It was a bit like something out of a bad film about the Cold War. In a La Stampa article last week. Andrea Tornielli, dubbed by the Financial Times and others as the Pope’s “favourite journalist”, linked opposition to Francis to Vladimir Putin.

Under the headline: “Catholics who are anti-Francis but love Putin”, Tornielli and his co-author Giacomo Galeazzi adopted a conspiratorial tone: “The glue that holds them together is their aversion towards Francis. The world of Francis dissenters ranges from Lefebvrians who have decided to ‘wait for a traditional Pope’ before renewing their communion with Rome, to Catholic regionalists who compare Francis to his predecessor Ratzinger and promote the campaign ‘Benedict is my Pope’.”

The article went on to identify the different categories of “dissenters”, who include intellectuals and ultra-conservatives. It concluded abruptly with a quote from a sociologist who said: “Russian foundations that have strong ties with Putin co-operate with the anti-Francis opposition.”

The article notably singled out Antonio Socci, an Italian journalist who once wrote a book questioning the validity of Francis’s election. While being critical of the Pope, Socci has also praised Putin, which may shed some light on the articles’s preoccupation with the Russian president.

To give the piece a little more context, Tornielli has co-authored a book with the Pope while being privy to some enviable Vatican scoops. He is considered by some to be so close to the Holy Father that they even refer to him as a “papal mouthpiece”.

The veteran American Catholic commentator Phil Lawler said the article was disturbing: “Those who have questioned public statements by Pope Francis are seen as ‘enemies’, not as loyal critics.”

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