SMYRNA, Ga. — When Pope Francis was elected in March, Bridget Kurt received a small prayer card with his picture at her church and put it up on her refrigerator at home, next to pictures of her favorite saints.
She is a regular attender of Mass, a longtime stalwart in her church’s anti-abortion movement and a believer that all the church doctrines are true and beautiful and should be obeyed.
But Kurt recently took the Pope Francis card down and threw it away.
“It seems he’s focusing on bringing back the left that’s fallen away, but what about the conservatives?” said Kurt, a hospice community educator. “Even when it was discouraging working in pro-life, you always felt like Mother Teresa was on your side and the popes were encouraging you. Now I feel kind of thrown under the bus.”
Since he became pope, Francis has won affection worldwide for his humble mien and common, inclusive touch. His approval numbers are skyrocketing.
But not everyone is so enchanted. Some Catholics in the church’s conservative wing in the United States say that Francis has left them feeling abandoned and deeply unsettled.
They were particularly alarmed when he told a prominent Italian atheist in an interview published in October, and translated into English, that “everyone has his own idea of good and evil” and so everyone should “follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them” — a remark that many conservatives interpreted as appearing to condone relativism.
Steve Skojec, a blogger who has written for several conservative Catholic websites, wrote of Francis’ statements, “Are they explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere.”
Most American Catholics do not share his objections. A poll taken soon after the interview by Quinnipiac University found that 2 in 3 agreed that the church is too “obsessed” with a few big issues.
In parsing Francis’ statements, other Catholic conservatives are concluding that nothing he has said contradicts the Catholic catechism. But in interviews, the words conservatives used most often to characterize Francis were “naive” and “imprudent,” because he is saying things in ways that the church’s “enemies” can distort.
At the Pregnancy Aid Clinic in Hapeville, Ga., a Catholic-run nonprofit, board president Chris Baran said that interviews Francis has given “do not change any teaching of the church that’s been around over 2,000 years.”