A week ago, on July 28, on the airplane returning to Rome from Brazil following the week-long visit to celebrate World Youth Day, Pope Francis gave the first press conference of his pontificate.
Though a week has passed, it seems useful now — sooner rather than later — to attempt a close reading of the entire press conference, in order to try to gain a deeper understanding of what the Pope was saying, and why. That is what I attempt here, in a reading which can only be partial and preliminary, but which may nevertheless, I hope, prove useful.
The Decision to Speak
The week had tired him and left him with a slight cough, but it had also energized him, because the week had been an enormous, virtually unmitigated success. Everything, it seemed, had gone right. There had not been a single important negative incident.
And so the trip to Brazil had boosted the prestige of the already popular new Pope (or new bishop of Rome, as he likes to call himself) to a new level.
In terms of global influence, he stood now on an almost unique height. Why? Because, arguably, no other world leader on the planet could have matched the “tour de force” of this man’s “performance” in Brazil — though it had not been a performance at all, but rather one long encounter, often unscripted, always authentic, between a 76-year-old Argentine dressed in a white robe and enormous, attentive crowds of young people.
Francis had attracted, according to widely accepted estimates, more than 3 million young people to the final Mass on Copacabana beach (there is some discussion about this figure, but even lower estimates put the number in the range of 2 million, not a small crowd). What other world leader today could have done anything similar?
And so, in a certain sense, Pope Francis emerged from the crucible of his trip to Brazil like a tempered blade of Toledo steel, having been plunged into the cold water of the vast crowds and the grueling schedule of the week to emerge as, arguably, the single most charismatic, popular — and so influential — leader on the planet.
Just at that moment, physically drained but emotionally exhilarated, Pope Francis made a decision which has marked a watershed in his pontificate. He decided to talk. And he decided to talk on the record.
He decided to accept unvetted questions from the 65 journalists making up the press corps representing media outlets from around the world which had traveled with him– journalists who, up until now, had never had the chance to ask Francis directly, in person, even a single question during the four and a half months (135 days) since his election on March 13.
And Francis decided to be generous with his time. He would not talk for 10 or 15 minutes, then retire to rest. He would talk for 20, 40, 60 and, finally, 80 minutes, creating a transcript that stretches out to about 10,000 words — enough to make a small book.
Controversy over a Phrase
And, at about the 119th minute, answering the 21st question asked of him, after earlier telling his spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., that he was “tired, tired,” and after having asked the journalists, twice, whether they were not hungry and ready for their airplane dinner — so, three times making clear that he wished to bring the interview to an end due to his own weariness — the Pope agreed to comment on a controversial personnel case (the allegations made against the conduct of Monsignor Ricca more than a decade ago) and on a controversial issue (an alleged “gay lobby” working within the Vatican).
In the midst of a handful of phrases on these two matters (cited at greater length below), the Pope asked this dramatic, rhetorical, question: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?”
In a world increasingly opposed to the traditional Catholic (but not only Catholic) teaching (and judgment) that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” the Pope’s question “Who am I to judge?” seemed to many of the journalists present, and to their editors, a departure from that teaching, or a new attitude toward that teaching, worth highlighting in news stories.
(Here, for the record, is the passage about homosexuality in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, with the phrase “intrinsically disordered” highlighted:
“Paragraph 2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
“Paragraph 2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”)
Thus this phrase, this rhetorical question, was highlighted around the world, and the rest of the press conference, in comparison, was virtually forgotten.
“Pope Francis signals openness towards gay priests,” The Guardian in England headlined the next day (July 29). “Pope Francis says he won’t ‘judge’ gay priests,” USA Today headlined the same day. “Pope on gay priests: ‘Who am I to judge?’” The Age of Sydney, Australia, headlined on July 30.
Some commenters argued that Francis by this phrase was consciously signaling a quite dramatic change in Church teaching with regard to homosexuality.
Other commentors noted that established Church doctrine, because it is established, cannot be changed, and so, a fortiori, cannot be changed in such a way, during an impromptu press conference, even by a Pope, the chief teacher of the Church, so that Francis was certainly not “changing Church teaching”; but these commenters added that, because Francis might have seemed to be changing the teaching, he or his staff needed to quickly issue a clarification so that it would be clear that he was not signaling a change in Church teaching on the matter.
Therefore, since these conflicting judgments about what Francis intended by these words have caused some confusion, both for Catholics and non-Catholics, especially in regard to whether Francis may actually have wished to “signal” some sort of “change” in Church teaching, or in the way that teaching is presented, regarding homosexuality, it seems important to go back to the text itself, try to read it more closely, and try to understand, from the text itself, what Francis intended.
This can only be an imperfect work; no one can look inside the Pope’s mind. But even an imperfect work can be useful, and in this case, when the context of the Pope’s words has not yet received the careful study that is needed to understand more fully what he intended, even if the effort is partial, it may contribute something toward deeper understanding.
The first step toward clarifying the matter must be a close reading of the text itself, in context. And that has been difficult up until now, as the English translation of the entire interview was not available until days after the press conference, when the “narrative” had already been written and, in a certain sense, set in stone.
But that does not mean a close reading of the text of the interview is not needed, even now. In fact, it means a close reading is needed even more urgently.
In what follows, I attempt a preliminary “close reading” of the papal press conference, in order to set the controversy over the final remarks in context, without pretending that this reading is in any way definitive. I wish only to make a small contribution to understanding the mind of Pope Francis, and in so doing, to enable others, as they carry out their own reading of these remarks, to do so with greater confidence that they are getting a fuller picture of Pope Francis’s intent, as he attempts to lead the Church in a difficult time.
A Preliminary Close Reading of the Transcript of the July 28 Pope Francis Interview
We begin with several premises, points to keep in mind. (Note: In the text below, I have shortened some of the questions and answers, as I did not wish to make this letter over-long; so the text commented on below is an abridged text.)
First, we know that Francis did not choose to conduct any sort of interview on the flight out from Rome to Brazil, before World Youth Day. Why?
Well, in part to avoid any sort of controversy prior to World Youth Day. To protect the integrity of World Youth Day from any sort of “red-herring” which might emerge in a press conference.
And this was due in part to the experience of Pope Benedict XVI (Pope from 2005 to 2013). Benedict had agreed to airplane press conferences (giving the lie, through this considerable openness to the press, to the common view that he was reclusive and timid) on several trips. But on one occasion, on the flight to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon in Africa, on March 17, 2009, Benedict had stirred controversy before the trip even began, saying that the distribution of condoms is not the answer in the fight against AIDS in Africa. “You can’t resolve it (the spread of AIDS) with the distribution of condoms,” Benedict told reporters. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.” This led to a flood of headlines about the Church and the prohibition in Church teaching of the use of condoms, with the implication that the Church, in her focus on sexual morality, was indifferent toward the spread of the AIDS virus.
So, this year, on the first major trip of Francis’s pontificate, it was decided not to have a press conference on the way to Brazil. In this way, there would be no chance of a word or phrase taken out of context that would take the focus away from World Youth Day itself.
Second, precisely for this reason — precisely because he had not held a press conference on the outbound flight — Francis felt he needed to be generous with the press in granting them access to him on the return flight. This explains why he wished to give such a long press conference. He wanted to allow the journalists a chance to ask all the questions they wished.
Third, the press conference was the first of this pontificate. In a sense, the Pope was using the occasion of this press conference to answer all of the questions about his pontificate thus far, questions which journalists, and many Catholics, and other interested observers, have had in their minds, but which they have been unable to ask, and have answered. So the Pope set the groundrules to the widest possible aperture: no screening of the questions whatsoever; everyone could ask whatever they wished; and no pre-set time limit.
Now, as we reflect on this scenario, we can imagine potential pitfalls. A completely wide-open press conference can be a real challenge. Wide open means wide open. Unrestricted.
A restricted press conference is a different sort of event altogether. If one has to answer questions on a certain, specific topic — on the Church’s social teaching, for example, or on the Church’s liturgy, or on the events and outcome of World Youth Day — one can prepare for that topic. One can study and make notes on the key points of the Church’s social teaching one wishes to stress, or on the points one would like to make about the liturgy, or about World Youth Day. So one can prepare.
But in the format agreed to by Pope Francis, there was no way to prepare, because the format was wide open. The questions could have been (and were!) about his relations with Pope Penedict, his feelings about being Pope, his plans to reform the Curia, and so on and so forth — open-ended.
An open-ended press conference requires a virtuoso performance from the person being questioned.
The person questioned has to be ready to shift gears mentally from one subject to another, instantaneously, and do it all with grace and eloquence.
By saying this, I am not saying that Francis was not up to the task; I am simply saying that it was an objectively hard task to be up to. And that is something to keep in mind as one reads the transcript of the press conference.
What Kind of a Press Conference?
Now, if we then start to read the text of the press conference, we see that it is set up at the very outset as a press conference focused on Brazil, on World Youth Day, on what has just taken place during seven tumultuous, packed, historic days in and near Rio de Janeiro.
Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican Press Office, sets up the parameters of the press conference in this way: “The Holy Father Francis… has been kind enough to give us a good long time to evaluate the trip with us and answer your questions in total liberty.”
In the bold-faced phrase, “to evaluate the trip,” Lombardi is offering a certain framework for the questions: Pope Francis is agreeing “to evaluate the trip” with the journalists.
In other words, it may be that, on at least some level, Francis was expecting the press conference to be focused almost entirely on Brazil, on evaluating the experience of World Youth Day. This is, in fact, the way it is presented.
There is, admittedly, the following phrase, “and answer your questions in total liberty,” but that phrase comes after the previous phrase, almost as a qualifier, so that the whole sentence seems to mean: “the Pope will answer freely all of your questions about the trip, evaluating the trip.”
Therefore, as a preliminary observation, it could be argued that Pope Francis (even if wrongly) expected one sort of press conference, restricted to World Youth Day, and got another one, without any restrictions whatsoever.
This is not to suggest that the Pope was in any way deceived, or tricked, only to suggest that, psychologically, he may have been “fixated” on what had just occurred in Brazil, and not on matters he had left behind in Rome. It may have been that he was still filled with the sights and sounds of Copacabana beach, and still reflecting on those, as he entered into this press conference.
And, in fact, this theory seems to fit with the first minutes of the press conference, where Pope Francis presents, before taking any questions, his own summary of what has just happened in Rio de Janeiro.
At the outset of the press conference, Francis gives an animated, detailed account of the entire week, thanking different people, recalling different moments. So one senses that the Pope is still “in Rio” in his mind, reliving those extraordinary experiences.
By saying this, I am suggesting that the Pope’s first remarks have the appearance of having been prepared. That is, that this was the part of the press conference that he was fully prepared for. He had the subject matter fully in hand, in the forefront of his mind. He likely had thought through the points he wished to make just before beginning he press conference. And he made those points superbly, eloquently, excitedly. He was happy, and he said he was happy.
And part of that happiness, one would almost say the essence of that happiness, was that he had been able to “encounter” the young people of the world, “engage” them, and be with them in prayer, in confession, in song, in worship, in silence.
And all that had been accomplished due to a special attitude on his part: he had emphasized Christ, and the goodness and mercy of Christ, and not moral issues or problems, and in so doing, he had spoken “heart to heart” with the young people.
So, by saying this, I am making a point: that Pope Francis’s intellectual and emotional outlook on everything that he was about to say, from the outset of this press conference, was within the framework of a paradigm, a paradigm of mercy, of encounter, which he himself had experienced, and which he was at pains to convey to the journalists in his first remarks, and then later (I am arguing), in his answers to their subsequent questions.
So the point is this: it is within this very same paradigm, within this very same way of looking at human beings and their fallenness and their need for forgiveness, that the Pope would come, an hour and twenty minutes later, to the final question of the press conference, the one which dealt with homosexuals and the so-called “gay lobby.”
I will give just a few lines from the first remarks of Pope Francis to the journalists to show this point:
Pope Francis: Good evening and thank you so much. I am happy. It has been a good trip; it has done me good spiritually. I’m quite tired, but with a joyful heart, and I am well, well: it did me good spiritually. It does one good to meet people, because the Lord works in each one of us; He works in the heart, and the richness of the Lord is such that we can always receive many good things from others. And this does me good. This, as a first evaluation…
Then we had problems with security theories: security here and there; there wasn’t an incident in the whole of Rio de Janeiro in these days, and everything was spontaneous. With less security, I was able to be with the people, to embrace and greet them, without armored cars. It’s the security of trusting people… Closeness does good to all…
The point is this: Francis began this press conference “filled with Brazil,” filled with memories of “encounters” with others that had enriched him spiritually. He was almost ecstatic. He was filled with a sense of the nearness and goodness of God, and of that goodness expressed especially through God’s ability to work in human hearts, to heal human hearts, to bring healing which is beyond the power of men to bring.
Then the actual press conference began. And the tone changed…
The Actual Press Conference
In asking Question #1 (on the Reform of the Curia and Vatican Bank), Juan de Lara, a Spanish journalist, acknowledges openly that he is shifting the subject of the press conference away from World Youth Day.
Juan de Lara: (Speaking in Spanish) Good evening, Holiness. On behalf of all our companions we want to thank you for these days you have given us in Rio de Janeiro, the work you have done, and the effort it implies… Thank you very much. And the first question — it doesn’t have much to do with the trip, but we take advantage of the occasion that gives us this possibility and I wanted to ask you: Holiness, in these four months of pontificate, we see that you have created several commissions to reform the Vatican Curia. I would like to ask you: What type of reform do you have in mind? Do you contemplate the possibility of doing away with the IOR, the so-called Vatican Bank? Thank you.
In the bold-faced words, the journalist is admitting quite openly that he is shifting the topic of the press conference from World Youth Day to something that “doesn’t have much to do with the trip.” He admits that he and the other journalists now will “take advantage of the occasion” to ask other questions.
So we can sense that Francis must make a mental and emotional adjustment.
And he does. His answer is no longer filled with the joy and happiness he expressed moments before. He is now matter-of-fact and pragmatic.
Pope Francis: The steps I have taken in these four and a half months, come from two sources: the content of what had to be done, it all comes from the source of the General Congregations that we Cardinals had. They were things that we Cardinals asked for to the one who’d be the new Pope. I remember that I asked for many things, thinking of someone else…
In these boldfaced words, we gain an insight into Francis’s experience at the Conclave, and just before the Conclave. At that time, he was offering suggestions, he tells us, about how to improve or reform the Curia, and make other improvements in the Church, without imagining that he himself would be elected Pope.
“Synodality” as a dramatic outreach to the Orthodox
And then he says something else very interesting: that the commission of eight cardinals is intended to in some way alter or adjust the Petrine primacy in the direction of “synodality” — the form of Church government in the Orthodox world. This is an extremely important clarification, with ecumenical implications, and in all of the uproar over the Pope’s words in answer to the final question, this has been almost overlooked. It should not be overlooked.
That is, we asked, this has to be done… for instance, the Commission of eight Cardinals, we know that it’s important to have an outside consultation, not the consultations that take place, but from the outside. And this is in line — here I make a sort of abstraction, thinking, however, to explain it — in the line increasingly of the maturation of the relation between the Synodality and the Primacy. That is, these eight Cardinals favor Synodality, they help the different episcopates of the world to express themselves in the government itself of the Church…
“I don’t know”
The Pope then begins a rather rambling and somewhat unsatisfactory reflection on the reform of the Vatican bank. What one understands clearly from these lines is that Francis initially intended to address the question of the Vatican bank only in 2014, and that he decided to address the matter this year because he has been placed, as it were, “under pressure.” What is also clear — because the Pope tells us so himself, three times(!) — is that he does not yet know what he is going to do with the Vatican bank:
The financial part I thought I’d address next year, because it’s not the most important thing to address. However, the agenda was changed due to the circumstances that you know, which are of the public domain; problems appeared which had to be addressed.
The first, the problem of the IOR, namely, how to direct it, how to delineate it, how to reform it, how to heal what has to be healed… And there, while preparing that meeting, the need was seen to establish a same Reference Commission for the whole economy of the Holy See. That is, the economic problem was addressed outside the agenda, but these things happen when in the office of government, no? One goes here but a goal is kicked from over there and one must intercept it, isn’t that right?
With reference to that question you asked me about the IOR, I don’t know how the IOR will end; some say that, perhaps, it’s best if it’s a bank, others that it be an aid fund, others say to close it. These voices are heard. I don’t know. I trust the work of the people of the IOR, who are working on this… I cannot tell you how this story will end, and this is good also because one finds, one seeks; we are human, in this; we must find the best.
But, this yes; but the characteristics of the IOR — whether a bank, an aid fund, whatever it is — must be transparent and honest.
In response to Question #2, the Pope tells us that he carries his own briefcase, not because it contains anything “super-secret,” but because it is “normal” for a man to carry his own brief-case.
And that is the great “takeaway” that we find in this second question, which also helps us to understand this Pope, and may help us to understand his answer to the final question: he wishes for life to be “normal,” not scripted, not lived at second-hand, not artificial. Normal.
But what does the Pope really mean by this word “normal”? It seems that he means “in keeping with the ordinary experience of people” and not following “protocols” of whatever type. But what does this “ordinary” experience include? If anything is certain, it is certain that this “ordinary” experience includes faults and sins, on the part of oneself, and others. And so this emphasis on “normal” for the Pope, paradoxically, includes the “mystery of sin,” that is, the mystery of living in a fallen world, where people are wounded, broken, unreliable, but also capable of conversion, repentance, and beginning again. These thoughts will be found again in the Pope’s answer to the controversial final question.
The other thing we learn is that the Pope knows the Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli personally, as he ends the question by addressing him by his first name: “I don’t know, Andrea, if I’ve answered you…”
Andrea Tornielli: The photograph has gone around the world of you, when we left, going up the steps of the plane carrying a black bag… it never happened, we said, that the Pope went up with his baggage in hand. So, there were even theories about what the black bag contained. Now, my questions are: one, why did you carry the black bag and why was it not carried by a collaborator, and two, can you tell us what was inside?
Pope Francis: It didn’t have the key of the atomic bomb! I carried it because I’ve always done so: when I travel, I carry it. What is inside? There is my razor, there is the Breviary, there is the agenda, there is a book to read — I took one on St. Teresina to whom I am devoted. I have always carried the bag when I travel: it’s normal. But we must be normal…
I don’t know… what you are saying is a bit strange to me, that that photo has gone around the world. But we must get used to being normal, the normality of life. I don’t know, Andrea, if I’ve answered you…
“Pray for me”
In his answer to Question #3, asked by the distinguished Portuguese journalist Aura Miguel, once again uses the word “normal” (saying it is not “normal” for a Pope to ask so often for people to pray for him). But here Pope Francis is at pains to stress that it is “normal” to ask for prayers. And this offers further, almost piercing insight into the man and his spirituality. For he tells us that he feels inadequate, that he senses the need to be strengthened by the Lord in order to carry out his work, and therefore continually asks for prayers. But what we may glean from this is that, for this man, all humans are dependent on God, all stand in need of prayer, and grace, no matter what their sins. This outlook is the one which will return in his controversial answer to the final question.
Aura Miguel: Holiness, I want to ask you why you ask so insistently that we pray for you? It’s not normal, usual, to hear a Pope ask so much to pray for him.
Pope Francis: I’ve always asked for this. When I was a priest I asked for it, but not so frequently. I began to ask for it with a certain frequency in my work as Bishop, because I feel that if the Lord doesn’t help in this work of helping the People of God to go forward, one can’t… I truly feel I have so many limitations, so many problems, also being a sinner — you know it! — and I must ask for this. But it comes from within!
I also ask Our Lady to pray for me to the Lord.
It’s a habit, but it’s a habit that comes from the heart and also from the need I have for my work. I feel I must ask… I don’t know, it’s like this…
Saints and sinners…
Once again, in his response to Question #4, asked by Phil Pullella, the chief Vatican correspondent for Reuters (and so one of the single most influential journalists with regard to Vatican affairs in the world), Pope Francis gives us a profound insight into his own character and spirit. He tells us that he has decided to live in the Domus Santa Marta because “I need people, to meet people, to talk with people.”
We have already been struck by the fact that the Pope wishes to live a “normal” life, and now that wish is stressed: he wishes to have “normal” contacts with other human beings. He does not wish to live detached from ordinary life.
The picture that is being drawn is of a man who meets people where they are, and, encountering them there — prior to any judgement, simply encountering them — he begins to get to know them, to establish a relationship, and then, evidently drawing on spiritual resources which have been granted to him by God through no special merit of his own, but through the prayers of others, bears witness to them of his and their mutual need to receive God’s freely given mercy.
In kernel, we have already here the same answer the Pope will give the question about homosexuals in the final question an hour later at the end of the press conference.
Of note also is the phrase “everyone must carry his life forward, his way of living, of being,” which, though mentioned in the context of austere living, is also somehow revelatory of the Pope’s attitude of respect for the other, for the human person and his uniqueness. The Pope does not wish to fit people into little categories, even when it has to do with choosing to live austerely, rather than in opulence. And so what one is beginning to sense is a certain and unwillingness to judge others — in this case, prelates who live in better apartments, in greater luxury — even when, objectively, one might expect him to say, “Yes, in fact, I would like every Vatican official to live in a single room, without an armchair, and with only a thin mattress on a bed of boards to sleep on.”
According to the spiritual, ascetical tradition of the Church, this might be wise and positive advice. But according to common sense and to the spirit of respect for “normalcy” animating this particular Pope, he is unwilling to prescribe one way of living for all the members of the Curia. Perhaps a truly determined, rigorist reformer might be more forceful; perhaps this Pope may someday call for a general witness of poverty from the Curia, and from the Church; but for the moment, what he is calling for is for each individual to search his or her own heart, and to respond to what is heard in the intimacy of that dialogue with the Lord. It is the attitude, not of a tyrant, or a dictator, or even of a captain wishing to whip a regiment into shape, but the attitude of a fellow citizen, or fellow soldier, seeking to guide by example, but not wishing to impose burdens too heavy for others to bear. It is an attitude or respect for others and of humility with regard to himself.
There is one other interesting remark in the Pope’s reply to this question. He expresses a profound respect for the old Roman Curia. He says the Curia today is in need of those old Curia men. It is not clear who is referring to, but to me it seemed he was referring to men like Cardinal Domenico Tardini, Secretary of State under John XXIII, and known for his incredible integrity, coherence of life and loyalty to the Church (he died in 1961 at the age of 73 of a massive heart attack). When Pius XII wished to make him a cardinal in 1953, he declined the honor.
Tardini loved children, and “adopted” the orphans of Villa Nazareth, for whom he organized recognition and assistance. He arranged televised audiences of the children with Pope Pius XII, and a visit to their home by Pope John XXIII and high-ranking foreign dignitaries, to raise funds for the needy children.
After the death of Pope Pius on October 9, 1958, on the very night of John XXIII’s election (or at the first papal appointment next morning, biographers differ on this) the new Pope John asked Tardini to become his Secretary of State. Tardini was not enthused, and later recounted: “He did not give me any choice. I told the Holy Father, that I would not serve under him, because new policies would need new people. I reminded him that I had frequently disagreed with him in the past. I reminded him that I was tired and worn out and that my health was getting worse. I told him about my long cherished ambition of at last giving myself entirely to the orphan boys of Villa Nazareth. It made no difference. The Pope listened to me with kindness and interest but to every point he replied, I understand but I want you to be my Secretary of State. Finally I knelt down and offered him my obedience.”
When Pope Francis laments the passing of men with “the profile of the old Curia man, faithful, who did his work,” he seems to be referring to men like Tardini.
Philip Pullella: In the search to make these changes, I remember that you said to the group of Latin America that there are so many saints that work in the Vatican, but also persons who are somewhat less saintly, no? Have you met with resistance in your desire to change things in the Vatican? Have you found resistance? The second question is: you live in a very austere world, you have stayed in St. Martha’s, etc. Do you want your collaborators, also the Cardinals, to follow this example and perhaps live in community, or is it something for you only?
Pope Francis: I have stayed at St. Martha’s: but I couldn’t live alone in the Palace, and it’s not luxurious. The papal apartment isn’t so luxurious! It’s ample, big, but not luxurious. But I can’t live alone and with a small tiny group! I need people, to meet people, to talk with people… And because of this, the boys of the Jesuit school asked me: “Why do you do it?” Out of austerity? Poverty? No, no. Simply for psychiatric reasons, because I can’t cope psychologically. Everyone must carry his life forward, his way of living, of being. The Cardinals who work in the Curia do not live richly and magnificently: they live in an apartment, they are austere, they are austere. Those that I know, the apartments that APSA gives the Cardinals.
Then it seems to me there is something else I would like to say. Each one must live as the Lord asks him to live. But austerity — a general austerity — I think is necessary for all of us who work in the service of the Church. There are so many shades of austerity… each one must find his way.
In regard to the saints, this is true, there are saints: Cardinals, priests, bishops, Sisters, laymen: people who pray, people who work so much, and also who go to the poor, in a hidden way. I know of some who are concerned with feeding the poor and then, in their free time, go to do their ministry in one or another church… They are priests.
There are saints in the Curia. And there are also some who aren’t so saintly, and these are those who make more noise. You know that a tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows. And this grieves me when there are these things.
But there are some who give scandal, some. We have this Monsignor in jail, I think he’s still in jail; he is not in jail because he resembled Blessed Imelda in fact, he isn’t a Blessed. These are scandals that cause grief.
Something — I have never said this, but I recall — I think the Curia has fallen somewhat from the level that it had some time ago, of those old Curia men… the profile of the old Curia man, faithful, who did his work. We are in need of such persons.
I believe… they exist, but they are not so many as there were some time ago. The profile of the old Curia man: I would say this. We need more of these.
Do I find resistance? If there is resistance, I haven’t seen it yet. It’s true that I haven’t done so many things, but I can say yes, I have found help, and I have also found loyal people. For instance, I’m pleased when a person says to me: “I’m not in agreement,” and I have found this. “But I don’t see this, I don’t agree: I say it, you do it.” This is a true collaborator. And I’ve found this in the Curia. And this is good.
But when there are those who say: “Ah, how good, how good, how good,” but then say the opposite on the other side… Now I can’t remember.
Perhaps there are some, but I can’t remember. Resistance: in four months one can’t find so much….
Focusing on the Positive… But Always a “Son of the Church”
In his answer to Question #5, asked by Brazilian journalist Patricia Zorzan, the Pope explained why he did not speak about abortion or homosexual marriage while in Brazil.
What we can take away from the Pope’s answer to this question also may help us understand how he answered the final, controversial question. He tells the journalist that he did not speak about abortion or homosexual marriage because “the Church has already expressed herself perfectly on this.”
In other words — and this must be stressed — Pope Francis is stating very clearly that he did not feel the need to address points of Church teaching that have already been clearly and carefully formulated. He is saying, if I may interpret him, that his goal is not to recite passages from the Catechism, but to encounter people, and, hopefully, spark in them a desire to draw closer to Christ. And this is precisely what he does when he answers the final question — he says the Church has already clearly formulated Church teaching on the matter of homosexual tendencies and homosexual acts.
In a sense, if we are senstive to a “hermeneutic of continuity” in the thought of the Pope, we must allow his answer to this question become part of the “context” for his answer to the final question. And therefore, we must understand that the Pope does not intend to suggest anything in contradiction with the Catechism’s teaching.
Patricia Zorzan: In Brazil a law has been approved which extends the right of abortion and has allowed matrimony between persons of the same gender. Why didn’t you speak about this?
Pope Francis: The Church has already expressed herself perfectly on this. It wasn’t necessary to go back to this, nor did I speak about fraud or lies or other things, on which the Church has a clear doctrine.
Patricia Zorzan: But it’s an issue that interests young people…
Pope Francis: Yes, but it wasn’t necessary to talk about that, but about positive things that open the way to youngsters, isn’t that so? Moreover, young people know perfectly well what the position of the Church is.
Patricia Zorzan: What is the position of Your Holiness, can you tell us?
Pope Francis: That of the Church. I’m a child of the Church.
The Pope could not have been clearer. He is, in his doctrine, “a child of the Church.” The phrase could also be translated as “a son of the Church.”
“Bishop of Rome”
In his answer to Question #6, asked by Antoine-Marie Izoard, head of the I.Media news agency in Rome, the Pope for the second time in the press conference mentions his desire for greater Church unity (greater unity among separated Christians) but he does not go into great detail. One senses at this point that he is already becoming tired.
Antoine-Marie Izoard: Since March 13, you have introduced yourself as the Bishop of Rome, with very great and strong insistence. So, we would like to understand what the profound meaning is of this insistence, if perhaps more than collegiality there is talk perhaps of ecumenism, for the case of being primus inter pares in the Church? Thank you.
Pope Francis: Yes, on this we must not go beyond what is said. The Pope is bishop, Bishop of Rome, because the Bishop of Rome is the Successor of Peter, Vicar of Christ. There are other titles, but the first title is “Bishop of Rome,” and everything stems from there. To speak, to think what this means to be primus inter pares, no, this isn’t a consequence of that. It’s simply the Pope’s first title: Bishop of Rome. But there are also others … I think you said something about ecumenism: I believe this favors ecumenism somewhat. But, this alone…
The Humility of the Pope
In his answer to Question #7, asked by Spanish journalist Dario Menor Torres, the Pope tells us something quite important for our purpose: he says it is very important to remain humble.
And in this, we begin to have a clear answer to our question: what was the Pope’s intent in his answer to the final question?
Here, he says “there’s always the danger of thinking oneself superior to others, not as others, somewhat as a prince. These are dangers and sins.”
We are very close here to a spiritual-psychological explanation for why the Pope would say “who am I to judge?” with regard to the actions of any other human being.
That is, prescinding from the issue, what we know is that, tendentially, the Pope is the type of man who feels that judging others, and so implicitly placing oneself over against another as superior to the other, is something that he simply cannot do. He regards it as “a danger and a sin.” And, implicit in this, is that there is another who is the judge, that is, God, or the Lord.
Clearly we are not speaking here of a well-articulated, fully worked out theory of “judge not, lest ye be judged,” but, in between the lines, one clearly can see that the Pope is someone who is reticent to judge, humble, unwilling to set himself in the position of judge over against a fellow human being. This is a profound spiritual truth, since scritpure tells us, Christ tells us, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
We can glimpse already here, then, the true meaning of the Pope’s “Who am I to judge” — it is a reflection of his spiritual humility, not a statement that the moral teaching of the Church should be modified.
Dario Menor Torres: Can you tell us how you feel about being Pope, if it’s very hard, if you’re happy being so and, in addition, if in some way it has enhanced your faith or on the contrary, if you have had doubts?
Pope Francis: To do the work of a bishop is a good thing, it’s good. The problem is when one seeks that work: this isn’t so good, this isn’t from the Lord. But when the Lord calls a priest to become bishop, this is good.
There’s always the danger of thinking oneself superior to others, not as others, somewhat as a prince. These are dangers and sins.
But the work of a bishop is good: it’s to help brothers to go forward. The bishop in front of the faithful, to show the way; the bishop in the midst of the faithful, to aid communion; the bishop behind the faithful, because the faithful so many times have the scent of the way. The bishop must be like this.
The question was if I like it? I like being bishop, I like it. I was so happy at Buenos Aires, so happy! I have been happy, it’s true. The Lord has helped me in that. But I was happy as a priest, and I’ve been happy as a bishop. In this regard I say: I like it!
Question off-screen: And being Pope?
Pope Francis: Also! Also! When the Lord puts you there, if you do what the Lord wants, you are happy. This is my sentiment, what I feel.
The Middle of the Press Conference
In answering Questions #8, #9, #10 and #11, Pope Francis reached the halfway point of this long press conference.
Replying to Italian journalist Salvatore Mazza, the Pope sketched out his upcoming schedule of trips: 1) September 22 to Cagliari in Sardinia; 2) October 4 to Assisi; 3) perhaps to northern Italy for one day to meet his relatives; 4) possibly to Jerusalem this winter to meet Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew; 5) probably not to Latin America again for a while; 6) to Asia, possibly to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, next year; 7) not to Constantinople on November 30, though he would very much like to go, because of scheduling conflicts.
What one notices here is that the Pope has all of these dates and names in his mind, but also, he makes a mistake and says “September” when he means “November,” and corrects himself when a journalist brings the mistake to his attention. I took all of this to mean that the Pope was very well-informed, and “on top of things,” but also that he was beginning to feel quite tired at that point in the press conference.
Questions off-screen: September 30 or November 30?
Pope Francis: November, November: St. Andrew.
Then, in answer to the next question, Question #9, from Hada Messia of CNN, the Pope explains why he told young people in Brazil that he sometimes feels “caged” in the Vatican, and gives us further insight into his personality.
Pope Francis: You know how many times I wish to go on the streets of Rome, because in Buenos Aires I used to go on the street, I liked it so much! In this connection, I feel a bit caged…. I would like to go on the street, but I understand it’s not possible: I understand it. I said it in that sense. Because my habit was — as we say in Buenos Aires — I was a street priest…
Here we see very clearly that we are dealing, not with a man of the academy — though he was a chemistry teacher as a young man — but a man of meetings, encounters, conversations. We are certainly dealing with a highly educated man, a learned man, but yet, a man who feels the “deeper learning” is found in the spirits of human beings, in the life of the soul, a man who is respectful of that life, cherishes that life, wishes to nourish and protect that life. And so this is a man who is less interested in reciting formulas — even moral doctrines — than he is in encountering people, and, once having established a connection, drawing those people into closer spiritual union with the life of Christ.
Before taking Question #10, from a Brazilian journalist, Marcio Campos, on whether the Charismatic Renewal in Brazil can help the Church keep Catholics from leaving the Church, Pope Francis makes quite clear that he is already tired, saying “I was asking the time, because they must serve supper, but are you hungry?”
He is being quite polite, asking the journalists if they are hungry, but he is looking at his watch, not out of irritation, but out of slowly creeping exhaustion. Yet the press conference continues…
In the answer to Question #10, we see that the Pope can be rather undiplomatic. Recalling his reaction to the Charismatic Renewal in Brazil, he says that he once compared their liturgy to a samba school — a dancing class. A public Church figure does not usually speak so candidly in public about something in the Church in a way that might give offense. In private, perhaps, but less so much in public.
What does this tell us? It tells us that this Pope does not mince words. He says what he thinks. He is candid. He speaks his mind. He says the things he feels, without perhaps weighing all the possible ramifications of consequences of his words. He is not couching his words in diplomatic language, he is “telling it like it is.”
And this means that we are getting the “authentic” Pope Francis, a Pope Francis not pre-packaged by the Curia. There may be some disadvantages at times to this way of speaking, but the advantages are many and important, and chief among them is that, with Francis, there is a breath of fresh air, of bracing authenticity, upon which a conversation, a relationship, can be built, without fear that one is dealing with a Church leader simply going through the motions of protocol.
Also, this is a man who can “repent.” He can change his mind. And he tells us he did change his mind about the Charismatic Renewal.
In this sense, there is a “Davidic” quality to this Pope. King David was beloved of God, though also a sinner. What we are dealing with in Francis is a man who is engaged with God, wrestling with God, devoted to God, on fire with God. And this is why he loves the poor, and why he wants to reach out to sinners, and why he worries that he may not be able to respond adequately to God’s call, and so asks people to pray for him.
Pope Francis: You asked about the Charismatic Renewal Movement. I’ll tell you something. In the years, at the end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s, I couldn’t stand them. Once, speaking of them, I said this phrase: “They confuse a liturgical celebration with a samba school!” I said this.
But I repented. Then, I got to know them better. It’s also true that the Movement, with good advisers, has gone on a good path. And now I think this Movement has done so much good to the Church in general.
At Buenos Aires, I met with them often and once a year had a Mass with all of them in the Cathedral. I’ve always favored them, after I was converted, when I saw the good they do. Because at this moment of the Church — and here I lengthen the answer a bit — I think the Movements are necessary. The Movements are a grace of the Holy Spirit. “But how can one stop a Movement that is so free?” The Church is also free!
The Holy Spirit does what He wishes. Then He does the work of harmonizing, but I think the Movements are a grace, those Movements that have the spirit of the Church. Because of this, I think that the Charismatic Renewal Movement not only serves to avoid some going to join Pentecostal confessions. But no! It serves the Church! It renews us. And each one seeks his Movement according to his charism, where the Spirit takes him.
And then, on the transcript of the press conference, one finds these four words:
Pope Francis: I’m tired. I’m tired.
There is no need to comment on their meaning.
The Role of Women
In his answer to Question #11, asked by the veteran French Vaticanist Jean-Marie Guenois of Le Figaro, the Pope offered a profound Marian vision for the role of women in the Church. He also made clear that he had no special arrangements for his flight — no bed, no special reclining chair. He traveled in the same way as all of the journalists. This, too, speaks volumes about the man.
Jean-Marie Guenois: You said that the Church without women loses fecundity. What concrete measures will you take? For instance, a feminine diaconate or a woman head of a dicastery? And a very small technical question: You said you were tired. Do you have a special preparation for the return?
Pope Francis: We begin with the last. This plane doesn’t have special preparations. I’m in front, in a nice armchair, but ordinary, not special, such as everyone has. I had a letter written and a telephone call made to say that I didn’t want special preparations on the plane: is it clear?
Second, women. A Church without women is like the Apostolic College without Mary. The role of women in the Church is not only maternity, the mother of the family, but it’s stronger: it is, in fact, the icon of the Virgin, of Our Lady, the one who helps the Church grow! But think that Our Lady is more important than the Apostles! She is more important!
The Church is feminine: she is Church, she is spouse, she is Mother. But women in the Church, not only must… I don’t know how it’s said in Italian… a woman’s role in the Church must not end only as mother, as worker, limited. No! It’s something else!…
I think we have not yet made a profound theology of woman in the Church. She can only do this or that, now she is an altar server, then she does the Reading, she is president of Caritas. But there is more! A profound theology must be made of woman. This is what I think.
Francis and Benedict
In his answer to Question #12, asked by Pablo Ordaz, Vaticanist for El Pais of Madrid, Spain, Francis spoke for the first time publicly about his relationship with Emeritus Pope Benedict.
And what comes across in Francis’s answer is his love and respect for Benedict. “I love him so much,” Francis says, animatedly.
What we can draw from this answer is that there is no “break” with Benedict, whatsoever. And Benedict is clearly in close touch with Francis, as he reveals when he says that he sometimes calls the emeritus Pope and asks him, “Can I do that?” (What we might like to know is what, precisely, Francis was asking about when he asked that question, but no journalist asked…)
Pablo Ordaz: We wanted to know your relation of work, not so much as friend, of collaboration, with Benedict XVI. There’s never been a circumstance like this before, and if you have frequent contacts, and if he is helping you with this burden.
Pope Francis: …There is something that qualifies my relation with Benedict: I love him so much. I’ve always loved him. For me he is a man of God, a humble man, a man who prays. I was so happy when he was elected Pope. Also when he gave his resignation, it was for me an example of greatness! A great man. Only a great man does this!
A man of God is a man of prayer. He now lives in the Vatican, and some say to me: but how can this be? Two Popes in the Vatican! But, doesn’t he encumber you? Doesn’t he make a revolution against you? All these things that are said, no?
I’ve found a phrase to say this: “It’s like having a grandfather at home,” but a wise grandfather. When a grandfather is at home with a family, he is venerated, loved, listened to. He is a man of prudence! He doesn’t meddle. I’ve said to him so many times: “Holiness, you receive, make your life, come with us.” He came for the inauguration and blessing of the statue of St. Michael.
There, that phrase says everything. For me he is like having a grandfather at home: my father. If I had a difficulty or something I didn’t understand, I would telephone him: “But, tell me, can I do that?”
And when I went to talk about that big problem of Vatileaks, he told me everything with a simplicity… at the service. It’s something I don’t know if you know, I think so, but I’m not sure: when he spoke to us, in his farewell address on February 28, he said to us: “The next Pope is among you: I promise obedience to him.” But he’s a great man, he is a great!
Again on Women in the Church
In answering Question #13, asked by Anna Ferreira of Brazil, again on women in the Church, Francis does something paradoxical: he does not suggest any change in Church teaching regarding the role of women in the Church (“with reference to the ordination of women, the Church has said, ‘No’“), but he offers a perspective on that teaching in which the role can be expanded based, again, on a Marian spirituality.
But one also notes here that Francis does not go on at length. His answer is brief.
Anna Ferreira: Yesterday, you spoke to the Brazilian Bishops about women’s participation in our Church. I’d like to understand better: how should this participation be for us, women in the Church? If you… what do you think of the ordination of women? What should our position in the Church be?
Pope Francis: I would like to explain a bit what I said on the participation of women in the Church. It can’t be limited to being altar servers or presidents of Caritas, catechists … No! It must be more, but profoundly more! Even mystically more, with what I’ve said of the theology of woman.
And, with reference to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and she said : “No.” John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That is closed, that door is closed.
But I’d like to say something about this. I’ve said it, but I repeat it. Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the Apostles, than bishops, deacons and priests.
In the Church, woman is more important than bishops and priests; how, it’s what we must seek to make more explicit, because theological explicitness about this is lacking. Thank you.
Divorced and Remarried Catholics
The Pope’s answer to Question #14, posed by Gian Guido Vecchi, a leading Italian journalist for Corriere delle Sera of Milan, was perhaps the most astonishing of the entire press conference. It has been noticed, but perhaps not as much as it deserves to be. The question concerned the access of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments…
In his answer, the Pope spoke, almost mystically, about the present time being a “time of mercy.” And he quoted the former cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, his predecessor, as saying the lack of marriage preparation among Catholics is so grave a problem that it is even possible that as many as half of all Catholic marriages may be invalid, because the two people entering into the marriages are not fully aware of what they are doing when they take their vows. This is an astonishing statement. But the Pope does not stop there. He goes on to say that dealing with the problem of insufficient preparation for marriage, and the problem of divorce and remarriage, will become a central focus of his pontificate, and likely the topic of the next bishops’ synod…
But perhaps more importantly, the Pope’s answer to this question contains a reference to the parable of the Prodigal Son in which, very strikingly, Francis sets forth his vision for how to deal with those who are “lost” and then “found.”
Francis says that the father of the Prodigal Son, when he sees this son returning home, does not go out and stop him and question him about what he did in Babylon, asking “what did you do with all your money?”
No, he embraces his son, and prepares a feast for him.
Now, in the context of the overall analysis of this letter, this appearance of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, and this interpretation by Pope Francis of the parable, offers us perhaps the best “hermeneutic key,” the best key for interpeting the Pope’s mind and intent, as we draw closer to the final question of the press conference, where he says “Who am I to judge?”
Because as Francis answers that question, there must have been still, as it were, reverberating in his mind the memory of these words he had just spoken a few minutes before.
He has spoken about being a priest, about loving being a priest, and then of loving being a bishop… about mercy, and of our time being a special time of mercy… about the Prodigal Son and about how the father did not question the returning son about his sins in Babylon, but invited him to a feast, as his son who has returned home… And so, when he comes to the last question, he naturally spoke as if in the person, or the persona, of the father of the Prodigal Son. It is in this context that one can understand what Pope Francis was saying when he said: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?”
And the comparatively greater amount of time that the Pope took answering this question shows that it is a question that concerns him, that it is a pastoral matter close to his heart.
Gian Guido Vecchi: Holy Father, during this trip you have spoken many times about mercy. In regard to access to the sacraments of divorced persons who have remarried, is there a possibility that something will change in the discipline of the Church? That these sacraments be an occasion to bring these people closer, rather than a barrier that separates them from the other faithful?
Pope Francis: This is a subject that is always asked about. Mercy is greater than the case you pose. I believe this is the time of mercy.
This change of era, also so many problems of the Church — such as the witness that’s not good of some priests, also problems of corruption in the Church, also the problem of clericalism, to give an example — have left so many wounds, so many wounds.
And the Church is Mother: she must go to heal the wounds with mercy.But if the Lord does not tire of forgiving, we have no other choice than this: first of all, to cure the wounds. The Church is Mother and must go on this path of mercy. And find mercy for all.
But I think, when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father didn’t say: “But you, listen sit down: what did you do with the money?” No! He had a feast! Then, perhaps, when the son wished to speak, he spoke.
The Church must do likewise. When there is someone… not just wait for them: go to find them! This is mercy. And I believe that this is a kairos: this time is a kairos of mercy. But John Paul II had this first intuition, when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy… he had something, he had intuited that it was a necessity of this time.
With reference to the problem of Communion, it’s not a problem, but when they are in a second union, they can’t. I think that it’s necessary to look at this in the totality of matrimonial ministry. And because of this it’s a problem.
But also — a parenthesis — the Orthodox have a different practice. They follow the theology of the economy, as we call it, and give a second possibility, they allow it. But I think this problem — close the parenthesis — must be studied in the framework of matrimonial ministry.
And because of this, two things: first, one of the subjects to be consulted with these eight of the Council of Cardinals, with whom we will meet, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of October, is how to go forward in matrimonial ministry, and this problem will arise there.
And, a second thing: Fifteen days ago, the secretary of the Synod of Bishops was with me, for the topic of the next Synod. It was an anthropological topic, but speaking and speaking again, going and returning, we saw this anthropological topic: how faith helps the planning of the person, but in the family, and to go, therefore, to matrimonial ministry. We are on the way for a somewhat profound matrimonial ministry.
And this is everyone’s problem, because there are so many, no? For instance, I’ll mention only one: Cardinal Quarracino, my predecessor, said that for him half of all marriages are null. Why did he say this? Because they get married without maturity, they marry without remembering that it’s for the whole of life, or they marry because socially they must marry.
And the matrimonial ministry also comes into this. And also the judicial problem of the nullity of marriages, this must be reviewed, because the Ecclesiastical Tribunals are not enough for this. The problem of the matrimonial ministry is complex. Thank you.
Still a Jesuit?
In his answer to Question #15, posed by Caroline Pigozzi, a French journalist, about whether the Pope still feels himself a Jesuit, Francis tells us that he still feels he is a Jesuit, and that his spirituality is more Jesuit than Franciscan, despite the name that he chose as Pope.
Caroline Pigozzi: Good evening, Holy Father. I would like to know if you, since you’ve been Pope, still feel yourself a Jesuit.
Pope Francis: It’s a theological question, because Jesuits take the vow of obedience to the Pope. But if the Pope is a Jesuit, perhaps he should take a vow of obedience to the General of the Jesuits… I don’t know how this is resolved…
I feel myself a Jesuit in my spirituality, in the spirituality of the Exercises, spirituality, the one I have in my heart. But I feel so much like this that in three days I’ll go to celebrate with Jesuits the feast of St. Ignatius: I will say the morning Mass.
I haven’t changed my spirituality, no. Francis, Franciscan: no. I feel myself a Jesuit and I think like a Jesuit. Not hypocritically, but I think as a Jesuit. Thank you.
His suffering from sciatica
In his answer to Question #16, posed by Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press, Francis evaluated his pontificate thus far. The brevity of his answer reveals in part how little interest he has in himself and his own feelings. But he did reveal one thing: that he has suffered severely from Sciatica, or pain in his lower back, and particuarly when he sat in an official chair which was uncomfortable when in papal receptions during the first month of the pontificate.
We may also note that, when asked about what is the best thing he has experienced as Pope, he refers to “so many good people… good, good, good…” Again, in the context of this analysis, the Pope is clearly attempting to speak first of all of the “good” and to avoid any sort of criticism or condemnation. His thrust throughout the interview is to look for the good and highlight it.
Nicole Winfield: Holiness, thank you again for having come “among the lions.” Holiness, at the fourth month of your pontificate, I would like to ask you to make a small evaluation. Can you tell us what was the best thing of being Pope, an anecdote, and what was the worst thing, and what was the thing that surprised you most in this period?
Pope Francis: Well, I don’t know how to answer this, really. Big thing, big things didn’t happen.
Beautiful things, yes, for instance, the meeting with Italian Bishops was so good, so good. As Bishop of the capital of Italy, I felt I was at home with them. And that was lovely, but I don’t know if it was the best.
Also a painful thing, which affected my heart a lot, the visit to Lampedusa. But that’s something to weep about, that did me good. But when these boats arrive they leave some thousands there before the coast and they must arrive alone with the boat. And this makes me grieve because I think that these persons are victims of a global socio-economic system.
But the worst thing — I’m sorry — that happened to me was sciatica — truly! — I had that the first month because to do the interviews I sat in an armchair, and this gave me some grief. It’s a very painful sciatica, very painful! I don’t wish it on anyone!
But these things: to talk with people; the meeting with seminarians and women religious was very lovely, was very lovely. Also the meeting with the students of the Jesuit colleges was very lovely, good things.
Question: What is the thing that surprised you most?
Pope Francis: The people, the people, the good people I’ve met. I’ve met so many good people in the Vatican. I thought what I should say, but that is true. I do justice, saying this: so many good people. So many good people, so many good people, but good, good, good!
The Vatileaks Report
In his answer to Question #17, asked by Elisabetta Pique, about how Pope Francis reacted to the Vatileaks report he received from Emeritus Pope Benedict, we learn some things we never knew before.
Chief among those things: that the contents of the large white box of documents that Pope Francis received from Pope Benedcit on March 23, when the two first met, in Castel Gandolfo, after the election on March 13, included all of the transcripts of all of the interviews in the inquiry into the Vatileaks affair, as well as a summary of the main findings. So now we know from the Pope’s own mouth that he has received, directly from Benedict and without intermediary, a complete report on the situation of the Curia.
This answer, we may note, is also quite brief.
Elisabetta Pique: I’m going to ask you a more difficult question. Did you get scared when you saw the “Vatileaks” report?
Pope Francis: No. I’m going to tell you a story about the “Vatileaks” report. When I went to see Pope Benedict, after praying in the chapel, we went to his study and I saw a big box and a thick envelope. Benedict… Benedict said to me: “All the statements, the things that the witnesses said are in this big box, all are there. But the summary and the final judgment are in this envelope. And it says this and this and this…” He had everything in his head! But what intelligence! Everything memorized everything!
But no, I didn’t get scared, no. No, no. But it’s a big problem, alas. But I didn’t get scared.
In his answer to Question #18, posed by Argentine journalist Sergio Rubin, on whether the Brazil trip will help people to return to the Church, and on whether the Pope misses Buenos Aires, Francis waxes almost lyrical when he speaks of his feelings about his native city, repeating three times that it is a “serene missing” he feels.
Sergio Rubin: You have insisted a lot on halting the loss of faithful. In Brazil, it’s been very strong. Do you hope that this trip will contribute to having many people return to the Church, to feel closer to her? And second, more personal: you like Argentina a lot, and you have Buenos Aires very much in your heart. Argentines are wondering if you miss that Buenos Aires, the Buenos Aires you went around in a bus, on the streets…
Pope Francis: I think a papal trip always does one good. I believe this will do good to Brazil, but not only the presence of the Pope, but what was done in this World Youth Day, they mobilized and they will do so much good, perhaps they will help the Church a lot. But these faithful who have gone away, so many aren’t happy because they feel they belong to the Church. I believe this will be positive, not only because of the trip, but above all because of the Days, the Day was a wonderful event.
And of Buenos Aires, yes, at times I miss it. And that I’ve felt.
But it is a serene missing, a serene missing, it is a serene missing. But I think that you, Sergio, know better than all the others, you can answer this question, with the book you’ve written!
Light from the East
In his answer to Question #19, posed by Alexey Bukalov, on what the Pope thinks about the celebration of the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of the Rus’, the origin of the Christian faith in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, Francis reveals his deep respect for the Orthodox liturgy, and for the great Russian novelist, Fyodor Dosteyevsky. (The thought comes spontaneously that perhaps Catholics should develop a study guide to introduce more people to the wisdom of Dostoyevsky, so highly regarded by our Pope.)
Alexey Bukalov: Holy Father, returning to ecumenism: today the Orthodox are celebrating 1,025 years of Christianity. There are great celebrations in many capitals. Would you like to comment on this event, I would be happy if you did. Thank you.
Pope Francis: In the Orthodox Churches they have conserved that pristine liturgy, no? So beautiful. We [i.e., the Latin Christians] have lost a bit the sense of adoration, they conserve it, they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time does not count. The center is God and that is a richness that I would like to emphasize on this occasion as you ask me this question.
Once, speaking of the Western Church, of Western Europe, especially the Church that has grown most, they said this phrase to me: “Lux ex oriente, ex occidente luxus.” ["Light from the East, from the West, luxury."]
Consumerism, well-being, have done us so much harm. Instead you keep this beauty of God at the center, the reference.
When one reads Dostoyevsky — I believe that for us all he must be an author to read and reread, because he has wisdom – one perceives what the Russian spirit is, the Eastern spirit. It’s something that will do us so much good. We are in need of this renewal, of this fresh air of the East, of this light from the East. John Paul II wrote it in his Letter. But so many times the luxus of the West makes us lose the horizon. I don’t know, it came to me to say this. Thank you.
Popes John XXIII and John Paul II
In his answer to Question #20, asked by Valentina Alazraki, concerning the canonization of the two Popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, Pope Francis goes into some detail about his reasons for canonizing John XXIII. But the burden of his answer is to express his admiration for the pastoral warmth and concern of John. One can sense that this admiration is such that Pope Francis would like to imitate John’s ability to “love each one of the faithful” and to “care for the faithful.”
Valentina Alazraki: Holiness, thank you for keeping the promise to answer our questions on the way back…
Pope Francis: I delayed your supper …
Valentina Alazraki: It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter… well, the serious question on behalf of all the Mexicans: When are you going to Guadalupe? But that one is of the Mexicans. Mine is: you are going to canonize two great Popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. I would like to know, in your opinion, what is the model of holiness that issues from one and the other and the impact they’ve had on the Church and on you.
Pope Francis: John XXIII is somewhat the figure of the “country priest,” the priest who loves each one of the faithful, who knows how to care for the faithful and he did this as bishop as well as nuncio. But how many testimonies of false Baptism he did in Turkey in favor of the Jews!
He was a courageous man, a good country priest, with such a great sense of humor, so great, and great holiness. When he was nuncio, some didn’t like him so much in the Vatican, and when he arrived to bring things or ask for things, in certain offices they made him wait. He never, never lamented it: he prayed the Rosary, read the Breviary.
Also he was one who was concerned for the poor. When Cardinal Casaroli returned from a mission — I believe in Hungary or in what was Czechoslovakia at that time, I don’t remember which of the two — he went to him to explain how the mission was, in that period of diplomacy of “small countries.” And they had the audience — 20 days later John XXIII was dead — and while Casaroli was going, he stopped him: “Ah, Eminence (no, he wasn’t Eminence, Excellency), a question: are you still visiting those juvenile offenders?” Because Casaroli had made a habit of visiting the juvenile offenders imprisoned at Casal del Marmo to spend time with them. And Casaroli said: “Yes, yes!” “Don’t ever abandon them.” This to a diplomat, who had just come back from an important diplomatic journey, a very demanding trip. John XXIII said: “Don’t ever abandon the boys.”
He was a great man, a great man! Then there is the question of the Council: he was a man who was docile to the voice of God, because what came to him from the Holy Spirit came to him and he was docile. Pius XII thought of doing it, but the circumstances weren’t ripe to do it. I think that he [John XXIII] didn’t think of the circumstances: he felt that and he did it. A man who let himself be guided by the Lord.
Of John Paul II I wish to say he was “the great missionary of the Church”: he was a missionary, a missionary, a man who took the Gospel everywhere, you know it better than me. But how many trips did he make? But he went! He felt the fire of taking forward the Word of the Lord.
He is a Paul, he is a St. Paul, he is such a man; for me this is great.
And to do the ceremony of canonization of the two together I believe is a message for the Church: these two are brave, they are brave, they are two brave men. But there is underway the cause of Paul VI and also of Pope Luciani: these two are on the way.
But, again something that I believe I said, but I don’t know if here or elsewhere: the date of canonization. We thought December 8 of this year, but there’s a big problem; those who come from Poland, the poor, because those who have means can come by plane, but those who come, the poor, come by bus and in December the roads already have ice and I think the date must be thought out again. I spoke with Cardinal Dziwisz and he suggested two possibilities: either Christ the King of this year or the Sunday of Mercy of next year. I think Christ the King is too short a time for this year, because the Consistory will be on September 30 and at the end of October there is little time, but I don’t know, I must speak with Cardinal Amato about this. But I don’t think it will be December 8.
Question: But will they be canonized together?
Pope Francis: Together, the two together, yes.
The Final Question
So, after well over an hour, the Pope finally took the final question, Question #21, from Ilze Scamparini, who asked about the allegations made against Monsignor Ricca in print, and about the whole question of the “gay lobby” in the Church.
What we may note, first of all, is that it is the journalist who uses the phrase “gay lobby.” When the Pope answers the question, the fact that he uses the phrase “gay lobby” does not have to mean that the Pope is validating the use of the term — he is simply replying to the journalist using the same expression that the journalist used. And, in fact, the Pope clearly attempts to distance himself a bit from the term when he says he never saw anyone in the Vatican with an identity card marked “gay.” In other words, the Pope, without going deeply into the question, seems to be suggesting that the term itself is a sweeping one, and that there may be something problematic about its use, even though he then goes forward to use the term himself.
There is also a certain difficulty with the term “lobby,” which in English means either the large entranceway of a hotel, or a group which works together to support legislation or a project in government. In fact, the Italians are now using the English term “gay lobby” to refer to something rather different than a lobbying group. What is meant is rather more a “faction” or even a “mutual support group,” rather than a “lobby.”
And what seems clear is that it is this aspect of the phrase, the fact that it refers to a group of people who act in concert, in a hidden way, almost like a secret society, which is uppermost in the Pope’s mind as he starts to answer the question. In other words, he is not thinking first of the “gay” part of the term, but of the “lobby” part of the term, and he is understanding that “lobby” to be something along the lines of a secret society. And this is why, when he compares the so-called “gay lobby” to other “lobbies” he mentions the avaricious, politicans, and Freemasons. Each are interest groups which pursue their own interests in an effort of mutual support to arrive at certain ends. And because he is thinking of this aspect above all, he actually wishes to persuade his hearers of this point of view: that the dangerous thing is the fact that there is a group, termed a “gay lobby” (though the term may be inadequate) which, in so far as it works for its own ends, and may contrast or work against the best interest of the Church as a whole, or of the Pope himself, is to be criticized, and eventually removed from the central government of the Church.
Because he is at pains to make this point, the Pope inevitably must downplay the second part of the term, the word “gay,” and this is precisely what he does. He says is very clearly: “The problem isn’t having this tendency, no. We must be brothers, because this is one, but there are others, others. The problem is the lobbying of this tendency.”
In fact, one of the most interesting remarks in this answer is this phrase where he says “but there are others, others.” This is something very few journalists have picked up on. In essence, he is telling us that, though there may be a group of individuals who, drawn together in part by their sexual preference, represent a type of “faction” in the Curia. But, acknowledging this, the Pope quickly moves beyond it to say there are “others, others” and names them: “lobby of the avaricious, lobby of politicians, lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This, for me, is the more serious problem.”
We are really here gaining quite an intimate glimpse into the problem the Pope faces in reforming the Curia, and the Church. And that glimpse shows us that it would be a grave mistake to focus our concern only on the “gay lobby” when there are “so many lobbies” and those lobbies are characterized by, in order, money interests, political interests, and the interests of one or another form of Freemasonry.
In this context, the focus of the world’s media on the remark “Who am I to judge?” is very similar to a red herring, which draws the attention of Catholics away from the true issue here.
This Pope, a consummate pastor, a man who walked city streets and saw people taking drugs, involved in prostitution, a man who knows his own weaknesses and relies on the prayer of others to carry him forward, is not going to change Church moral teaching. He is loyal to the Church. He is a defender of the faith. But he is facing a series of factions who are not loyal to the Church, or to the faith, and he needs every Catholic in the world on his side, supporting him and praying for him, if he is to succeed in his very difficult task.
Ilze Scamparini: I would like to ask permission to ask a somewhat delicate question: another image has also gone around the world, which is that of Monsignor Ricca and news about your privacy. I would like to know, Holiness, what do you intend to do about this question? How to address this question and how Your Holiness intends to address the whole question of the gay lobby?
Pope Francis: Regarding Monsignor Ricca: I did what Canon Law mandates to do, which is the investigatio previa. And from that investigatio there was nothing of that which they accuse him of, we did not find anything of that. This is the answer.
But I would like to add something else on this: I see that so many times in the Church, outside of this case and also in this case, they go to look for the “sins of youth,” for example, no? And this is published. Not the crimes. Crimes are something else: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, the sins.
But if a person, lay or priest or Sister, has committed a sin and then has converted, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is important for our life. When we go to confession and truly say: “I have sinned in this,” the Lord forgets and we don’t have the right not to forget, because we run the risk that the Lord won’t forget our [sins]. That’s a danger.
This is important: a theology of sin. I think so many times of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins, which is to deny Christ, and with this sin he was made Pope. We must give it much thought.
But, returning to your more concrete question: in this case, I did the investigatio previa and we found nothing. This is the first question.
Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Goodness knows! So much is written of the gay lobby. I still have not met one who will give me the identity card with “gay.” They say that they exist.
I think that when one meets a person like this, one must distinguish the fact of being a gay person from the fact of doing a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. That’s bad.
If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said, and says: “these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.”
The problem isn’t having this tendency, no. We must be brothers, because this is one, but there are others, others. The problem is the lobbying of this tendency: lobby of the avaricious, lobby of politicians, lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This, for me, is the more serious problem. And I thank you.
Father Lombardi: Thank you. It seems to me we could not have done much more. We have even abused a little the Pope, who told us earlier he was already a little tired, and we hope now he will have a bit of rest.
Pope Francis: Thanks to all of you. Good night, good journey, and rest well.
Excerpt from the Catechism
Here below is an excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church dealing with the Church’s teaching on sexual morality.
LIFE IN CHRIST
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
“YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF”
THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT
You shall not commit adultery.113
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.114
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
2382 The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble.174 He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law.175
Between the baptized, “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.”176
2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.177
If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.
2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery:
If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another’s husband to herself.178
2385 Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.
2386 It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage.179
2392 “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (FC 11).
2393 By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.
2394 Christ is the model of chastity. Every baptized person is called to lead a chaste life, each according to his particular state of life.
2395 Chastity means the integration of sexuality within the person. It includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery.
2396 Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices.
2397 The covenant which spouses have freely entered into entails faithful love. It imposes on them the obligation to keep their marriage indissoluble.
2398 Fecundity is a good, a gift and an end of marriage. By giving life, spouses participate in God’s fatherhood.
2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
2400 Adultery, divorce, polygamy, and free union are grave offenses against the dignity of marriage.
113 Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18.
114 Mt 5:27-28.
115 FC 11.
116 Gen 1:27.
117 Gen 1:28.
118 Gen 5:1-2.
119 FC 22; Cf. GS 49 § 2.
120 MD 6.
121 Gen 2:24.
122 Cf. Gen 4:1-2, 25-26; 5:1.
123 Mt 5:27-28.
124 Cf. Mt 19:6.
125 Cf. Mt 5:37.
126 Cf. Sir 1:22.
127 GS 17.
128 St. Augustine, Conf. 10,29,40:PL 32,796.
129 Cf. Titus 2:1-6.
130 FC 34.
131 GS 25 § 1.
132 Cf. Gal 5:22.
133 Cf. 1 Jn 3:3.
134 Cf. Jn 15:15.
135 Gal 3:27.
136 CDF, Persona humana 11.
137 St. Ambrose, De viduis 4,23:PL 16,255A.
138 CDF, Persona humana 9.
139 CDF, Persona humana 9.
140 Cf. 1 Cor 6:15-20.
141 Cf. Gen 191-29; Rom 124-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10.
142 CDF, Persona humana 8.
143 FC 11.
144 Tob 8:4-9.
145 GS 49 § 2.
146 Pius XII, Discourse, October 29, 1951.
147 GS 48 § 1.
148 Cf. CIC, can. 1056.
149 Mk 109; cf. Mt 19:1-12; 1 Cor 7:10-11.
150 St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in Eph. 20,8:PG 62,146-147.
151 FC 30.
152 HV 11.
153 HV 12; cf. Pius XI, encyclical, Casti connubii.
154 Cf. Eph 3:14; Mt 23:9.
155 GS 50 § 2.
156 GS 51 § 3.
157 Cf. HV 12.
158 HV 16.
159 HV 14.
160 FC 32.
161 GS 51 § 4.
162 Cf. HV 23; PP 37.
163 Cf. GS 50 § 2.
164 Gen 15:2.
165 Gen 30:1.
166 CDF, Donum vitae intro.,2.
167 CDF, Donum vitae II,1.
168 CDF, Donum vitae II,5.
169 CDF, Donum vitae II,4.
170 CDF, Donum vitae II,8.
171 Cf. Mt 5:27-28.
172 Cf. Mt 5:32; 19:6; Mk 10:11; 1 Cor 6:9-10.
173 Cf. Hos 2:7; Jer 5:7; 13:27.
174 Cf. Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk 10:9; Lk 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10-ll.
175 Cf. Mt 19:7-9.
176 CIC, can. 1141.
177 Cf. CIC, cann. 1151-1155.
178 St. Basil, Moralia 73,1:PG 31,849-852.
179 Cf. FC 84.
180 FC 19; cf. GS 47 § 2.
181 Cf. Lev 18:7-20.
182 1 Cor 5:1, 4-5.
183 Cf. FC 81.
184 CDF, Persona humana 7.
185 Cf. FC 80.