“They think they are particularly pious”

A group of conservative Catholics accuses the pope of alleged idolatry and calls him to repentance. This is a typical approach of Francis critics, says theologian Bruno Hunerfeld. Because these considered themselves particularly pious.

Interviewer: The Pope worshipped the "pagan goddess Pachamama" during the Amazon Synod at the Vatican, thus desecrating the Church of the Apostle Peter, according to Francis' critics. If in the course of the Amazon Synod indigenous people bring their own rites and symbols, to what extent is this compatible with church liturgy and teaching?

Dr. Bruno Hunerfeld (priest of the Archdiocese of Freiburg, has been dealing with criticism of Pope Francis for some time): This is very reconcilable. The Pachamama is a personified Mother Earth and for some non-Christians she is actually a symbol or even a goddess. But for Christians who have accepted the faith, the Pachamama is also a symbol of Mother Earth, of respect for what creation brings us. Pope Francis has taken this up. Also in some cultures the Pachamama is compared with the mother of God. There are also very strong symbioses.

And the Catholic Church has always distinguished itself by being open to other cultures. We are a religion that wants to proselytize, that wants to advance the faith, and that wants to have a very good contact.

I would like to compare this with something I overheard from Cologne, and which even amazes me as a Black Forest citizen. At the beginning of the Bundesliga season opening, there is a big church service in Cologne Cathedral. Then all the FC fans are present and wave their flags. The soccer club is given very strong religious implications there.

One could also ask: What would an indigenous person think if he experienced this in Cologne Cathedral?? But that is precisely what the Church wants: to take up what moves people, to transfer their emotions into a dialogue with faith in Jesus Christ, who lived for us, who died for us. That is why it is very, very transferable.

Interviewer: So the pope has not now legitimized idolatry?

Hunerfeld: Not at all, quite the opposite. We have a pope who is a perceptive pope in a very strong way. This distinguishes him fundamentally from his predecessors. I would say he leads a contemplative papacy. He looks at things. He listens first, and then he looks: What is coming to me from the gospel of Christ??

All the synods that he has held are structured in the same way. First a listening. What is the situation? I would even say that this is also shown by the judgment he made on the plane about the importance of homosexuality. He had then said, "Who am I to judge about this?" He is a pope who first perceives and asks himself: What is going on?? What is happening?

He also spoke last week in the general audience on Wednesday in front of the many people about idolatry. So he has taken up exactly this topic here again. Thereby he has referred to Paul, who came to Athens to the Areopagus. There he said: How then did Paul come? Paul did not come with a hostility and did not say: Here are idols everywhere. But he came with the view of faith and also found something on the basis of the figure of the so-called unknown God, where he could bring our faith, our great hope into conversation with the Athenians.

Interviewer: Is this about something like the Pachamama at all?? Or is it more about simply criticizing Pope Francis?

Hunerfeld: I believe that there is a great opposition against the Holy Father, which aims at one thing: to brand him as a heretic, as someone who betrays the faith. We remember Amoris laetitia, the "dubia" of the cardinals, where also German cardinals were involved in it. Also at that time it was said: You betray the faith?

We also remember how his statement in Abu Dhabi was criticized with the world religions. This is always the big ie of Francis' great opposition, who accuse him: Pope Francis, you are abandoning the faith. This is a pattern that runs through all these criticisms.

Interviewer: One can already say that Pope Francis is more publicly criticized by circles within the Church than, for example, his predecessor Benedict XVI. And John Paul II. Why is that?

Hunerfeld: I believe that this has to do with the Pope's completely different style. Pope Benedict XVI. has preached secularization. And now we have a Pope who says: go into the world, go to the margins, take the smell of the sheep. We want a dented church that is with the poor. This is a completely different relationship to the world that distinguishes Benedict from Francis. And precisely those who love the Catholic Church or the culture because it is set apart from the world in a special way in its liturgy and in the other things, are naturally disturbed to a maximum degree.

Then the Pope has always been someone who has also taught. Especially John Paul II. it has taken to a strong degree. I am the teacher and I also interpret the dogmas and so on. Pope Francis, on the other hand, does not teach, but he is, as I said, a listener, a perceiver, who tries to perceive in a very different way the will of God. We are experiencing a great rupture here. And that unsettles, that disturbs and evokes opposition.

Interviewer: He was called to repentance. What does it mean for the reception of the papacy??

Hunerfeld: This argumentation is quite typical for these circles. Because these circles, which act against the pope, consider themselves particularly pious. And of course they come with very strong spiritual arguments, where they then quickly say: Here Satan or the smoke of Satan has moved in.

Someone wrote to me a few days ago, already in La Sallette at the great Marian revelation it was said: The Pope falls away from the faith. Now the call to repentance. In my view, these are the strategies to make clear: We have the truth. This formulation is also tantamount to immunizing against a possible dialogue. Because the demand "You must repent" also means: We know how it is. These are actually only diversionary strategies.

Interviewer: Are these reactionary circles a small and loud minority? Or are they becoming more and more? Would these circles also be able to split the church?

Hunerfeld: Francis' opposition is incredibly nuanced. It is a small number. You can also see that in the number of those who also sign the various petitions that are listed against the Holy Father. I also see the potential for division. Especially when you listen to the Kazakh Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider, you really have the impression that someone from the Pius Brotherhood is speaking there.

Now I have also seen on the Internet that the Pius Brotherhood has made a synopsis, that is, a comparison of the texts of Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Pius Brotherhood, and of Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who is also one of the great opponents of the Pope. At the same time they show, actually Burke and Lefebvre are completely identical after all.

In a few cases, I would say, there is actually the potential for division. But we also notice that the camp is splitting. Now Bishop Voderholzer has already strongly criticized that he was named in the petition that appeared this week. Princess Gloria also withdrew her signature. You notice the forces at work that are also questioning the pope and thus also the unity of the church.

The interview was conducted by Martin Bornemeier.

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