The big story: Pope Francis: ‘I’m not afraid of schism’

What happened?

Pope Francis has raised the prospect of schism, telling reporters that it is a constant possibility in the Church.

Answering a journalist’s question during an inflight press confernce, the Pope observed that there were many historical examples of schism, from the early Church onward. “A schism is always an elitist separation stemming from an ideology detached from doctrine,” he said.

The Pope said that he was not afraid of schism, but he prays that none occurs.

What commentators said

A Guardian editorial said there is “no mistaking the depth of the split within the world’s largest and most important Christian church”. Some of the divisions were over politics, but the alliance between political and theological conservatives had “frayed”, as “conservative clergy, with very few exceptions, see the real enemy as secularism rather than Islam”.

In the New York Times, Ross Douthat said there was real division: “The partway-liberalisation of the Francis era has encouraged the Church’s progressives to push further, while many conservatives have been flung into intellectual crisis or a paranoia-flavoured traditionalism.” But the Pope’s ambiguous style meant these divisions wouldn’t lead to a schism: that could require “another ecumenical council, or at least a different pope”.

What Catholics said

John Allen of Crux noted that “As any Church historian will tell you, the formal sense of a ‘schism’ is a break in communion with the leadership of a church,” carried out by a leader such as a bishop. In that “full-blown sense” the possibility of a schism was “remote”.

At Catholic Culture, Phil Lawler wrote that “As we head into the Amazon synod, there are numerous indications that the Pope and his allies will use the meeting to ram through another set of dramatic changes in Church teaching and discipline. He is willing to break with our fathers in faith.”

The Pope had dismissed critics such as Cardinal Müller, increasing the divisions, he said. “Pope Francis is not afraid of a split in the Church. I am. That’s why I’m afraid of this Pope.”