Pope Francis has hit back at conservative critics, saying their undermining of the Catholic Church is the “work of the devil” – and quipped that “some people wanted me dead” after his recent surgery.
Francis made the comments during a private meeting with Jesuits while visiting the Slovak capital of Bratislava on 13 September.
The conversation was quoted in the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica on Tuesday.
The Pope also commented that he was “still alive, although some people wanted me dead” after he was asked about his health.
“I know that there were even meetings between prelates who thought that the Pope was in a more serious condition than was being said,” he added.
“They were preparing the conclave (to elect a new pope). So be it. Thank God, I am well.”
Francis, who was elected pontiff in 2013, had colon surgery on 4 July and spent 10 days in hospital. He has since resumed a full schedule.
Addressing some of the challenges facing the Church, Francis honed in on traditionalists, saying that “turning back is not the right way” and that it was important to move forward.
He condemned a “major Catholic television station”, which he did not name, that he said was constantly attacking him.
“I personally may deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve this. It is the work of the devil,” he said.
In recent years, Francis has been criticised by a small but influential number of American conservatives unhappy with his stand on issues including immigration and climate change.
They are regularly given air time on the US-based Catholic television network EWTN.
The Pope admitted that criticism from clerics within the Church enraged him at times.
“I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies,” he said.
He warned against clerical “rigidity” and said God wanted society to be free.