Pope Francis is being attacked because he is "proclaiming the Gospel – the good news of Jesus", a senior English bishop has stated.
The Right Rev Crispian Hollis, who was for 23 years the Bishop of Portsmouth until he retired six years ago, said that the Pope is experiencing opposition from modern-day "scribes and pharisees", just like Jesus did.
And the opposition is coming from those closest to him in the Roman Curia, along with certain other bishops and priests around the world.
Bishop Hollis, contributing last night (Thursday 4 October) to a series of talks for the parish of St Osmund’s in Barnes, said he and most members of the Church had been "hugely encouraged" by the leadership offered by Francis.
"We find a freshness and excitement and potential in the Church of today. With his constant emphasis on love and mercy, we are discovering the true joy of the Gospel. He is encouraging us to understand that it is vital to celebrate the grace in life before condemning what is 'irregular' or a failure. He urges us to defer and forego judgment in favour of encouragement or invitation."
This does not endear him to everyone, Bishop Hollis admitted.
"But opposition to Francis is not so much coming from outside the Church – on the whole, he receives enormous acclaim and welcoming approval from the laity within the Church, and from the clergy and laity of other denominations and none, and indeed from the secular world. His style, his teaching and his pastoral outreach have been widely welcomed and admired. But the current opposition to what he stands for seems to be coming from those closest to him in the Roman Curia and certain bishops and clergy world-wide.
Bishop Hollis posed the question of precisely why Pope Francis is under such attack.
"I think it’s because he is proclaiming the Gospel – the good news of Jesus. When Jesus himself did this – and he spent his time going about doing good – opposition came from the Scribes and Pharisees. They thought he was undermining their precious vision of the Law and subverting their power over the ordinary folk.
"I dare to say that the Scribes and Pharisees are alive and well today and they’re often to be found in the Vatican, in bishops’ palaces and in presbyteries. Francis is threatening a legalistic vision of the Church, which is over dominated by clericalism and the elitism which can come from that. He may even – perish the thought – be daring to attempt to implement the vision and teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
"Among Francis’ critics are those who are wedded to the letter of the law, whereas Francis himself seems to be living and speaking in the Spirit. St Paul says of himself that 'God gave us courage to proclaim his good news to you in the face of great opposition' and this, I believe, is what Francis is doing for us today and he deserves our undying loyalty and support.
Bishop Hollis, who has lived his life under seven Popes, said he feels that for the first time in his Catholic life, he is really in tune with the successor of St Peter.
He delivered a similar message of support for Pope Francis in a recent homily for the annual Mass for Papal Knights in Portsmouth, where he was the main celebrant.
He said there was no doubt that Pope Francis is trying to reform the Church. But this doesn’t mean imposing ideas and structures from on high on to a passive people. "He wants us all to be ready to try, through accompaniment and discernment, to discover God’s loving hand at work in everyone and in everything."
In his preaching and teaching, to which some take exception because it seems to threaten their power base and their love of the Law, Francis speaks powerfully and persuasively of the overwhelming love and mercy of God, said Bishop Hollis. "He speaks with courage and with joy and not without humour, as our Bishops discovered when they met with him last week during their Ad Limina visit."
In his retirement, Bishop Hollis has become involved, as a committee member, in the work of the Movement for Married Clergy.