An Italian cardinal has denounced the “increasingly harsh and insolent attacks” on Francis, reminding critics of the current pontiff that “the Pope is the Pope”.

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

The growing offensives against Pope Francis, “especially those that arise within the Church”, “are wrong”, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Patriarch emeritus of Venice and former Archbishop of Milan warns Bergoglio critics in a new essay on “the future of Christianity” that updates his autobiography, Ho scommesso sulla Libertà (“I Bet on Freedom”).

“Since I was a child, I learned that ‘the Pope is the Pope’ to whom the Catholic believer owes affection, respect and obedience as a visible sign and sure guarantee of the unity of the Church in following Christ. Communion with the successor of Peter is not a question of cultural affinity, human sympathy or sentimental feeling, but refers to the very nature of the Church”, Scola cautions the detractors of Pope Francis.

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

In his new text, the cardinal reminds Francis critics that “every Pope must be ‘learned’ in his style and in his deepest logic”.

He acknowledges that he finds “admirable and moving the extraordinary ability of Francis to be close to everyone, in particular to the excluded, to those who suffer most from the ‘throwaway culture’, as he often reminds us in his eagerness to communicate the Gospel to the world”.

Not only that, but Scola also praises Francis’ ambition of “shaking consciences [and] questioning the habits and behaviors established in the Church, each time raising, so to speak, the obstacle to overcome”, even if he admits that Francis’ renewing drive can “generate disorientation and even agitation”.

In the face of the disquiet Francis is provoking with his pontificate, there is no shortage of voices warning of divisions and “dark scenarios for the Church that would be threatened by a schism”, Scola observes.

The cardinal admits that the controversies and the disunion are becoming “increasingly severe”, and that much “even at the expense of truth and charity”, a fact which he acknowledges worries him.

– The controversies over Vatican II, revisited

That increasing polarisation apart, however, Scola says he doesn’t fear a total split in the Church, even if he says he is fearful of a certain “journey backwards” in Catholicism.

“To those who believe that the Church has fallen far behind, I say rather that we are going backwards and precisely to the moment of the post-conciliar debate between conservatives and progressives”, the cardinal writes.

He adds that he sees in the Church today “a rebirth of a contrast with exaggerated tones between the guardians of Tradition, rigidly understood, and the defenders of what was understood as an adaptation of practice, but also of doctrine, to worldly instances”.

For the former group, the innovations “implemented after the Council caused the hemorrhage of the faithful, while for the latter, the insufficient response to society’s expectations was the main cause of detachment from the Church”, Scola recallS.

He affirms that those two opposing visions are “exploding again in more radical terms” today in large part due to “the state of confusion in which many Catholics live today and not only the simple faithful”.

Scola said that that scattering of priests and faithful into two opposing camps saddens him, because in the years of his episcopal ministry he said he thought he had noticed “an overcoming of that sterile opposition, a sincere willingness to talk to one another but above all a renewed capacity to work together in the various areas of the ecclesial community and social commitment, over and above labels considered old and worn-out”.

Today, however, “unfortunately that path has not only been interrupted but is being quickly walked back”, Scola decries.

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