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Pope says ‘it is an honor that Americans attack me’

(CNN) — Pope Francis, who has tussled with the American presidentAmerican capitalists and American Catholics during his six years as pope, seems unfazed by the disputes.

In fact, he may even enjoy them.

In a brief exchange with a French journalist aboard the papal plane to Africa on Wednesday, Francis said he was honored by criticisms from conservative Catholics in the United States.

“For me it is an honor that Americans attack me,” he told Nicolas Senèze of Catholic media outlet La Croix, who has written a new book called “How America Wants to Change Popes.”

“This will be a bombshell,” the Pope joked when Senèze handed him a copy of the book.

According to National Catholic Reporter, Senèze’s book focuses on two campaigns launched by American Catholics disturbed by the innovations of Francis’ papacy.

One was the founding, in 2018, of a “Better Church Governance” group dedicated to investigating cardinals who will vote for the next pope. The other was American conservatives’ backing of a former Vatican ambassador to the US, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, who has called on Francis to resign for supposedly mishandling abuse allegations.

Many of the former ambassador’s claims remain unsubstantiated, and the Pope has denied the charges.

Other conservative American Catholics have been disturbed by the Pope’s theological reforms, including revising the Catholic catechism on the death penalty and creating an opening for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion.

Views of Pope Francis among American Catholics have become increasingly polarized, according to the Pew Research Center. Since 2014, the share of Catholic Republicans who say Francis represents a “major, positive change” for the church has declined from 60% to 37%.

On Wednesday, papal spokesman Matteo Bruni sought to clarify Francis’ response to the new book.

“In an informal context the Pope wanted to say that he always considers it an honor to be criticized, especially when it comes from authoritative voices, and in this case from an important nation,” Bruni said.

The Pope also extended his condolences to natives of the Bahamas, where several islands have been devastated by Hurricane Dorian.

“I would like to invite you all to give prayers for the victims of the hurricane in the Bahamas,” Francis said. “The poor people without blame have lost their homes, have lost everything, even their lives. I would like each of you to say a prayer for our brothers and sisters.”

On his Africa trip, which ends September 10, the Pope will visit Mozambique, Mauritius and Madagascar. He is expected to focus his message on fighting poverty and improving the environment.

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