In an offhand remark on the papal plane en route to Mozambique, Pope Francis acknowledged the sharp opposition he has faced from conservative Catholic detractors in the United States, calling it an “an honour that the Americans attack me”.
His remark came at the start of a six-day trip to Africa, as the pope shook hands in the back of the plane with a French reporter who handed him a copy of his new book How America Wanted to Change the Pope.
He warmly told the reporter, Nicholas Senèze, who covers the Vatican for the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, that he had been unable to find the book, which explores American financial, political and media backing of the small but noisy conservative opposition seeking to undermine Pope Francis.
Apparently referring to his critics, he quipped that their disapproval is “an honour”.
He then handed the book to an aide and jokingly called it “a bomb”.
Pope Francis’ priorities and inclusive approach to the papacy have infuriated some American prelates, donors and their supporters in conservative Catholic media.
Those critics often complain that Pope Francis is watering down church orthodoxy, retreating in the culture wars and sowing confusion in the Catholic church.
Mr Senèze said that his book, which was released in France on Wednesday, explored the criticism of American conservatives who disagree with Pope Francis’ championing of migrants, his absolute opposition to the death penalty and his willingness to offer the sacraments to divorced and remarried Catholics.
Supporters of the pope had hoped that, after years of being drawn into the sexual abuse scandal and bickering with his conservative critics, this week’s trip to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius would allow him to focus anew on poverty, climate change and migration.
But it was Pope Francis himself who brought the old ideological rifts along for the ride.