ROME — Pope Francis told the faithful Monday that Christians should avoid criticizing both civil and religious leaders because such complaints “change nothing” but instead create divisions in the community.
In the early Christian community, “no one said: ‘If Peter had been more careful, we would not be in this situation.’ No one,” Francis declared in his homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. “Humanly speaking, there were reasons to criticize Peter, but no one criticized him.”
“They did not complain about Peter; they prayed for him. They did not talk about Peter behind his back; they talked to God,” he added.
The pope — considered by Catholics to be the successor of Saint Peter — seemed here to be alluding to criticism aimed at his person, which, he suggested, causes disunity in the Church.
“Today we can ask: ‘Are we protecting our unity, our unity in the Church, with prayer?” Francis continued. “Are we praying for one another?’ What would happen if we prayed more and complained less, if we had a more tranquil tongue?”
It has occasionally been suggested that despite his frequent calls for dialogue and even respectful disagreement, Pope Francis has been derisive of conservatives and resistant to any constructive criticism.
The former doctrinal chief of the U.S. Bishops Conference (USCCB), for instance, wrote an open letter to Pope Francis in 2017, making this very point.
According to theologian Father Thomas Weinandy, the pontiff has reacted sharply and vindictively against all those who dare oppose or question him, leading bishops to hold their tongues rather than risk reprisals.
“Bishops are quick learners, and what many have learned from your pontificate is not that you are open to criticism, but that you resent it,” Weinandy wrote. “Many fear that if they speak their mind, they will be marginalized or worse.”
In his homily Monday, Pope Francis said that Christians should also avoid criticizing their civil leaders, since these leaders need prayers rather than complaints.
Again, in the early Church, “no one complained about Herod’s evil and his persecution,” he said. “No one abused Herod – and we are so accustomed to abuse those who are in charge.”
“It is pointless, even tedious, for Christians to waste their time complaining about the world, about society, about everything that is not right,” Francis continued. “Complaints change nothing.”
“Let us remember that complaining is the second door that closes us off from the Holy Spirit,” the pope said. “The first is narcissism, the second discouragement, the third pessimism. Narcissism makes you look at yourself constantly in a mirror; discouragement leads to complaining and pessimism to thinking everything is dark and bleak.”
“Those Christians did not cast blame; rather, they prayed,” he said.
Francis went on to insist that for all their faults, political leaders should be supported with prayer, not criticized.
“‘But this governor is…’ and there are many adjectives,” the pope said. “I will not mention them, because this is neither the time nor the place to mention adjectives that we hear directed against those who govern. Let God judge them; let us pray for those who govern!”
“God expects that when we pray we will also be mindful of those who do not think as we do, those who have slammed the door in our face, those whom we find it hard to forgive,” Francis said.
Despite his calls for gentleness rather than criticism in dealing with political leaders, the pope himself has reserved some of his harshest language for criticizing populist leaders, comparing them to Adolf Hitler, accusing them of sowing anti-Semitism, and proposing that their motivations are based on egotism rather than a genuine concern for their citizens.
The pope has also freely criticized U.S. president Donald Trump, especially regarding the wall along the nation’s southern border.
Francis also publicly endorsed a 2017 article that viciously attacked conservative Christians in the United States and claimed that dialogue between Catholics and Evangelical Christians was based on an “ecumenism of hate.”