Details are still coming out about the arrest of four men who were allegedly plotting to attack Pope Francis, but the initial reports are harrowing enough:

Acting on a tip from the FBI, Italian authorities arrested four people in Italy and Kosovo Tuesday who were suspected of planning an attack on Pope Francis. . . .The [alleged] terrorist team propagated the ideology of jihad through social networks, the police said. The group allegedly claimed on social media that Francis would be ‘the last pope.’

The Kosovo threat was not the first time militants pledging allegiance to ISIS have threatened Francis. During his visit to the United States in September, a teenager claiming allegiance to ISIS was arrested on suspicion of planning to attack the Pope during his visit. . . .Police found multiple firearms in possession of the fifteen-year-old when they raided his house.

Given the many dangers Pope Francis faces, one might think there would be increasing sympathy for the pope—even among his harshest critics. But, as David Mills has pointed out, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Ever since his famous, if seriously distorted, “Who am I to Judge?” comment, Francis’s opponents have been after him, waiting to pounce on every misstep he makes, real or imagined. Not surprisingly, the 2014-15 Synod on the Family has only brought on more disapproval.

After the Synod ended, having produced a final document reaffirming Catholic teaching, the pope’s critics were reluctant to admit that they had been proven wrong again (having made equally dire predictions before the 2014 synod). Unfazed by their track record, they are now warning that Francis will shred Catholic teaching in his upcoming Apostolic Exhortation on the Synod. Some believe he already has, by streamlining the annulment process, creating a path for quick and easy “Catholic divorce.”

Though this idea has been soundly refuted by Father John McCloskey, among other proponents of orthodoxy, and though Francis has strongly upheld the indissolubility of marriage, stating that Catholic divorce “doesn’t exist,” it is not so clear to many of the pope’s critics, who no longer trust Francis, and who dismiss his affirmations of orthodoxy. They are convinced that he is a secret follower of Cardinal Kasper, and that he is determined to offer communion to the divorced and remarried—no matter what evidence there is to the contrary.

And the extreme criticism is not limited to hard-core traditionalists. Francis has come under fire from disillusioned progressives, who are now depicting him as a recalcitrant pontiff who won’t endorse condoms or “gay rights” (as the world defines them), much to their dismay. Even some mainstream “conservative” Catholics have spoken and written of Francis as if he were a danger to the Church.

Not long ago, three influential Catholic commentators—Jesuit Father James Schall, Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, and Spectator columnist Damian Thompson—all took aim at Francis. Schall insinuated that Francis might be a heretic. Thompson suggested that Francis was fueling a “Catholic civil war,” and further commented, “prayers are being said for an end to this pontificate within five years, max”—but didn’t reveal whether he thought such prayers sinful. Magister asserted that under Bergoglio, “Christianity matters less,”—a statement that even Thompson called “a ludicrous charge, given Francis’s daily invocation of the words of Jesus to attack corrupt and lazy Christians who pay lip service to the Gospel.”

I wrote a lengthy response for Inside the Vatican, arguing that Francis is hardly the subversive feared by so many:

Since being elevated to the Chair of St. Peter, Francis hasn’t flagged in his commitment to the faith. He has urged pro-lifers to ‘stay focused’ on preserving the right to life, championed the rights of the poor, rebuked gay lobbies who promote same -sex relations, urged fellow bishops to fight gay adoption, affirmed traditional marriage, closed the door on women priests, hailed Humanae Vitae, praised the Council of Trent and the hermeneutic of continuity, in connection with Vatican II, denounced the dictatorship of relativism. . . . highlighted the gravity of sin and the need for confession, warned against Satan and eternal damnation, condemned worldliness and ‘adolescent progressivism,’ defended the Sacred Deposit of Faith, and urged Christians to carry their crosses even to the point of martyrdom.

These are not the words and acts of a secularizing Modernist.

Catholics concerned about the state of their Church should concentrate on living lives worthy of Christ, and on spreading the Gospel while resisting the temptation to get involved in verbal theatrics about Francis. We should praise the many excellent things he has done, defend him against unjust allegations, and offer our sincere counsel in areas where we think he needs improvement. Above all, we should pray that he will endure every attack and danger, and be able to teach and strengthen the faithful, as Christ commissioned St. Peter to do.

William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine, among many other publications, and writes often about religion, history and politics. He contributed an extensive bibliography of works on Pius XII to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII. His previous articles can be found here.

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