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Answering Battles Over Doctrine and Liturgy, Pope Francis Praises Unity in the Church

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Pope Francis presides over a Mass at the National Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre, July 28, 2022, in St. Anne de Beaupre, Quebec. Pope Francis paid a “penitential” six-day visit to Canada recently to beg forgiveness from survivors of the country’s residential schools, where Catholic missionaries contributed to the “cultural genocide” of generations of Indigenous children by trying to stamp out their languages, cultures and traditions. (AP Photo/John Locher)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — On the last day of his apostolic visit to Canada, Pope Francis spoke to a group of Jesuit priests and emphasized the importance of unity among bishops and in the entire church, even as divisions over liturgy and doctrine continued to plague his papacy.

A transcript of the pope’s meeting Friday (July 29) with 15 Jesuits in Quebec City was published Thursday by La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit magazine. In a lengthy conversation, the pope answered questions about his vision for a synodal church, the development of church doctrine and reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

The pope, who went to Canada at the request of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian Catholic bishops to address the mistreatment of Indigenous people in Catholic-run residential schools, apologized on behalf of the church for the wrongs of the past. In his discussion with the Jesuit priests, he praised the role that the Canadian bishops have played in paving the road toward reconciliation.

Francis said that his visit was “just the icing on the cake” and that it was “the bishops who have done everything with their unity.”

“When an episcopate is united,” he said, “it can deal with the challenges that arise.” By contrast, the pope said, ideology is “the worst enemy against the unity of the church and of the episcopates.”

Francis also addressed lingering questions from the Canada trip, including whether his apology came on behalf of the entire church.

“I do not speak for myself or for an ideology or a party. I am a bishop and I speak in the name of the church, not in my own name,” he said, stressing that his apology was for the church as an institution.

Asked why he did not meet with sexual abuse survivors while in the country, Francis said he didn’t want to detract from the message of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and that, anyway, the trip’s packed schedule made personal meetings impossible. But he said he had answered the survivors’ letters.

“Many people responded to me saying that they understood that this was not an exclusion at all,” he said.

But clashes over church doctrine that have cropped up with increasing frequency in the pope’s tenure were unavoidable. “Changes needed to be made, and they were made,” he told the Jesuit priests. “Law cannot be kept in a refrigerator. Law accompanies life and life goes on. Like morals, it is being perfected.”