During his visit to Slovakia, Pope Francis met with a group of local Jesuits, as he has traditionally done during his world travels. The transcripts and translations of these exchanges are published in La Civilta Cattolica, the Vatican’s Jesuit-run newspaper, and the transcript of his session with the Slovak Jesuits was released this morning.
In his dialogues with local Jesuits, which—like his airplane interviews—are unscripted, Francis often says some of his most unfiltered, frank statements about what pleases and troubles him the Church. In such settings, he clearly feels free to say what is on his mind. In this latest exchange, Francis speaks bluntly about those in the Church who oppose his papacy openly, including what appears to be direct criticism against EWTN:
One of the participants tells the pope about the situation of the Slovak Church and the internal tensions. “Some even see you as heterodox,” he says, “while others idealize you. We Jesuits try to overcome this division.” He asks: “How do you deal with people who look at you with suspicion?”
Pope Francis: There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope. I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.
Yes, there are also clerics who make nasty comments about me. I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it and that’s why I prefer to preach, preach… Some people accuse me of not talking about holiness. They say I always talk about social issues and that I’m a communist. Yet I wrote an entire apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate.
I took to Twitter to give my initial reaction. Here’s what I wrote:
Pope Francis says the obvious about EWTN.
"They are the work of the devil."
How can any reasonable Catholic deny this? The damage they've wrought, the lies and hatred they've spread, the dissent and disunity they've fostered.
Raymond Arroyo, the pope is calling you to repent.
The responsibility that EWTN, their contributors, and their affiliates (including Catholic News Agency, the National Catholic Register, and EWTN radio) bear for driving well-meaning and trusting Catholics against the pope and the Magisterium is incalculable.
And to what end? To topple the papacy? To reelect Trump? (That didn't work.)
What motivates an ostensibly Catholic television network to lie, distort, and confuse everyday Catholics about the faith? What motivates them to constantly paint the pope in the worst light imaginable?
The smoke of Satan.
No sane Catholic could watch the unhinged interview with a clearly disturbed Damian Thompson the other week and not see something sinister or diabolical at work.
It's well past time for the USCCB and individual US bishops to speak out against this well-funded anti-Catholic conglomerate that is leading people away from Christ, his Church, and the faith.
The pope has spoken. There is no excuse. This filth must be cleaned up.
This is personal for me. I have seen the damage in real life. I don't know how they can live with themselves.
Note: Some have pointed out that Pope Francis is saying the attacks are the work of the devil, not the network itself. Still, the response opens with a clear criticism of EWTN’s “continually speaking ill of the pope,” so he is certainly accusing them of doing the work of the devil when they attack him without hesitation.
Addendum: For those who have asked whether we are certain he was speaking about EWTN, America’s Gerry O’Connell reported a story today that I heard about shortly after it happened:
While Francis did not name the “large Catholic television channel” in his answer, his remark “I have also said this to some of them” offers a clue as to which station he was referring. America has learned from three different Vatican officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak, that the pope touched on this same topic on his flight from Rome to Baghdad on March 5, when he greeted each of the journalists on the flight.
On that occasion, when the pope reached EWTN’s reporter and cameraman, one of them told him they were praying for him. He responded that maybe Mother Angelica, EWTN’s founder, is in heaven praying for him, but that they—referring to the entire network—“should stop speaking badly about me.” He used the Italian word sparlare, which means “to bad mouth,” “to say nasty things” or “to speak ill of.” America’s Vatican correspondent was on the papal flight and learned this immediately after the visit to Iraq.
As recall Christopher Lamb wrote in his book The Outsider:
“EWTN has built itself as the institutional Catholic media power base in the battle for the narrative of the Francis pontificate. It is less focused on reporting and analyzing the events of this pontificate as it is on passing judgment on it. It is Fox News under a Catholic cover.”
For an article I wrote about EWTN when a new bishop was assigned to Birmingham, Alabama (where the network is located), I asked Lamb for his thoughts about the challenge posed by the network to the Church:
Offering healthy and robust criticism of Church leaders — including Popes — is the job of Catholic journalists. But some parts of EWTN and its publications appear to be doing something else. What we have seen is a concerted effort to undermine the Francis papacy through a consistent stream of hostile coverage. One could understand it coming from a secular outlet, but the fact it originates in the biggest Catholic media outlet in the world raises serious questions. Why have they decided to set themselves against the Successor of St Peter? Given that ordinary Catholics overwhelmingly support Francis, whose interests are they serving?
Very appropriate and necessary choice of words by Pope Francis: "they are the work of the devil." One thing is to be persecuted for speaking truth to power, but when the intent is to deceive the millions of Catholics that EWTN reaches, this warning is now mandatory and the many people responsible for the attacks deserve the label "brood of vipers."
Having exercised extraordinary restraint and patience, it seems clear that His Holiness has decided to challenge his detractors. In a classic display of an aggressor ‘claiming victimhood’ once detected, the perpetrators are now seeking sympathy. The ‘haters’ are proving they have glass jaws. If you are gonna dish it out, you gotta be able to take it. Seems the critics of Francis can’t take it.