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Pope tackles tough questions in remarkable interview

July 29, 2013

During a long and remarkably candid question-and-answer session with reporters on his return flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome, Pope Francis spoke about the prospects for reform at the Vatican, the role of women in the Church, the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, his own future travel plans, and his esteem for Benedict XVI—among other subjects.

The Pope’s remarks on these disparate subjects have been overshadowed in media coverage by his comments on homosexuality (see today's separate CWN headline story). But the Pontiff actually touched on many controversial topics during a remarkable exchange.

The fact that Pope Francis conducted an interview is remarkable in itself. On the flight from Rome to Rio, on July 22, the Holy Father had told reporters that he would not do interviews, explaining that he found them “tiresome.” But on the return flight a week later, the Pope—obviously energized by his encounter with 3 million young Catholics in Brazil—broke his own rule. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has provided a rough transcript of the lengthy exchange.

The Pope took unscreened questions from the reporters who had accompanied him on the trip, and even thanked a reporter for asking a particularly delicate question, giving him the opportunity to address the issue.

That tough question involved the charges against Msgr. Battista Ricca, the prelate of the Vatican bank. It was in the course of answering the question that Pope Francis said he would not judge homosexuals, and that Christians should imitate God’s willingness to forgive and forget old sins. The Pope clearly said, however, that he had investigated charges against Msgr. Ricca and found “nothing.”

On the broader question of the future for the Vatican bank, the Institute for Religious Works, the Pope said “I don’t know yet” how to address the institution’s problems. Reminding reporters that he had appointed a commission to study the bank’s role, he suggested that he remained open to a wide range of possibilities about reforming the institution.

Addressing other questions, the Pope said that:

  • He had met with any resistance to his plans for reform at the Vatican. “It’s true that I haven’t done a lot yet,” he conceded.
  • The canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will probably not take place on December 8, as has been widely speculated. The winter weather might make travel difficult for many people who wish to attend, he explained. As alternative dates he proposed the feast of Christ the King this November or the feast of Divine Mercy next year.
  • He was not worried about personal security during his visit to Brazil, and enjoyed his close contact with the crowds. “I realize there’s always a risk of a crazy person, but having a bishop behind bulletproof glass is crazy too,” he said.
  • He hopes to travel to Jerusalem alongside the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the time when their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, met in the Holy Land. The Vatican is weighing the possibility of that trip, he disclosed.
  • While the Church has spoken definitively on the ordination of women, and “that door is closed,” he sees the need for a “deep theology of women” and their role in the Church. The Pope observed: “The Madonna is more important that the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother.”
  • He admires Benedict XVI and values his counsel, saying that “it’s like having your Grandpa at home.” His predecessor has answered his questions clearly and offered advice when asked.
  • He sees the challenge of providing pastoral care for Catholics who are divorced and remarried as a high priority. “It’s complicated,” he said, saying that the problem must be considered in the context of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.” However, he said, “I believe this is a time of mercy.”


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  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jul. 31, 2013 10:10 AM ET USA

    I take exception to Unum's comment. I dealt with a diocesan marriage tribunal (long ago)and found the procedure fair and expeditious, far more so than civil courts frequently are. Those who choose to stay away from Mass do so most often out of ignorance. If the Church is guilty of anything vis-a-vis these Catholics, it is of not instructing them about the Church's many services available for souls in need. In my experience, the ear of the Church is often more sympathetic than that of its critics

  • Posted by: unum - Jul. 29, 2013 9:13 PM ET USA

    "He sees the challenge of providing pastoral care for Catholics who are divorced and remarried as a high priority." WOW! The fact that our Church is supposed to show the love of Christ is hidden behind the anguish of many who don't receive the Body and Blood of Christ or don't attend Mass at all because they face the clerical bureaucracy of diocesan tribunals. We can be truly sorry for our past sins, but we cannot undo the pain they have caused. God forgives but the Church often does not.