Cardinal Angelo Scola has called the attacks on Pope Francis “a decisively negative phenomenon” that should be “eradicated as soon as possible”.

– Mentality of opposition to Francis “a profoundly wrong attitude because it forgets that ‘the pope is the pope'”

Scola, the former Patriarch of Venice and archbishop of Milan who is thought to have been the runner-up in the last papal conclave, made his observations on the opposition Francis continues to face in an interview to mark his golden jubilee of priesthood published July 18 on the website of the Milan archdiocese.

The cardinal – a theologian and former rector of the Pontifical Lateran University – said that what he characterises in a new book as “increasingly harsh and insolent attacks” on the pontiff – even from inside the Church – are “a very strong sign of contradiction and denote[] a certain weakening of the people of God, above all of the intellectual class”.

The mentality of opposition to Francis “is a profoundly wrong attitude because it forgets that ‘the pope is the pope'”, the cardinal explained.

“It is not by affinity of temperament, of culture, of sensibility, or for friendship, or because one shares or does not share his affirmations that one acknowledges the meaning of the pope in the Church”, the prelate continued.

Scola highlighted that instead of being a legitimate target for attacks, the Pope in actual fact “is the ultimate, radical and formal guarantor – certainly, through a synodal exercise of the Petrine ministry – of the unity of the Church”.

For that reason, the cardinal criticised the wave of anti-pope pamphleteering that has plagued the Church in these seven years of the Bergoglian pontificate, stressing that “I consider these forms of pronouncements, letters, writings, pretenses of judgments on his action, above all when they establish irritating comparisons with previous papacies, a decisively negative phenomenon that is to be eradicated as soon as possible”.

– “No need to be scandalised” by differences between Francis and predecessors

In terms of what he sees as the correct relationship of believers to the pontiff, Scola first stressed the importance of having to “learn the pope”, whoever he may be: an expression the cardinal said he learnt from John Paul II.

That having to “learn the pope”, said Scola, “means, first of all, to point out that in the Church, and in the choice of men called to the presbyterate, to the episcopate and to the papacy, there is always a mixture of continuity and discontinuity”.

That fact means in turn, for the cardinal that “there is no need to be scandalised by the cultural and temperamental difference of Pope Francis with respect to Pope Benedict or with respect to Saint John Paul II and his predecessors”.

“On the contrary, this is an element that brings wealth, because it ensures the possibility of change within the Church”, Scola insisted.

The other facet, according to the cardinal, of what it means to have to “learn the pope” is “to have the humility and the patience to empathise with his personal history, the way he expresses his faith, addresses us, and makes choices of leadership and governance”.

As an example of what he personally has learnt from this pope Scola admitted that “some gestures of Pope Francis strike me very much and are certainly very significant for everyone, even for nonbelievers”.

“Given my temperament, I would not be able to do them; but then each one has his own personality”, the cardinal observed.

– “Wrong to think that the pandemic is a punishment from God, but we must not believe that God is not asking us for something”

Lastly in his interview, Scola referred to the Eucharistic fast so many Catholics were forced to endure during the coronavirus lockdowns, which he observed “was certainly an occasion to realise that the Eucharist is so essential that when, for reasons independent of us, it fails, the substance of faith is weakened”.

“It is wrong to think that the pandemic is a punishment from God, but we must not believe that God is not asking us for something”, the cardinal concluded.

More on Novena on the attacks on Pope Francis:

“The Pope is the Pope”: Italian cardinal Scola denounces “increasingly harsh and insolent attacks” on Francis

Scola: Catholics owe the Pope – Francis – “affection, respect and obedience”

Scola: “The extraordinary ability of Francis to be close to everyone” is “admirable and moving”

Vatican expert denounces up to 30% of global Church against Francis, “hard core” of cardinals “already trying to influence” next conclave

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.