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Pope voices hopes for change in another lengthy interview

October 01, 2013

Pope Francis has again caused a sensation with a lengthy interview, telling the Italian daily La Repubblica that he will work toward a Church “that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”

The interview—which appeared on the same day the Pope began consulting with the Council of Cardinals about possible Vatican reforms— ranged over the Pope’s hopes for the Church, his concerns about youth unemployment and neglect of the elderly, his favorite saints, and other topics.

La Repubblica has made the entire interview available in an English-language translation.

The interview was conducted by Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of the left-leaning Repubblica. Earlier in September the newspaper had published a long letter from Pope Francis, responding to an editorial by Scalfari. Now, Scalfari reveals, the Pontiff followed up with a phone call, suggesting a private meeting. That meeting, which took place last week at the Pope’s apartment in the Casa Sanctae Marthae, furnished the material for the interview.

Scalfari, a professed non-believer, opened the conversation by expressing some misgivings that the Pope might try to convert him. The Pope quickly put him at ease. “Proselytism is solemn nonsense,” he said. “We need to get to know each other.”

Nevertheless, the Pope challenged his interlocutor at several points in their conversation. When Scalfari said that he did not believe in the existence of a soul, the Holy Father replied: “You do not believe in it but you have one.” And when the Italian journalist said that the Pontiff would not be able to convert him, the Pope replied: “We cannot know that—but I don’t have any such intention.”

In answer to a leading question about the problems facing the Church today, Pope Francis answered:

The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old... You tell me: can you live crashed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.

Regarding the need for change within the Church, the Pope complained about a “Vatican-centric” view prevailing in Rome, and said “I’ll do everything I can to change it.” He said that the atmosphere of the Vatican can nurture narcissism, with courtiers flattering superiors and protecting their own temporal interests. “The court is the leprosy of the papacy,” he said.

When Scalfari observed that some priests tempt him toward anti-clericalism, the Pope replied sympathetically: “It also happens to me that when I meet a clericalist, I suddenly become anti-clerical. Clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity.

Later in the interview the Pope says that St. Augustine and St. Francis are his favorite saints, and speaks at length about the example of St. Francis and his desire to follow it, especially in his work to rebuild the Church.

Pope Francis also discloses that although he does not consider himself a mystic, he did have a unique spiritual experience just after the conclave voted to elect him as Roman Pontiff. As he fought off anxiety and doubt, the Pope recalls, “I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light.” The experience lasted only a moment, the Pontiff says, but gave him a great sense of peace.

Scalfari concludes the interview with this observation about Pope Francis: “If the Church becomes like him and becomes what he wants it to be, it will be an epochal change.”


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  • Posted by: - Oct. 02, 2013 9:59 AM ET USA

    Pray for the pope, especially that he will accept the gift of the virtue of prudence.

  • Posted by: unum - Oct. 02, 2013 9:27 AM ET USA

    Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air and I am not moved to quickly condemn his "unorthodox" statements. He is the head of Christ's Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. The Church must change because it is not bringing Christ to the world. Some change will not be comfortable for us in the older generation and those of the clerical persuasion. But, we must remember that it is Christ's Church, and that it must do Christ's work, not our own.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 02, 2013 8:40 AM ET USA

    One area of concern that did not make this summary but that has been a recuuring theme is the Holy Father's insistence on following conscience by all. There is no distinction between atheist and Christian and no imperative to develop informed, ordered consciences. There is no mention of duty with regard to conscience and Natural Law, God's law etc. The interview ends with an atheist's exhultation celebrating potential for "epochal change" in the Church. This worries a growing number.

  • Posted by: lak321 - Oct. 01, 2013 11:15 PM ET USA

    It is not only in Argentina that has youth unemployment problems. I remember something similar from a Spanish bishop, that young people in Spain were not marrying and having children because of the lack of employment. Many Muslim countries have astronomically high unemployment of the young, which likely is part of what is fueling the unrest. In the US we know the devastation in the inner cities due to gangs. Etc etc. Those are only three other examples, I am sure there are more.

  • Posted by: lak321 - Oct. 01, 2013 8:29 PM ET USA

    From Fr. Faber - As it is with the coutnries of the world, so it is with the ages of the world. Each age has its own distinctive spirit....Each has its own way, and requires to be dealt with in that way. This is the reason why the Church seems to act differently in different ages. There is a sense in which the Church goes along with the world. It is the same sense in which the shepherd leaves the sheep which have not strayed.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Oct. 01, 2013 7:52 PM ET USA

    I read the article in La Repubblica (your link). Like others here, I am apprehensive, but thanks to conversation with a friend, I will limit my comments for now and make 4 observations. 1. The pope seems to want to speak to this man Scalfari, a leftist, especially; 2. Francis' words are not carefully chosen, but rather conversational; 3. Scalfari is perplexed and fascinated by this man; 4. Francis wants to talk about Blaise Pascal, perhaps the most brilliant enemy the Jesuits ever encountered!!!

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Oct. 01, 2013 7:51 PM ET USA

    Whenever the Bishop of Rome speaks out publicly, I get the same squeamish feeling I used to get whenever George W. Bush spoke. I get a terrible sense of dread and embarrassment.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 01, 2013 5:15 PM ET USA

    I think that sometimes Pope Francis forgets that he is pope. As Contrary1995 said, he understands the problems of Argentina. It's time he take a more universal perspective on things. We must always remember that it is possible to have good, bad and in between popes. The human element of Catholicism is the reason I believe it truly is divine. How else would it still be around if the holy spirit wasn't guiding us?!

  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 01, 2013 3:51 PM ET USA

    It is not impossible that the faithful might have a sense for those things Catholic. The words that have been printed to date are a departure and the Catholic world is cognizant. Indeed the secular world has articulated the same assessment. There is an uneasiness, and the Holy Father seems to identify this as part of his plan. Where it will lead is gradually albeit uncomfortably unfolding before our eyes. Wait and see.

  • Posted by: oakes.spalding7384 - Oct. 01, 2013 2:33 PM ET USA

    One of the two most urgent problems facing the CHURCH is youth unemployment? "Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them"? "Proselytism is solemn nonsense"? I don't think these sorts of things can be explained away anymore. It's very bad. I suspect more and more Catholics are starting to become afraid. "I have the humility (!) and ambition to want to do something." Pray for the Pope and the Church.

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Oct. 01, 2013 1:02 PM ET USA

    Youth Unemployment was and is a terrible problem in Argentina. Francis will need to grow in office. He sees everything through his local lens. Christians are being persecuted throughout the globe: where is the concern for them?