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Pope Francis: it is not a sin to criticise the Pope

Pope Francis attends the general assembly of the Italian Bishops Conference (Getty Images)

Pope Francis has told the Italian bishops that it is “not a sin to criticise the Pope here” as he opened their General Assembly.

The Pope revealed three “worries” during his speech: the decline in vocations, financial scandals, and the reduction and merging of dioceses.

He encouraged the bishops to “speak openly”, urging them to tell him “all the words, your concerns, criticisms – it is not a sin to criticise the Pope here, yes, not a sin – and inspirations that you carry in your hearts.”

Pope Francis said he was especially concerned at the “haemorrhaging” of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in Italy, adding that “God only knows” how many seminaries and monasteries will have to close.

He blamed factors such as demographic changes, scandals in the Church and a “dictatorship of money” that dissuades young people from making life-long commitments.

Italy is experiencing a “crisis of vocations” in a region that was once the world’s biggest source of missionaries, and was now entering a “vocational sterility”.

“These are my concerns,” the Pope concluded. “They are points for reflection.”