Pope gets thumbs-up from his predecessor
Vote of confidence comes as Francis marks his fifth anniversary
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis marked his fifth anniversary as pope Tuesday by receiving a vote of confidence from his predecessor, even as surveys showed that his reform-minded papacy was turning off some of the most faithful, church-going Catholics.
First out of the gate to give him thumbs-up was Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, whose historic resignation paved the way for Francis’ election on March 13, 2013.
In a letter released on the eve of Francis’ anniversary, Benedict publicly dismissed as “foolish prejudice” the opinions of critics who say Francis has no theological heft and represents a rupture from Benedict’s papacy.
Benedict said a new Vatican-curated volume of books on Francis’ theology “shows Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological training and helps to see the interior continuity between the two pontificates, with all the differences in style and temperament.”
Francis frequently downplays the work of theologians, and his critics have flagged his cautious opening to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion as a sign that dogma under the Church’s first Jesuit pope is adrift.
Francis’ supporters insist he is in complete harmony with church teaching and Benedict’s doctrinaire papacy. They say Francis is merely emphasizing “discernment” to navigate complex pastoral situations.
But the debate is taking its toll. A poll published Tuesday in France’s Le Figaro newspaper found a significant drop in the still-high support for Francis among church-going, practicing Catholics. The 86 percent who back him was 12 percentage points lower than in 2015.
The poll, conducted by the BVA firm, paralleled the decline of support among practicing Catholics in the United States, as reported by the Pew Research Center.