ROME (RNS) A priest is being asked to take a break from his parish in the small Italian town of Montesilvano after some in his congregation reportedly stormed out of Mass when he openly criticized Pope Francis on Palm Sunday (April 9).
Media reports claimed the congregation shouted “Shame, shame!” at the Rev. Edward Pushparaj when he said Pope Francis had only been “bad” for the Catholic Church.
Palm Sunday commemorates the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem and is a solemn occasion on the Christian calendar that marks the start of Holy Week and the runup to Easter Sunday.
But the episode has forced the local bishop, Archbishop Tommaso Valentinetti of the Archdiocese of Pescara-Penne, to intervene; he has pledged to meet the disgruntled parishioners from St. Anthony of Padua parish.
In an article published on the archdiocesan website, Valentinetti suggested that Pushparaj, an assistant pastor at the church who is also known as Don Edward, may have overstepped the mark during his preaching.
"Preaching is one of the main activities in the ministry of a priest,” Valentinetti said. “It is a service linked to meditation on the Word of the day, the liturgy, and certainly cannot relate to personal judgments, especially when they are not in communion with the pope.”
In his homily Pushparaj, who is from India, reportedly referred to the pope’s dialogue with other faiths and in particular his decision to wash the feet of a Muslim woman at a detention center outside Rome on Holy Thursday in 2013, Francis' first as pope.
"In four years Pope Francis has only been bad for the church," the priest reportedly said.
According to Italian media reports, Pushparaj’s parishioners have been complaining about the priest for some weeks and claim he has criticized the pope’s exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia," or "The Joy of Love."
Francis has often come under withering criticism from conservative Catholics over his efforts to set the church on a more pastoral path that is less focused on rules and older rites and traditions.
Valentinetti said that Pushparaj may have been influenced in his anger at Francis by certain "clericalist and pseudo-traditionalist currents that the pope, fortunately, goes against."
The archbishop said he hoped Pushparaj was just weary and in need of a rest.
“I think it's fair to ask the priest to take some time to rest and release him, temporarily, from his pastoral duties,” Valentinetti said in the article on the archdiocesan site.
Valentinetti could not be reached for comment on Monday.
(Josephine McKenna reports on the Vatican for RNS)