An Italian cardinal has told Francis critics to become Protestants if they don’t like this Pope.

Driving the news

“Our Protestant brethren have neither the pope nor the bishop – everyone makes his own choices. I told someone they could make the choice of becoming Protestant if you don’t like the Catholic Church, if this boat is too narrow”, Archbishop of Perugia Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti told reporters in an event January 25 on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists.

“Are you not comfortable with the current pontiff? If someone does not like this pope, say it, because he is free to choose other ways”, Bassetti, who is also the President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, told the Francis critics.

“Criticism is fine, but this destructive criticism is not”, the cardinal added, observing that there are too many Francis critics, “too many people speaking against the pope”. 

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Bassetti focused in his remarks at the press conference with journalists of the Italian Catholic Press Union on Pope Francis’ message for the 54th World Communications Day, “That you may tell your children and grandchildren” (Ex 10:2): Life becomes history

Priests and journalists, Bassetti said, are marked by the same calling to “distinguish between what is good and less good, between what is right and what is poisonous”.

“It is important that the journalist be rich in values ​​that guide his choices and his life”, the cardinal affirmed, adding that a journalist “becomes the voice if he can discern the cry of the least, of the poor and of those who have no voice”.

Bassetti insisted on the importance of “healthy” information, which he said represents “a great service to the person and the community”.

“Communication is a vital service, even more so because people are not realizing it”, the cardinal observed.

Why it matters

Athe end of his address Bassetti apologised for what he himself called his “outburst” against the Francis critics, yet continued to insist that “everyone’s goal must be to seek answers for the good of the Church and humanity”.

The truth is, however, the cardinal was right to link criticism of Pope Francis with “poisonous” journalism.

That toxic media was something even the Pope referred to in his message for World Communications Day, in which he criticised “those who even today use storytelling for purposes of exploitation”.

“We may not even realize how greedy we have become for chatter and gossip, or how much violence and falsehood we are consuming”, Francis decried.

“Often on communication platforms, instead of constructive stories which serve to strengthen social ties and the cultural fabric, we find destructive and provocative stories that wear down and break the fragile threads binding us together as a society.

“By patching together bits of unverified information, repeating banal and deceptively persuasive arguments, sending strident and hateful messages, we do not help to weave human history, but instead strip others of their dignity”, the Pope wrote.

Though Francis may not have meant it like that, it sounded exactly like an indictment of much anti-Francis Catholic “journalism” today, with its reliance on “chatter and gossip”, “violence and falsehood”, destruction and provocation and “strident and hateful messages”.

For the record

The latest evidence? The “rumours” circulated on Twitter January 27 by the author of the Dictator Pope book on Francis, Henry Sire, “that Pope Francis is planning to resign later this year”.

“While this must be treated as pure hearsay”, Sire admitted, “it’s conceivable that he is planning to engineer Cardinal Tagle’s succession. The certainty of a Bergoglian successor may be worth more to him than another year or two for himself in the papacy”.

Twittizens immediately jumped on Sire’s “hearsay” admission, accusing him of peddling rumours just to sell books.

“If there is now such talk in Rome, from multiple sources, readers ought to know about it”, was Sire’s only defence: yet more recourse to anonymous “sources” who it seems can be made to say anything if the goal is to destroy Francis’ papacy.

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