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The man who won the election for pope a few years ago faces some resistance. Conservative American Catholics do not agree with Pope Francis' remarks on migrants or refugees or capitalism. Clerical sex abuse scandals have emboldened the pope's critics. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Every Sunday at noon, Pope Francis addresses the crowd in St. Peter's Square.
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POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Italian).
POGGIOLI: And he always wishes them a good Sunday meal.
POGGIOLI: But these warm cheers contrast with strident criticism heard outside Vatican walls.
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MICHAEL VORIS: Hello, everyone. And welcome to "The Vortex," where lies and falsehoods are trapped and exposed.
POGGIOLI: The American conservative website Church Militant shot this clip behind St. Peter's Square during the recent synod of bishops meeting focused on youth.
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VORIS: The cloud of homosexual immorality is hanging thick and low around Vatican City these days as various churchmen with deep ties to and support of the gay agenda are running the show.
POGGIOLI: Many of the pope's most vocal opponents are in the U.S., attacking him in tweets, blogs and conservative media. At the National Review, critics accused Francis of having plunged the church into acrimony and confusion and of acting more like a potentate than a guardian of Christ's teaching. Sex abuse revelations have further emboldened traditionalist Catholic media - like First Things and LifeSite - with articles blaming sex abuse on gay priests and accusing Francis of encouraging homosexuality. And yet researchers in the field say they've found no evidence linking clerical pedophilia to sexual orientation.
DAVID GIBSON: That's kind of a perfect storm that has really tossed the pope's pontificate around.
POGGIOLI: David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, was in Rome for the synod.
GIBSON: This conservative opposition, which is very much based in the United States, has been able to use the anger, the widespread anger, over the sex abuse crisis to create even more difficulties and opposition to Pope Francis.
POGGIOLI: Blame escalated this summer after a disgruntled former Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, accused Francis of covering up abuse and called for his resignation.
MASSIMO FAGGIOLI: Now, there is no shame in launching attacks that were unthinkable under John Paul II or Pope Benedict.
POGGIOLI: Massimo Faggioli is professor of theology at Villanova University. Speaking by Skype, he says only a handful of American bishops defended Pope Francis against Vigano's vitriolic attack.
FAGGIOLI: There is, I mean, some kind of undeclared schism. As a church historian, I don't remember anything like that happening in these last six centuries.
POGGIOLI: Many moderate Catholics acknowledge Francis' record on abuse is mixed. While he's done much more than his predecessors, concrete steps for transparency and accountability of bishops are lagging. Gibson of Fordham University says Francis is in a bind.
GIBSON: So much of this scandal was seeded and sown in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. And there's a reluctance among many to go unearth all of that because obviously the pope has been canonized, and he's Saint John Paul II.
POGGIOLI: He agrees with Francis the only way to eliminate sex abuse is to wipe out the sense of entitlement and unaccountability enshrined in that culture so dear to conservatives - clericalism.
GIBSON: He needs to change this culture of the old boys' network of secrecy and of self-protection. That's really the ultimate answer here.
POGGIOLI: But Gibson adds, that's going to be a long time coming. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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