John L. Allen Jr.
Amid a robust Italian debate over the leadership of Pope Francis, a cross-section of liberal Catholic groups in the country has launched an online petition to show backing for the Argentinian pontiff.
Pointedly called “Stop the Attacks on Pope Francis,” the petition was launched on Christmas Day by groups including “We are Church,” “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” the Edith Stein Study Center, an Italian association of theologians, and a variety of base communities. All are generally associated with the liberal wing of the Italian Church.
The petition is also signed by the Rev. Luigi Ciotti of Turin, one of Italy’s best known anti-Mafia priests, and the Rev. Alex Zanotelli, a Combonian missionary priest and a well-known social activist.
As of Jan. 3, the petition had attracted close to 2,500 signatures, toward a goal of 50,000.
The current Italian row over Francis began when one of the country’s most renowned Catholic journalists, Vittorio Messori, published a front-page essay on Dec. 24 in Corriere della Sera stating his “perplexity” over what he sees as the pontiff’s contradictions.
Among other things, Messori faulted Francis for sometimes sending signals that the Catholic Church is no more than an “optional accessory” in the spiritual life, for reaching out to political leaders whose agenda is contrary to Church teaching, and for pursuing an uncritical dialogue with leaders of Protestant movements that are draining people away from Catholicism in Latin America.