Pope Francis held an hour-long press conference on the plane from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to Rome, and responded to wide range of questions, ranging from Donald Trump (see separate story) and St. John Paul II’s close relationship with an American woman, to his recent meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and the subsequent negative reaction from some Greek Catholics in the Ukraine.
He revealed that in Buenos Aires he already knew about the relationship John Paul II had with Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka:
It is not a sin to have a friendship with a woman.... The pope is a man. The pope needs the thoughts [input] of women, too. And the pope, too, has a heart that can have a healthy, holy friendship with a woman.
He gave the longest response to the question of his meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the joint declaration that they issued and, in particular, the concerns of the Greek Catholic Church, which he said he understands, while again affirming the new relationship between Patriarch Kirill and him, and the significance of this.
The pope was asked to comment on proposals in Latin America that women should be able to use contraceptives or even have an abortion where there is a strong risk from the Zika virus. Here, Francis distinguished clearly between abortion and contraception, and in his answer appeared not to exclude the use of contraception, while expressing the hope that doctors could soon come up with a vaccine for this serious problem.
Other questions related to pedophilia, the Maciel case and what he would say to a bishop who transfers a priest who transfers a priest from one parish to another when he knows that the man has abused minors. Again the answers to these questions were long, but Francis gave a short, unequivocal answer to the question of the bishop, saying the man is “unconcious” to act in that way, and it would be best that he resign.
Responding to a question about the crisis in the European Union, first with the euro and now over immigration, Francis advocated a “re-founding” of the E.U., but asked where are there leaders today that are on par with Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauers—founding fathers of the union.
He spoke about the church’s attitude to the divorced and remarried in response to a question and emphasized the important need “to integrate” them into the life of the church and then, he added, “all doors are open” though one cannot say that “from here on they can have communion.” He confirmed that he will address this question in the apostolic exhortation on the family, which should come “before Easter.”
The following is a translation of the press conference, which was conducted in Italian and Spanish, made by a number of English-speaking journalists on the plane, including America’s Vatican correspondent, Gerry O'Connell, who also revised the translation.
WHY NO MEETING WITH RELATIVES OF MISSING MEXICAN STUDENTS?
Holy Father, thousands go missing in Mexico; but the case of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa is emblematic. I’d like to ask you why you didn’t meet with the family members and also, please give a message for the thousands of people who have disappeared.
POPE: If you read the messages continuously…the killings, the death or the life taken, by the narco-trafficking gangs and the human smugglers. That’s one of the problems that I talked about as one of the wounds that Mexico suffers. An attempt was made to meet these groups; but they had some infighting going on. I decided that I would see all of them at the Mass in Juarez or at another Mass. It was practically impossible to meet everyone and they had some infighting going on. It’s a situation that’s difficult to understand, especially for me because I’m a foreigner, right? The Mexican society is a victim of all the crimes of eliminating people. I talked about it in every speech I could. It’s a great pain that I’m taking with me, because this country doesn’t deserve this drama.
THE CHURCH AND PEDOPHILIA
Pedophilia in Mexico has very dangerous roots, very hurtful. The Maciel case left a strong inheritance, especially in the victims, who still feel unprotected. Some of them are still very religious, some continue priests. Did you at any moment consider meeting with the victims? What do you think about moving priests around when cases of pedophilia are detected?
First of all, a bishop who transfers a priest of a parish when a case of pedophilia is discovered is an unconcious man and the best thing he can do is to present his resignation. Is that clear?
Second, the Maciel case—here I allow myself to name the man who fought in moments when he had no strength to impose himself, until he managed to impose himself: Ratzinger [Applause from journalists]. Cardinal Ratzinger deserves an applause. He’s a man who as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had all the documents, he had everything in his hands, he conducted all the investigations, and went on, went on, went on, until he couldn’t do more in the execution. But if you remember, 10 days before the death of St. John Paul II, in that Via Crucis of Good Friday, he told the whole church that there was a need to clean the dirt of the church, the filth. And in the Mass Pro-Eligendo Pontefice, even knowing that he was a candidate, he didn’t care to make-up [mask] his answer, he said exactly the same.
He was the brave one who helped so many open this door. I want to remember him because sometimes we forget about these hidden works that prepare the bases to uncover the pot.
Third, we’re doing plenty. With the Cardinal Secretary of State [Pietro Parolin], and with the group of nine cardinal advisors, after listening, I decided to name a third secretary adjunct for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to take care only of these cases, because the congregation can’t deal with all the cases that come.
Furthermore, an appeals tribunal has been constituted, headed by Monsignor Sicluna. It’s dealing with the cases of second instance where there are appeals. Because the first appeal is dealt with by the ‘feria quarta,’ that meets on Wednesdays. But if there’s an appeal, it goes back to first instance, and that’s not just. The second instance is also a legal matter, with defending lawyers. But we need to work faster, because we’re behind with the cases, because the [appeals] continue to appear.
The commission for the protection of minors is also working very well. It’s not strictly involved [locked] in cases of pedophilia, but [is] in the protection of minors. I spend a whole morning with six of them, two German, two British and two Irish victims of abuse [as minors]. And I also met with victims in Philadelphia. There one morning I had a meeting with the victims. So we’re working. But I thank God because the pot was uncovered, and we have to continue on this path. We need to be aware.
Lastly, I want to say that it’s [abuse is] a monstrosity, because a priest is consecrated to help a child come to God, and he eats him like in an ideological sacrifice, destroying him.
As regards Maciel, the congregation did various interventions and the leadership of the congregation has been restructured, they elected the General and two deputies. As for the councilors, the congregation elects two and the pope choses the other two
Today you spoke a lot and eloquently about the problem of immigrants. On the other side of the border there is an electoral campaign that is rather hard. One of the candidates for the White House, Donald Trump, in a recent interview said that you are a political man, and indeed perhaps a pawn of the Mexican Government when it comes to the policy of immigration. He said that if he were elected president he would build a 2,500-km wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and, in that way separating families and so on. I would therefore like to ask, first of all, what you think of those charges against you, and if an American Catholic could vote for a person like this?
Thank God he said I am a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as an 'animal politicus' [a political animal]. So at least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgement and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he says things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.
MEETING WITH KIRILL AND SOME NEGATIVE REACTION FROM GREEK CATHOLICS IN THE UKRAINE
The meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and the signing of the joint declaration was greeted by the entire world as an historic step. But now today in the Ukraine, Greek Catholics feel betrayed. They speak of a political document that supports Russian politics. In the field, the war of words has reignited. Do you think you’ll be able to go to Moscow? Were you invited by the patriarch? Or, will you go to Crete to greet the Pan-Orthodox Council in the Spring?
I’ll begin with the end. I will be present…spiritually. And with a message. I would like to go to greet them there at the pan-orthodox synod. They are brothers but I must respect them. But, I know that they want to invite Catholic observers and this is a good bridge, but behind the Catholic observers I will be praying with my best wishes that the Orthodox move ahead because they are brothers and their bishops are bishops like us.
Then, Kirill is my brother. We kissed each other, embraced, and then a conversation for an hour [Fr Lombardi corrects]… two hours. Old age doesn’t come on its own [laughs]. Two hours where we spoke as brothers, sincerely and no one knows what spoke about, only what we said at the end publicly about how we felt as we spoke.
Thirdly, that statement, that declaration about the Ukraine. When I read this, I was a little bit worried because it was Svetoslav Schevchuk who said that the Ukrainian people, some Ukrainians, many Ukrainians felt profoundly disappointed, betrayed. I know Sviatoslav very well. In Buenos Aires, we worked together for 4 years. When he was elected—at 42 years old, eh, a good man—he was elected major archbishop, He came back to Buenos Aires to get his things. He came to me and he gave me an icon— little like this—of Our Lady of the Tenderness. And he told me, “This has accompanied me my entire life. I’ll leave it to you who accompanied me over the last four years.” It’s one of the few things I had brought from Buenos Aires and I keep it on my desk. That is, he’s a man whom I respect and also familiarity. We use the familiar ‘tu’ [you] with each other.
So, for this it seemed strange to me and I remembered something I said here to you: to understand a piece of news, a statement, you need to look for the hermeneutic of the whole [thing].
But, when you said this, it was said in a statement from January 14th, last February, last Sunday…an interview made by brother…. I don’t remember…a father, a Ukrainian priest, in Ukraine it was conducted and it was published. That news, the interview is one page, two, a little bit more, give or take. That statement is on the last page, a small piece like this.
I read the interview and I’ll say this: Schevchuk, in the dogmatic part declares himself to be a son of the Church and in communion with the bishop of Rome and the church. He speaks of the pope and the closeness of the pope and of himself, his faith, and also of the Orthodox people there. The dogmatic part, there’s no difficulty. He’s Orthodox, in the good sense of the word, that is in Catholic doctrine, no?
And then, as in an interview like this one, everyone has the right to say his things and this wasn’t done on the meeting, because the meeting, it was a good thing and we have to move forward. This, he didn’t do on the meeting, the encounter was a good thing and we must move forward.
This, the second chapter, the personal ideas that a person has. For example, this, what I said about the bishops who move pedophile priests, the best thing they can do is resign. This isn’t a dogmatic thing, but this is what I think. So, he, too, has his personal ideas. They’re for dialoguing and he has a right to have them.
Thirdly…ah, all of what he’s speaking about is in the document, that’s the issue. On the fact of the meeting: the Lord chose to move it ahead, the embrace and all is well. The document. It’s a debatable document and there’s also another addition. In Ukraine, it’s a moment of war, of suffering, with many interpretations. I have named the Ukrainian people, asking for prayers, closeness, many times both in the Angelus and in the Wednesday audience. There is this closeness. But the historical fact of a war, experienced as…I don’t know if…well, everyone has their own idea about this war, how it started, who started it, what to do and it’s evident that this is an historical issue, but also a personal, live issue of that country and it speaks of the suffering.
And, there I insert this paragraph. You can understand the faithful, because Stanislav told me that so many faithful have written to me saying that they are deeply disappointed and betrayed by Rome. You can understand that a people in this situation would feel this, no. The final document but it is a writing down of some things. Pardon, it’s opinable on this question of Ukraine. But there, it says to make the war stop, that they find agreements. Also, I personally said that the Minsk accords should move forward and are not to be eliminated with the elbows what wasn’t written with the hands.”
The Church of Rome, the pope has always said, “Seek peace.” I also received both presidents. Equality, no. And so for this when he says that he’s heard this from his people, I understand it. I understand it. But, that’s not the news. The news is everything.
If you read the entire interview, you’ll see that there are serious dogmatic things that remain, there’s a desire for unity, to move ahead ecumenically— and he’s an ecumenical man. There are a some opinions. He wrote to me when he found out about the trip, the encounter…but, as a brother, giving his opinion as a brother. I don’t mind the document how it is. I don’t dislike it in the sense that we need to respect the things that everyone has the freedom to think and in this situation that is so difficult.
From Rome, now the nuncio is on the border where they’re fighting, helping soldiers and the wounded. The Church of Rome has sent so much help there. There’s always peace, agreements. We must respect the Minsk accords and so on. This is the entirety. But, don’t get scared by that phrase. And this is a lesson that a piece of news must be interpreted with the hermeneutic of the whole and not just of a part.
[Follow up from journalist: Did the Patriarch invite you to come to Moscow sometime?]
Patriarch Kirill. I would prefer—because if I say one thing, I have to say another and another and another—I would prefer that what we spoke about, us, alone will remain only what we said in public. This is a fact. And if I say this, then I’ll have to say another and another…no! The things I said in public, the things he said in public. This is what can be said about the private conversation. To say it, it wouldn’t be private. But, I tell you, I walked out of it happy, and he did too.
THE ITALIAN PARLIAMENT AND SAME-SEX UNIONS
Holy Father, my question is about the family, a subject which you addressed during this trip. The Italian parliament is discussing a law on civil unions, a subject that is provoking strong political clashes but also a strong debate in society and among Catholics. In particular, I would like to know your thoughts on the subject of adoption by civil unions and therefore on the rights of babies and of children in general.
First of all, I don’t know how things stand in the thinking of the Italian parliament. The pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. At my first meeting with the [Italian] bishops in May 2013, one of the three things I said was: with the Italian government you’re on your own. Because the pope is for everybody and he can’t insert himself in the specific internal politics of a country. This is not the role of the pope, right? And what I think is what the church thinks and has said so often, because this is not the first country to have this experience, there are so many. I think what the church has always said about this.
CAN CATHOLIC WOMEN USE CONTRACEPTION WHEN FACED WITH ZIKA?
Holy Father, in the past weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries, and also in Europe, regarding the Zika virus. Pregnant women are the most at risk. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoid pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?”
Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to kill someone in order to save another. This is what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the lesser evil, avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandments. The great Paul VI, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape [violenza]. Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? How many Hippocratic oaths must doctors take? It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil at its root, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.
On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.
CRISIS IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
You will soon receive the Charlemagne Prize, and that’s the main European one. What do you say to Europe which now seems to be falling to pieces, first with the crisis of the euro and now that of the refugees? Maybe you have a word for us in this situation of European crisis?
First, the Charlemagne Prize. I had the habit of not accepting prizes or doctorates, not out of humility, but because I don’t like them. Maybe a little crazy, but it’s good to have it, but I just don’t like them. But in this case, I don’t say [I was] forced, but convinced by the holy theological headstrongness of Cardinal Kasper, because he was chosen, elected by Aachen to convince me. I said yes, but in the Vatican. And I said I offer it for Europe, as a co-decoration for Europe, a prize so that Europe may do what I desired at Strasburg, that it may not [anymore] be grandmother Europe but mother Europe.
Secondly, reading the news the other day about this crisis and so on—I read little, I just glance through one newspaper. I won’t say the name so as not to create jealousy, but it is known! Just 15 minutes. Then I get information from the Secretariat of State and so on, and there was one word that I liked, and I don’t know if they will approve it or not, but it was “the re-foundation of the European Union.” I thought of the great fathers, but today where is there a Schuman, an Adenauer, these great ones who after the war founded the European Union. I like that idea of the re-foundation of the European Union, maybe it can be done, because Europe— I do not say is unique, but it has a force, a culture, a history that cannot be wasted, and we must do everything so that the European Union has the strength, the inspiration to make it go on. That’s what I think.
THE CHURCH’S ATTITUDE TO THE DIVORCED AND REMARRIED
Some wonder, how a church that claims to be merciful ask how can the church forgive a murderer easier than someone who has divorced and remarried?
I like this question. Two synods spoke on the family. And the pope spoke a whole year [on it] in the Wednesday Catechisms. The question is true, you put it very well.
In the post-synod document that will be published, perhaps before Easter—it picks [this] up—in one of the chapters, it has many—the conflicts, wounded families. It is one of the concerns. As another is the preparation for marriage. If you think to become a priest there are 8 years of study and preparation, and then if after a while you want to leave, you can ask for a dispensation and you leave, and everything is ok. Instead for a sacrament, [marriage], which is for your whole life, there are 3 to 4 talks. Preparation for marriage is very important. It is something the church doesn’t value—at least in my country, in Latin America, it is not valued much.
Some years ago in my native country there was a habit, [that was] called “accasiamento de apuro’’ or marriage in haste because a baby is about to arrive, and also to cover socially, the honor of the family. There, they weren’t free. Many times these marriages are void. As a bishop I forbade my priests to do this. When there was something like this, I would say, let the baby come, let them continue as fiancées, and when they feel like they can continue for the rest of their lives, then they could go ahead [and get married].
Another very interesting chapter is the education of children—the victims of problems of the family are children. Even problems that neither husband or wife want [have a say in]. For example, the needs of a job. When the dad doesn’t have free time to speak to his children, when the mother doesn’t have time to speak with her children.
When I confess a couple, I ask how may children do you have? Some are worried I will ask why don’t you have more? I’ll then put a second question: “Do you play with your children? The majority say, “but father, I have no time. I work all day.” Children are victims of a social problem that wounds the family.
It is a problem… I like your question. They have no time to play with the children, the children are victims of this social problem.
Another interesting thing: in the meeting with families in Tuxtla, there was a couple, married again in second union [after divorcing]. Integrated into the church. The key phrase used by the synod, which I shall take up again, is “integrate’’ into the life of the church the wounded families, those that have remarried etc. One mustn’t forget the children in the middle. They are the first victims, both in the wounds, and in the conditions of poverty, of work, etc.
But can they receive Communion?
This is the last thing. Integrate in the church doesn’t mean having communion. I know remarried Catholics who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year [and they say] I want to receive Communion, as if receiving Communion were an award [honor].
Work towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say “from here on they can take communion.” This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple. It wouldn’t make them do this path of integration.
JOHN PAUL II AND HIS WOMAN FRIEND
Numerous media have reported, and made a lot of noise, about this intense friendship between John Paul II and an American philosopher, Anna Teresa Tymieniecka, who, it is said, had great affection for the Polish pope. In your view, can a pope have such an intimate relationship with a woman? And then, if you permit me, have you had this kind of intimate knowledge through an intense correspondence?
I already knew about this friendship between St. John Paul II and this philosopher when I was in Buenos Aires. It was known. Her books were known. John Paul II was a restless man.
Then I would also say that a man who does not know how to have a good relationship of friendship with a woman—I'm not talking about misogynists, these are sick—well, he's a man who is missing something.
And in my own experience, including when I ask for advice, I would ask a collaborator, a friend, but I'd also like to hear the opinion of a woman because they have such richness [ricchezza], they look at things in a different way. I like to say that women are those who form life in their wombs —this is an observation I make. They have this charism of giving you things you can build with.
A friendship with a woman is not a sin, it's a friendship. A love relationship with a woman who is not your wife, that is sin. Understood?
But the pope is a man. The pope needs the thoughts [input] of women, too. And the pope, too, has a heart that can have a healthy, holy friendship with a woman. There are saint-friends—Francis and Clare, Teresa and John of the Cross—don't be frightened.
But women are still not considered so well; we have not understood the good that a woman can do for the life of a priest and of the church in the sense of counsel, help, healthy friendship.
ITALIAN PARLIAMENT AND SAME-SEX UNIONS
Holiness, good evening. I return back to the topic of the law that is being voted on in the Italian parliament. It is a law that in some ways is about other countries too, because other countries have laws about unions among people of the same sex. There is a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith from 2003 that dedicates a lot of attention to this, and even more, dedicates a chapter to the position of Catholic parliamentarians in parliament faced with this question. It says expressly that Catholic parliamentarians must not vote for these laws. There is much confusion on this. I wanted to ask, first of all, is this document of 2003 still in effect? And what is the position a Catholic parliamentarian must take?
And then another thing: there is some talk about going to a mosque in Cairo and an audience that the pope wants with another pope, the pope of the Sunnis?
For this, Msgr. Giusto went to Cairo last week to meet the second to the Imam and to greet the Imam....I want to meet him. I know that he would like it. We are looking for the way, always through Cardinal Tauran because that is the path....
As for the Italian parliament, I do not remember that document well...but a Catholic parliamentarian must vote according to his well-formed conscience. I would say just this. I believe it is sufficient because—I say well-formed because it is not the conscience of what just seems to me.
I remember when matrimony for persons of the same sex was voted on in Buenos Aires there were votes. And at the end, one said to advise the other: “But do you have to declare, or no? Me neither. Let's go. But if we don't go there won't be a quorum.”
The other said: “If we have a quorum we will give the vote to Kirchner.” The other said: “I prefer Kirchner, and not Bergoglio.”
This is not a well formed conscience. On people of the same sex, I repeat what I said on the trip to Rio di Janeiro, it’s in the Catechism of the Catholic church."
We are thinking about future trips, about preparing our suitcases again. Holy Father, when are you going to go to Argentina where they have been waiting for you for a long time? When will you return to Latin America? Or in China? And quick comment, you spoke many times during this trip about dreaming—what do you dream about? And what is your nightmare?
China? To go there. I would love that. I would like to say something about the Mexican people. It is a population that has a wealth, such great wealth, a people that surprises. They have a culture, a culture that goes back millenniums. Do you know that today, in Mexico, today, they speak 65 languages, counting the indigenous languages, 65. It is a people of great faith. They have also suffered religious persecution. There are martyrs, I will canonize two. It is a people that you cannot explain, you can’t explain it because the word “people” is not a logical category, it is a mythical category. The Mexican people—you cannot explain this wealth, this history, this joy, the capacity to celebrate [festa] within these tragedies that you have asked about. I can say another thing, that this unity, that this people has managed not to fail, not to end with so many wars, things, things that are happening now. There in the city of Juarez there was a truce of 12 hours of peace for my visit. After that they will continue to fight among themselves. No? Traffickers. But a people that still is together with all that, you can only explain with Guadalupe. And I invite you to seriously study the facts of Guadalupe. The Madonna is there. I cannot find another explanation. And it would be nice if you as journalists—there are some books that explain the painting, what it is like, the significance, and that is how you can understand better this great and beautiful people.
OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
Two things: I wanted to know what did you ask [Our Lady] at Guadalupe, because you were there a long time in the church praying to [Our Lady] at Guadalupe. And then something else: do you dream in Italian or Spanish?
I’d say I dream in Esperanto! [laughs] I don’t know how to respond to that. Sometimes I remember some dreams in another language, but dreaming in languages? No, but figures yes, my psychology is this way: I dream little with words. No?
As for Guadalupe: I asked for the world, for peace, for so many things. The poor woman [Our Lady] ended up with her head like this. I asked pardon. I asked that church grows healthy, I asked for the Mexican people and, another thing, I asked a lot for: that priests be true priests, and sisters, that they be true sisters, good sisters, and that bishops be good bishops, as the Lord wants. I asked for this a lot, but then the things a child tells his mother are a bit secret.