Francis: the Pope is “a normal person”, not Superman
In an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera, Pope Francis says he is a normal person, not superman, and speaks about the family, child abuse, foreign trips, relations with the Orthodox, China, and how he governs the Church
By Gerard O’Connell, Rome
“The Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps peacefully, and has friends like everyone else. A normal person”, Francis said in an interview with the chief-editor of Italy’s leading daily, Corriere della Sera, Ferruccio de Bortoli, published today.
“I like to be among people, to be with the one who is suffering, to go into the parishes”, he stated. But he denied that he has gone out at night to feed the down and outs near the Vatican. He made clear however that he detests being depicted as a kind of superman or star: “Sigmund Freud said that in every idealization there is an aggression. To depict the Pope as a kind of superman or a star seems to me offensive”.
In this interview, which was published simultaneously in La Nacion, the Argentine counterpart of the Italian daily, the Jesuit Pope touches on a wide range of topics: the family, women, the Orthodox, relations with China, globalization. The human side of Francis emerges once again in his answers, as does his keen desire to find new ways for the Church to show God’s love for people, and to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.
“I would like to visit my sister who is ill; she is the last of the five of us. I would like to see her, but this does not justify a trip to Argentina: I call her by phone and this is enough”, he said. But he confirmed that he does not plan to visit Argentina until 2016 because he has already been to Latin America for the World Youth Day in Rio. “Now I must go to the Holy Land, and to Asia and then to Africa”, he stated.
Asked whether his visit to the Holy Land in May could lead to an agreement on intercommunion with the Orthodox, Francis responded, “We are all impatient to obtain ‘closed’ results, but the road to unity with the Orthodox means above all to walk and work together”. Orthodox theology is “very rich”, they have “great theologians” today, and “their vision of Church and of synodality is marvelous”, he said.
In this third conversation with an Italian daily, Francis revealed his great desire to develop friendly relations with China: “We are close to China. I sent a letter to President Xi Jingping when he was elected, three days after me. And he replied to me. Relations exist. They are a great people. I love them”.
He reaffirmed that he doesn’t take offense when some in the USA, and elsewhere, accuse him of Marxism. “I have never shared the Marxist ideology because it is not true, but I have known many courageous people who profess Marxism”, he said.
Speaking about his relationship with Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said regards him as a wise grandfather, whose counsel he sometimes seeks. He recalled that before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the idea of an emeritus bishop didn’t exist but now, he notes, we also have an emeritus Pope. “Benedict is the first and perhaps there will be others. We do not know”, he said, not excluding the possibility that he could follow suit.
Asked if he is a lonely man in relation to the way he governs, Francis said: “the Pope is not alone in his work, because he is accompanied and advised by many people. He would be a solitary person if he decided without hearing, or pretending to hear”, but then the moment comes to decide “and he is alone with his sense of responsibility”.
After his election, he said, “I began to govern by trying to put into practice (implement) that which had emerged in the debate among the cardinals in the various congregations (before the conclave)” and “in my way of acting I wait for the Lord to give me inspiration”.
He affirmed once again that tenderness and mercy are the essence of the Gospel: “it is the center of the Gospel. Otherwise one does not understand Jesus Christ, the tenderness of the Father whom he sends to listen to us, to heal us, to save us”.
Speaking about the horrific abuse of children by priests, Francis said “the cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very deep wounds”. Benedict XVI “was very courageous and opened a road, and the Church has done a lot on this route, perhaps more than all others”, he stated. He noted that the statistics reveal the tremendous violence against children, but also that the vast majority of abuse takes place in the milieu of the family and those close to them. The Church is the only public institution to have moved “with transparency and responsibility”, he said; no one else has done as much as it, “but the Church is the only one to be attacked”.
Questioned about his position on wealth, Francis insisted that “the Gospel condemns the cult of wellbeing”, and emphasized that at the Final Judgment “our closeness to poverty” is what will count. “Poverty keeps idolatry far away, and opens the door to Providence.”
Commenting on globalization, Francis observed that “while it is true that globalization has saved many persons from poverty, it has also condemned many others to die of hunger, because with this economic system it becomes selective”. He argued that the present kind of economic and financial globalization puts money, not the human person, at the center. This is the problem.
In response to a question about the family and the synod, Francis said the family “is going through a very serious crisis”, the young marry less, many families break-up and the children suffer. “We must give a response. But to do so, we must reflect much in depth”, he said. That’s what happened at the recent consistory and it will happen again at the forthcoming synods in 2014 and 2015. “It’s only in the light of a profound reflection that one can seriously face the particular situations, also those of the divorced, with pastoral depth”.
Pope Francis praised Cardinal Walter Kasper’s keynote talk on the family to the assembly of cardinals (the Consistory) on 20-21 February which the interviewer said had sparked divisions among them. “It was a most beautiful and profound presentation, which will soon be published in German. It dealt with five points, the fifth of which was the question of second marriages”, Francis commented. He said he would have been “worried” if there had not been “intense discussion” and, moreover, the cardinals knew they could speak freely. Indeed, “the fraternal and open confrontations make the theological and pastoral theology develop. I do not fear this; on the contrary I seek it.”
Asked why he doesn’t speak about the so-called “non-negotiable values”, particularly in the field of bioethics and sexual morality, Pope Francis stumped the interviewer by telling him, “I have never understood the expression ‘non-negotiable values’. Values are values. Full stop! I cannot say that among the fingers of a hand there is one more useful than another. So I do not understand in what sense there can be negotiable values”. He recalled that he had said what he wished to say on the theme of life in his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium).
On the question of marriage and civil unions, the Pope reaffirmed that “marriage is between a man and a woman”. States seek to justify civil unions “to regularize different situations of living together”, pushed by the need to regularize the economic aspects between people, such as, for example, to ensure health care, he said. “We have to look at the different cases and evaluate them in their variety”.
When asked whether the Church would again revisit the question of birth control, some 50 years after Humanae Vitae, Francis recalled that, at the end, Paul VI “recommended that confessors should be very merciful, and be attentive to the concrete situations”. Francis praised his predecessor for being “prophetic” and for “having the courage to go against the majority, to defend the moral discipline, to exercise a cultural brake, and to oppose present and future Neo-Malthusianism.” But, he said, it is not a question of changing doctrine, rather “it is a matter of going into the issue in depth and bringing it about that the pastoral practice takes account of situations and of what is possible for persons”. This will be discussed at the synod, he added.
Responding to a question on how the role of women can be promoted in the Church, Francis said that while it is true that women “can and must be present in decision-making places in the Church”, this is only “a promotion of a functional type” and will not take us far down the road. It’s necessary to think that the Church “is feminine from its origins” because “the Marian principle guided the Church alongside the Petrine one. The Virgin Mary was more important than any bishop or any apostle”. Therefore, it is necessary to deepen the theology, and this is being done with the Council of the Laity, with the contribution of women with expertise in different fields.