God- may you continue to teach us humility before God and His Church, a grace whose foundation is God our creator! Thank you Pope Francis-the servant of all servants of God. God Bless you.

Christopher Scott
5 days 6 hours ago

The problem with Pope Francis is he’s behind the curve in his social awareness, his inability to read the tea leaves is obvious, he really doesn’t get it. People all over the western world have figured out that open borders globalism will only enrich the rich, middle class people have figured it out, it’s over. Globalist environmentalism is just a globalist taxation scheme, it’s a scam that will do nothing to improve the environment. He’s siding with the con artist global elites and he looks foolish doing it. Like Bob Dylan once said, The times they are a changing... it’s time to leave the 60’s behind

Kevin Murphy
5 days 5 hours ago

I've tried to live by what the Church has taught for 2000 years. Now, according to Bergoglio, I am a "rigid Pelagian." (We all know how he likes to insult people he doesn't approve of. There are websites documenting each one and its source.). Well, I believe he is a mean-spirited, duplicitous man who constantly sees himself as a victim. He is slowly, subtly turning the Church into an Episcopal-lite creation. His motto is " give the people what they want" rather than Jesus's sometimes difficult teachings eg on marriage and divorce. Francis should read that great Doctor, Francis De Sales who also preaches infinite mercy but also repentance.

Jorge Rebasa
5 days ago

If, when stung by slander or ill-nature, we wax proud and swell with anger, it is a proof that our gentleness and humility are unreal, and mere artificial show.”
― Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life

Kevin Murphy
4 days 23 hours ago

It means trying to live according to the often difficult moral teachings of the Church. I don't expect the teachings to change to suit my desires. For example, I do believe in the indissolubility of marriage. I'm in my fifties, never married, and many single women are divorced ie the Church still recognizes them as married. I'd rather be single than violate Jesus's direct teaching on the sacrament of marriage. I'd rather suffer loneliness in this life than place my immortal soul in danger. I believe Bergoglio's famous footnote in Amoris Laetitia, which he still refuses to explain, is his wink-and-a-nod approach to circumventing Jesus's commandment. He puts souls in danger.

Paul Hierholzer
4 days 22 hours ago

How tragic for you Kevin, and for the Church, that you believe souls of divorced people are in danger. How tragic that you see God that way. How tragic that the Church has caused you to see God that way. How tragic that you live your life in loneliness, out of fear of what the Church has taught you. How very tragic.

Kevin Murphy
4 days 18 hours ago

Not tragic at all. Trying to walk the way Jesus commanded is not a tragedy. It is not tragic to believe that one who disobeys Christ's teachings places one's soul in jeopardy. Also, Jesus was quite clear on the indissolubility of marriage. I was not referring to those simply divorced but to those who remarry without an annulment of the first marriage. Tragedy is when people twist or ignore His words to suit their own desires. Save your sarcastic pity for someone else.

John Barbieri
4 days 20 hours ago

Among other things, schisms require enthusiasm. There isn’t much enthusiasm about the church in general at this time. The leaders of a new schism would be regarded as little more than a bunch of crackpots.
An American schism simply isn’t going to happen.

4 days 16 hours ago

Can't answer his cardinals who submit dubia requests, but can't shy away from a press gab.

Antony P.
4 days 16 hours ago

The Pope is not afraid of schism...? Well, ... he should be ... or he does not understand the most important component of the Petrine ministry. The mission of the Church is to usher in unity, not divisions - “that all of them may be one ... so that the world may believe that you sent me.”

If he really believes what he said, he is a danger to the Church and danger to humanity as a whole.

Jorge Rebasa
3 days 21 hours ago

Pope Francis had over 1 Million people attend Mass at Madagascar. Yeah, he is a real danger to humanity. Then there are your comments on the internet that “reflect the voice of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. You really should hold a conference to educate the Holy Father. Keep us posted on that and your turnout.

Antony P.
3 days 14 hours ago

I sincerely hope that you understand what you wrote in this comment.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
3 days 22 hours ago

If they do come their lives are short. Schisms come and schisms go.

Antony P.
3 days 14 hours ago

The great Schism, 1054, the schism brought about by the Reformation 500 years ago .... these are just two of the schism that gravely undermine the Church’s credibility in the world in its effort to witness to God’s love that heals every division, pAin and suffering, caused by human selfishness (sin).

Jorge Rebasa
2 days 21 hours ago

There are countless examples of holy men and women of God since the Great Schism (e.g. St Farncis of Assisi, St Dominic, St Thomas Aquinas) and the Reformation (St Ignatius, St Theresa de Avila, St Therese of the Little Flower, St Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St Pope John XXIII, St Pope John Paul II, etc).

Antony P.
2 days 20 hours ago

Too bad you did not/could not address a single point I made. Instead, you resorted to personal attack, laced with politically motivated hatred and generalization. Probably, you perceive this to be the work of the Holy Spirit as well.

In sum, in a few sentences, you managed to illustrate very well, what is wrong with the Church today.

Richard Neagle
2 days 21 hours ago

We are in unprecedented times now. This synod on tbe Amazon seems like a cooked up vehicle to end the rule of celibacy and as a side benefit advance some sort cosmovision nonsense. There may not bea schism, but I hope there will be outright rejection of this modernist venture

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