by Pope Francis
Is there anything Roman about the Argentine Bergoglio?
Very little. I am more a Piedmontese, my family roots are there. However, I am beginning to feel Roman. I intend to visit the surroundings, the parishes. I’m slowly discovering this city. It is a very beautiful metropolis, unique, with the problems of big cities. A small town has an almost uniform structure; a metropolis, instead, consists of seven or eight imaginary cities, superimposed on various levels. Also cultural levels. I am thinking, for example, of urban bands of young people. It’s like this in every large metropolis. In November, in Barcelona, we shall hold a conference precisely dedicated to pastoral care of the big cities. In Argentina exchanges with Mexico have been promoted. So many cross cultures are being discovered, although not so much due to migration, but because cross-cultural territories are involved, made up of belonging. Cities within cities. The Church must also know how to engage with this phenomenon.
Why have you, from the very beginning, chosen to stress your role as the Bishop of Rome?
Francis ’ first service is this: to be the Bishop of Rome. All the Pope’s titles: universal Pastor, Vicar of Christ, etc., he has precisely because he is the Bishop of Rome. It is the primary choice. The consequence of the primacy of Peter. Tomorrow, should the Pope want to be the Bishop of Tivoli, clearly they would expel me.
Forty years ago, under Paul VI, the Vicariate sponsored the conference on the evils of Rome. The image emerged of a city where those who had much had the best, and those who had little had the worst. Today, in your opinion, what are the evils of this city?
They are those of every metropolis, like Buenos Aires. Some accumulate benefits, and some grow increasingly poor. I wasn’t aware of this conference on the evils of Rome. These issues concern Rome, and at that time I was 38 years old. I am the first Pope not to have taken part in the Council, and the first to have studied theology after the Council and, at that time, for us the leading light was Paul VI. Evangelii nuntiandi is for me an unsurpassed pastoral document.
Is there a hierarchy of values to be respected in managing public affairs?
Of course. Always to safeguard the common good. This is the vocation of every politician. A broad concept which includes, for example, defence of human life, its dignity. Paul VI used to say that the mission of a politician remains one of the highest forms of charity. Today the problem of politics – I am not just talking about Italy but of all countries, the problem is worldwide – is because it has been devalued, ruined by corruption, by the phenomenon of bribery. A document comes to mind, which the French bishops published 15 years ago. It was a Pastoral Letter entitled Rehabilitate Politics and it confronted this very argument. If there is no service at the foundation, it is not even possible to understand the identity of politics.
You said that corruption stinks of decay. You also said that social corruption is the result of sick heart and not only of external conditions. There would be no corruption were it not for corrupt hearts. The corrupt person does not has friends but helpful idiots. Could you explain this more fully?
I spoke on two consecutive days about this subject because I was analyzing the Reading on Naboth’s Vineyard. I like to speak about the Readings of the day. The first day I dealt with the phenomenon of corruption, the second day with how corrupt people end up. The corrupt person, however, has no friends, but only accomplices.
In your opinion, is corruption focused on because the media focuses on it or because it actually is a grave problem?
No, unfortunately it’s a global problem. There are Heads of State in prison for this reason. I have often wondered about this, and I have reached the conclusion that many evils thrive above all during times of epochal change. We are not so much living in an epoch of change, but a change of epoch. And therefore it pertains to a change of culture; things of this nature emerge in precisely this phase. Epochal change feeds moral decay, not only in politics, but in financial or social life too.
Even Christians don’t seem to shine in their witness....
The environment facilitates corruption. I am not saying that everyone is corrupt, but I think that it is difficult to remain honest in politics. I am talking about everywhere, not just Italy. I am also thinking about other cases. Sometimes there are people who would like to be upright, but they then find themselves in difficulty and it is as if they were engulfed by an endemic phenomenon, on many levels, across the board. Not because it’s the nature of politics, but because in a change of epoch there are stronger pressures toward a certain moral drift.
Are you more frightened by the moral or material poverty of a city?
Both frighten me. I can help someone who is hungry, for example, and satisfy his hunger, but if someone has lost his job and can no longer find employment, he faces another kind poverty. He no longer has his dignity. He can probably go to Caritas care take home a food parcel, but he experiences an extremely grave poverty which destroys the heart. An Auxiliary Bishop of Rome told me that many people go to the soup kitchen and, secretly, feeling ashamed, take some food home. Their dignity is progressively being eroded, they live in a state of prostration.
On Rome’s Consular roads, 14-yearold girls are often seen, forced to prostitute themselves while the public is indifferent; in the underground trains children are seen begging. Is the Church still leaven? Do you feel powerless as a bishop before this moral decay?
I feel pain. I feel tremendous pain. The exploitation of children sickens me. It is the same in Argentina too. Children are used for some types of manual labour because they have smaller hands. But children are also exploited sexually, in hotels. I was told once that on a certain road in Buenos Aires, there were 12-year-old girl prostitutes. I found out and in fact it was true. It upset me. But even more to see big powerful cars stop, driven by older men. They could have been their grandfathers. They made the girl get in and paid her 15 pesos which was then used to buy rubbish drugs, “paco” [a cheap drug made from the residue of cocaine production]. To me the people who do this to girls are pedophiles. It also happens in Rome. The Eternal City, which should be a beacon to the world, is a mirror of the moral decay of society. I think these are problems that can be resolved with good social policies.
What can policies do?
Respond very clearly. For example, social services that help families understand, that see them through difficult situations. The phenomenon shows the failure of social services in society. The Church, however, is working so hard... And must continue to do so. She needs to help families in difficulty; it is an uphill task which requires a joint effort.
In Rome more and more young people do not go to church, do not baptize their children, do not even know how to make the sign of the Cross. What strategy is necessary to reverse this trend?
The Church must go out to the streets, seek the people, go to homes, visit families, go out to the outskirts. She must be a Church that not only receives, but also gives.
So, parish priests shouldn’t be ‘putting curlers on sheep’?
[Laughing] Obviously. We are on a mission, we have been for a dozen years. We must persevere.
Are you concerned about the declining birth rate in Italy?
For the common good of childhood, I think there needs to be more work. Starting a family is an undertaking, sometimes a salary is not enough, it does not last through the month. People are afraid of losing their jobs or of not being able to pay the rent. The social policy is not helpful. Italy has a very low birth rate, and Spain is the same. France is a bit better, but it’s also low. It is as though Europe has grown tired of being mother, and would prefer to be a grandmother. A lot depends on the economic crisis and not only on a cultural drift characterized by selfishness and hedonism. The other day I read a statistic on the spending criteria of the population worldwide. After food, clothing and medicine, three necessary items, come cosmetics and spending on pets.
Do animals matter more than children?
That is another point of cultural decay. And it is because emotional relationships with animals are easier, can be controlled. An animal is not free, whereas having a child is something complex.
Does the Gospel speak more to the poor or to the rich regarding conversion?
Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel. The Gospel cannot be understood without understanding true poverty, bearing in mind that there is a most beautiful poverty of the spirit: to be poor before God so that God can fill you. The Gospel addresses the poor and the rich alike. And it speaks both of poverty and of wealth. It does not by any means condemn the rich, except when wealth becomes the object of idolatry – the god of money, the golden calf.
You have been called a communist, pauperist, populist Pope. The “Economist”, which has dedicated a cover page to you, stated that you speak like Lenin. Do you identify with this portrayal?
I say only that the Communists stole the flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel. The poor are at the centre of the Gospel. Let’s take Matthew 25, the protocol on which we will be judged: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was in prison, I was sick, naked. Or, let’s look at the Beatitudes, another flag. The communists say that all this is communist. Yes, right, 20 centuries later. Now, when they speak one could say to them: but you’re Christians [laughs].
If you allow me one criticism …
Maybe you speak too little about women, and when you do, you address the argument from the point of view of motherhood, the wife, the mother, etc. And yet now women lead Governments, multinationals, armies. In your opinion, what position do women occupy in the Church?
Women are the most beautiful thing made by God. The Church is woman. Church is a feminine word. There can be no theology without this feminine dimension. You are right about this, we don’t speak enough about it. I agree that more work needs to be done on the theology of woman. I have said so and work is being done in this regard.
Do you perceive a certain underlying misogyny?
The fact is that woman was taken from a rib … [laughing loudly]. It’s a joke, I’m kidding. I agree that there must be more reflection on the question of women, otherwise the Church herself cannot be understood.
Can we expect historic decisions from you, such as a woman head of a dicastery, I am not saying of the clergy. ..
[Laughing] well, priests often end up under the authority of their housekeepers….
In August, you go to Korea. Is it that a gateway to China? Are you aiming at Asia?
I will go to Asia twice in six months: to Korea in August to meet young Asian people and, in January to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The Church in Asia holds great promise. Korea represents so much; it has a most beautiful history behind it: for two centuries it had no priests and Catholicism progressed thanks to the laity. There were also martyrs. In regard to China, it is a great cultural challenge, very great. And then there is the example of Matteo Ricci, who did so much good....
Where is Bergoglio’s Church headed?
Thank God, I have no Church; I follow Christ. I have never founded anything. From the point of view of style, I have not changed from how I was in Buenos Aires. Yes, perhaps some small things – one must – but to change at my age would be ridiculous. In regard to the plan, on the other hand, I follow what the Cardinals requested during the General Congregations before the Conclave. I move in that direction. The Council of Eight Cardinals, an external body, arose from that. It was requested to help reform the Curia. Something, moreover, that is not easy because a step may be taken, but then it emerges that this or that must be done, and if before there was one dicastery, it then becomes four. My decisions are the fruit of the pre-Conclave meetings. I have not done anything on my own.
A democratic approach...?
They were the Cardinals’ decisions. I do not know if it is a democratic approach. I would say it is more Synodal, even if the word is not appropriate for cardinals.
What do you wish for Romans on the Solemnity of their Patron Saints Peter and Paul?
That they continue to be good. They are very nice. I see it at the audiences and when I go to the parishes. I hope they do not lose their joy, hope and trust despite the difficulties. The romanaccio [Roman dialect] is also beautiful.
Wojtyła learned to say “volemose bene, damose da fa’” [Roman dialect phrases meaning “Let’s love one another, let’s get to work!”]. Have you learned any sayings in dialect?
For now, little. Campa e fa’ campa [live and let live]. [He laughs].
© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2014
This item 10608 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org