VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Addressing the current challenges of the U.S. Catholic Church, Pope Francis warned against the polarization in the country and the “sins” of the media.
“The church in the United States is a church that has been courageous — the history it has and the saints — and has done so much,” Pope Francis said during an impromptu interview with journalists from Catholic News Service on Monday (Feb. 1) at the Vatican.
The audience marked the 100th anniversary of the news agency, which is an arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“A divided church is not the church,” the pope told the CNS reporters, while at the same time making a distinction between unity and uniformity. “Unity with differences, but one heart,” Francis he said.
— Catholic News Service (@CatholicNewsSvc) February 2, 2021
The pope described the U.S. Catholic Church as “alive, vivacious” in addressing the plight of immigrants and refugees and promoting education. “What the church has done for immigrants is great,” Francis said, adding that the U.S. church is also “generous in helping others” and “humble” because of the sexual abuse crisis.
He also praised the spirituality of American Catholic faithful. “It’s a church that prays,” he said.
The pope particularly recognized Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, who knelt in prayer for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in June to remember the death of George Floyd, a symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement and racial equality activists worldwide. After Seitz’s gesture, the pope called him to voice his appreciation and support.
Francis also praised the work of Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the current president of the USCCB, who caused controversy last month by signing a statement issued in the name of the bishops criticizing newly inaugurated President Joe Biden’s stances on abortion and marriage.
“Our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender,” read the Jan. 20 statement, which drew fire from Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, among other commentators.
Francis pointed to the media’s role in the polarization of American society, noting that news outlets often “throw gas on the fire.” He called on Catholic news outlets to promote unity and “get people to talk to each other, reason together and seek the path of fraternity.”
The news media is plagued by four sins, the pope told CNS reporters: disinformation, calumny, defamation and “coprophilia,” by which he apparently meant love of scandal. “Don’t fall into these sins,” which contribute to concealment of truth, ruined lives and deepening divisions, the pope said.
The pope met with reporters at Domus Santa Marta, where he lives, instead of the usual audience hall at the Vatican due to his chronic sciatica. He said his doctor has advised him to move less and not stand as much.
Sciatica or not, the pope is set on making his planned March 5-8 apostolic visit to Iraq, his first opportunity to travel since the onslaught of the pandemic. Despite terrorist attempts and risks to his safety, it’s important that Iraqis “see that the pope is there in their country,” he said.
“I am the pastor of people who are suffering,” Pope Francis said, adding that he will take a commercial flight to get to Iraq if necessary.
He recently received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and is expected to receive the second before the Iraq trip.