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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
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Two more confusing papal interviews [News Analysis]

March 10, 2023

“Interviews are not my forte,” Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio once remarked, explaining that he did not feel he expressed himself clearly when he spoke extemporaneously. If Pope Francis had listened to his younger self, the Catholic world might have been spared an enormous amount of confusion.

Unfortunately, interviews with Pope Francis now appear so regularly that they might no longer attract public notice, were it not the bombshells they so often contain, offering journalists an opportunity to raise new questions about the Catholic faith.

Today the Vatican News service offered previews of two new interviews with the Pontiff—one with a Italian/Swiss broadcaster, the other with an Argentine web site—scheduled for the 10th anniversary of his election. Yet again, many of the Pope’s comments are unsettling.

Treating faith lightly

Although Pope Francis insists that evangelization must be the Church’s highest priority, his answers to questions from Italian Swiss Radio and Television give non-Catholics no incentive to enter the Roman Church. “We must not forget this,” he says; “the Church is not a home for some; it is not selective.” In case that is not clear enough, he continues: “The holy faithful people of God are: everyone.” But if everyone belongs to the People of God—that is, to the Church, what is the point of spreading the Gospel message? Why bother with Baptism?

The same insouciant attitude toward the faith is in evidence when the Pope explains why he always asks visitors to pray for him: “I am sure everyone prays. To the non-believers, I say: pray for me and if you don’t pray send me good vibes.” Sending “vibes,” he adds with evident approval, “is a pagan way of praying.”

Dismissing criticism

Although he declares that the Church should be open to all opinions, and especially those of people who live on the margins, the Pope shows little patience with critics of his own policies. Speaking to the Argentine web site InfoBae, he laments “resistance, the bad kind.” What sort of criticism would he accept, then? The Pontiff answers that “good resistance is that if I do a good project it is seen and discussed.” But what if, in the eyes of some Catholics, he does a bad project—the sort that prompts honest criticism? The Pope does not answer that question (does he recognize the possibility of honest disagreement?), but he concludes that “bad resistance is that which is discussed here and goes backwards looking for betrayal.” Notice here that his critics are not only branded as backwards but accused of betrayal, as if any disagreement is a personal attack.

In the same interview the Pope lashes out against one critic, “a very well-known American bishop, who was nuncio.” Evidently he is referring to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano (who is not American, but served as apostolic nuncio to the US). And the Pope issues a judgment of his critic much harsher than his judgment of prelates who contradict fundamental Church teaching: “It is not known whether this man is Catholic or not; he is on the border.”

Dabbling in foreign affairs

In his Italian-Swiss broadcast interview the Pope repeats a claim that he has made frequently in recent weeks, saying that we are engaged in a third world war. That claim by itself seems questionable, as current conflicts do not resemble the great world wars of the 20th century. But now the Pope goes further, saying that the war in Ukraine is the product of imperial interests: “not only of the Russian empire, but of empires elsewhere.” What other empires—notice the plural—does he have in mind? Is he accusing the United States of imperial ambitions? This is not the sort of accusation that a Roman Pontiff should make casually in an informal interview.

And in the same interview the Pope make another remark that simply cannot be taken seriously: “An expert told me: If for one year no weapons were produced, the problem of world hunger would be solved.” We do not know who the “expert” is, or in what field his expertise lies. But the statement is absurd. Certainly an end to warfare would ease the problem of hunger, allowing relief agencies to deliver food and farmers to work their fields in peace. But a moratorium on gun manufacturing would not magically put food on the tables of needy families; the problem of hunger does not admit of such a simplistic solution.

In these interviews Pope Francis does make a few strong statements against authoritarian regimes, describing the government of Nicaragua as a “crude dictatorship” and expressing hope for regime change in Venezuela. But even those good answers raise new questions: Why has he not more forcefully condemned those two regimes, which are guilty not only of repressing democracy but also of frontal assaults on the Catholic Church?

Will he visit his homeland?

In the InfoBae interview, Pope Francis addresses a question that has baffled Vatican-watchers: Why, in the ten years of his pontificate, has he not made time to visit his native country? “I want to go to Argentina,” the Pope says. In fact plans were in place for such a visit in 2017, he recalls; but the trip was postponed to avoid a clash with elections in that country, and then Argentina was dropped from the papal itinerary. But why? The question remains unanswered.

“There is no refusal to go,” the Pope assures his Argentine interviewer. So perhaps a visit home might yet be arranged, although no such plans have been rumored in Rome.

There will be more time for travel, apparently. Pope Francis says that he has not thought of resignation. When asked what conditions would prompt him to step down, he replies: “A tiredness that does not make you see things clearly. A lack of clarity, of knowing how to evaluate situations.”

Philip F. Lawler


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  • Posted by: rfr46 - Mar. 14, 2023 4:32 AM ET USA

    I think that many have overestimated PF's intelligence. He is crafty but inarticulate, and seems unable to string together coherent thoughts. Perhaps the problem is that he does not have a constructive and principled plan but only a destructive plan based on the idea that the Church must change and accept secular and popular values.

  • Posted by: IM4HIM - Mar. 13, 2023 3:54 PM ET USA

    Pope Francis has spoken of the principle of incrementalism in the past, so if he lacks clarity in his statements it may be intentional instead of unintentional. By looking at the people he has appointed during the past 10 years it should be evident that he desires to radically change the Catholic Church.

  • Posted by: esalex947010 - Mar. 12, 2023 12:29 PM ET USA

    What His Holiness says about the Third World War is 1000% correct. Just because the casualty count hasn't reached the levels of 1914-18 and 1939-45, and I pray to God they never do (because if that is the case a lot of us won't be here anymore), this does not mean that he is mistaken. And if someone thinks that the United States' interests in Ukraine aren't just as imperialistic as the Russians they are deluding themselves.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Mar. 10, 2023 11:26 PM ET USA

    If he developed a lack of clarity (a quality that I think he already possesses), how would he know that he is not seeing clearly or is unable to "evaluate situations"? Why not just resign now, before his clarity fails him?