VATICAN CITY (AP) – A breakaway traditionalist Catholic group accused Pope Francis on Wednesday of spreading confusion and errors about the faith, joining a chorus of conservative criticism over his perceived lax doctrine and emphasis on mercy at the expense of morals.
A statement from the schismatic Society of St. Pius X suggested that a new attempt at reconciliation with Rome had stalled, or that the society itself was divided over next steps and decided at least to take a hard line against Francis.
The statement, issued after a meeting of the society's superiors, said its members weren't primarily looking for a legal resolution to their schismatic status but eager to return Catholic tradition to a church where "great and painful confusion" currently reigns.
It said errors had made their way into doctrine "that are unfortunately encouraged by a large number of pastors, including the pope himself."
"The Society of St. Pius X prays and does penance for the pope, that he might have the strength to proclaim Catholic faith and morals in their entirety," it said.
The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the society in 1969, opposed to the Second Vatican Council's modernizing reforms. In 1988, the Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre and four other bishops after Lefebvre consecrated them without papal consent.
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI had made reconciling a priority, but three years of doctrinal talks collapsed in 2012. Talks resumed in 2014 and Francis met with the head of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, in April, signaling possible progress.
But Francis is no friend of Catholic traditionalists. He has riled them and other conservatives with a host of comments they say are sowing confusion about core church teachings on family, sex and other hot-button issues.
Francis fueled those criticisms this month during an off-the-cuff session with Rome priests and laity, where he criticized rigid readings of doctrine and suggested that he approved of pre-marital cohabitation so young couples know what they're getting into when they marry.
"I have seen so much loyalty in these cohabitations, so much loyalty, and I'm sure that this is a true marriage, they have the grace of marriage simply because of the loyalty that they have," he said.
Such couples, he has argued, should be accompanied by church pastors and encouraged to enter into a sacramental marriage, not shunned as people living in sin.
In its statement, the society said the resolution of its status "cannot happen without the support of a pope who concretely favors the return to sacred tradition," but regardless it would continue working to spread the faith.