Editor’s note: The following interview, conducted in Spanish, is Pope Francis’ first lengthy interview with a newspaper in Latin America. The original text was published in three sections in La Nación on Dec. 7, 2014. An English translation, completed by Vivien Pérez Moran, appeared simultaneously on La Nación’s website, lanacion.com.ar. One segment of the original interview, which dealt with Argentine politics, was not translated by La Nación and is not included here. Gerard O’Connell, America’s Vatican correspondent and Elisabetta Piqué’s husband, was present for the interview.
I met Jorge Bergoglio in February 2001, in Rome, when I had to interview the then archbishop of Buenos Aires for La Nación. He did not normally grant interviews but would make an exception with me because he was on the verge of being created cardinal by John Paul II.
So much has happened since then. The man who had always been Padre Jorge now is Pope Francis, and I, the author of Pope Francis: Life and Revolution. We sat down in the light green velvet armchairs in the living room at Casa Santa Marta, and Francis started telling anecdotes, laughing and even stating on the record that he is still the same Padre Jorge.
The pope confirmed he will not be traveling to Argentina in July 2016 for the Eucharistic Congress in Tucumán because it is very close to World Youth Day, to be held in Poland. He does, however, intend to visit Argentina that same year at another time. He also revealed that he will be traveling to another three Latin American countries in 2015 (which he preferred not to mention) and, for the first time, to Africa.
The first Latin American pope, that is a great honor for all Latin America. What do you expect from Latin America?
Latin America has been on a journey for some time now, since the first CELAM [Latin American Episcopal Conference] meeting. Monsignor Larraín, the first CELAM president, gave it great momentum. First came the Río conference, then Medellín and then Puebla, Santo Domingo and Aparecida. The Latin American episcopate paved the way with these milestones. It did so collegially, with different methodologies. At first it went about it shyly. Now this 50-year path can certainly not be ignored because it means building awareness in the Latin American church and maturing in faith. Walking this road has also aroused great interest in studying the Guadalupe message. The amount of studies of the Virgin of Guadalupe, of her image, of mixed ancestries, of Nican Mopohua, is amazing, constituting fundamental theology. This is why, when we celebrate the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, on Dec. 12, as well as the 50th anniversary of Misa Criolla, we are celebrating the road walked by the Latin American church.
A recent survey [by Pew] confirmed that, despite the “Francis effect,” Catholics still keep leaving the church.
I am familiar with the figures disclosed at Aparecida; it is the only information I have. There are evidently several factors of influence, independent of the church. The theology of prosperity, to quote just one example, has inspired many religious propositions that people feel attracted to. These people, however, end up in the middle of the journey. But let’s leave out factors that are external to the church. I wonder about ourselves, what is it that we ourselves do, what is within the church that makes the faithful unhappy? It’s that lack of closeness [to people]; it’s clericalism. Today, to be close means to reach out to Catholics, to seek people out and be close to them, to sympathize with their problems, with their reality. Clericalism, as I told the CELAM bishops in Río de Janeiro, stopped laypersons from maturing in Latin America. Laypersons are more mature in Latin America precisely when they express popular piety. Clericalism was always an issue for lay organizations. I spoke of it in “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Does the renovation of the church, which you have been calling for since you were elected, and precisely in “The Joy of the Gospel,” also target stray sheep and stopping the faithful from dropping out [Sp. sangria]?
I don’t like the “dropping out” image because it is all too close to proselytism. I don’t like to use terms connected with proselytism because that’s not the truth. I like to use the image of the field hospital: some people are very much injured and are waiting for us to heal their wounds; they are injured for a thousand reasons. We must reach out to them and heal their wounds.
Is that, then, the strategy to recover those that have left?
I don’t like the word “strategy.” I’d much rather speak about the Lord’s pastoral call; otherwise it sounds like an N.G.O. It’s the Lord’s call, what the church is asking from us today, not as a strategy, because the church isn’t into proselytism. The church doesn’t want to engage in proselytism because the church does not grow by proselytism. It grows by attraction, as Benedict said. The church needs to be a field hospital and we need to set out to heal wounds, just as the good Samaritan did. Some people’s wounds result from neglect, others are wounded because they have been forsaken by the church itself; some people are suffering terribly.
As a pope you are different because you speak with utmost clarity, you are completely straightforward, you don’t use euphemisms and don’t beat about the bush; the course of your papacy is extremely clear. Why do you think some sectors are disoriented, why do they say the ship is without a rudder, especially after the latest Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the challenges posed by the family?
Those expressions strike me as odd. I am not aware of anybody using them. The media quote them. But until I can ask the people involved, “Have you said this?” I will have brotherly doubts. In general, people don’t read about what is going on. Somebody did say to me once, “Of course, of course. Discernment is so good for us, but we need much clearer things.” And I answered: Look, I wrote an encyclical—true enough, it was by four hands [with Benedict XVI]—and an apostolic exhortation. I’m constantly making statements, giving homilies. That’s magisterium. That’s what I think, not what the media say that I think. Check it out; it’s very clear. “The Joy of the Gospel” is very clear.
Some of the media have mentioned that the “honeymoon is over” on account of the divisions that surfaced during the synod.
It wasn’t a division against the pope, nor was it that they didn’t hold the pope as a reference. Because the pope tried to open the gate and to listen to everybody. The fact that in the end my address was accepted with such enthusiasm by the synod fathers shows that the pope was not the issue, but rather the different pastoral positions.
Whenever the status quo changes, which is what happened when you were elected pope, it’s normal to find resistance. Some 20 months later, the resistance seems to have become more evident.
You said it. Resistance is now evident. And that is a good sign for me, getting the resistance out into the open, no stealthy mumbling when there is disagreement. It’s healthy to get things out into the open; it’s very healthy.
On the Curia
Do you believe resistance is connected with your cleansing efforts, with the in-house restructuring of the Roman Curia?
To me, resistance means different points of view, not something dirty. It is connected to some decisions I may occasionally take, I will concede that. Of course, some decisions are more of an economic sort, and others are more pastoral.
Are you worried?
No, I am not worried. It all seems normal to me. If there were no difference of opinions, that wouldn’t be normal.
Is the cleansing over, or is it still going on?
I don’t like to speak about cleansing. I’d rather speak of getting the Curia going in the direction identified by the general congregations [meetings before the conclave]. No, there’s still a long way to go. A long way, a long way. You see, in pre-conclave meetings, as cardinals we demanded lots of things, and it is necessary to continue on this path.
What you found in the cleansing process, is it worse than you expected?
In the first place, I expected nothing. I expected to go back to Buenos Aires (laughter). And after that, well, I don’t know. You see, God is good to me, he’s bestowed on me a healthy dose of unawareness (inconsciencia). I just do what I have to do.
And how are things going at present?
Well, as everybody knows, it’s all public. The I.O.R. [Vatican Bank] is operating beautifully; we did quite a good job there. The economy is doing well. And the spiritual reform is my great concern right now, to change people’s hearts. I’m writing my Christmas address for the members of the Curia. I’m going to deliver two Christmas addresses, one for Curia prelates and the other one for all the Vatican staff, with all our assistants, in the Paul VI room with their families, because it’s they who keep their noses to the grindstone. Spiritual exercises for prefects and secretaries are a step ahead. It is a step ahead to stay six days locked in, praying; just as we did last year, we’ll do it again the first week of Lent. We’ll be staying at the same house.
The G9 will be meeting again next week, the group of nine cardinal consultors who are helping you with the reform process of the Curia and universal church governance. Will the famous church reform be ready by 2015?
No, it’s a slow process. The other day we got together with the dicastery heads and submitted the proposal of joining the dicasteries for the laity, family and justice and peace. We discussed it all, each one of us said what he thought. Now it will be forwarded to the G9. You know, reforming the Curia will take a long time. This is the most complex part.
That means it won’t be ready by 2015?
No. We’re tackling it step by step.
Is it true that a married couple might be the head of this new dicastery, that you might combine the pontifical councils for laypersons, family and justice and peace?
Perhaps. I don’t really know. The heads of the dicasteries or of the secretariat should be the people best suited, whether man or woman, or even a married couple.
And not necessarily a cardinal or a bishop.
The head of a dicastery like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the liturgical dicastery or the new dicastery encompassing laity and family as well as justice and peace will always be a cardinal. This is best because of his [a cardinal’s] closeness to the pope as a collaborator in a given sector. But dicastery secretaries do not necessarily have to be bishops, because a problem we have is when we have to change a bishop-secretary, where do we send him? We need to find a diocese, but sometimes they are not fit for one, they’re good at the other job. I’ve only appointed two bishop-secretaries: the Governorate secretary, who thus more or less became the pastor of all this, and the secretary general of the synod of bishops, because of what that signifies there.
It was an intense year, with many significant trips, the extraordinary synod, the prayer for peace in the Middle East in the Vatican gardens. What stands out as the best moment, and what as the worst?
I wouldn’t know. Every moment has something good and something not quite as good, isn’t that so? (Silence.) For instance, the meeting with the grandparents, the elderly, there was amazing beauty in that.
Benedict was there as well.
I enjoyed that occasion very much, but that doesn’t make it the best, because they were all beautiful. I really don’t know. I wouldn’t know what to say. I never thought of that.
And about being pope, what do you like the most and what least of all?
You know, and this is the absolute truth, this is something I really want to say. Before I came over here, I was in the process of retiring. That is to say, I had agreed with the nuncio that when I got back to Buenos Aires, we would be putting together a short list of three candidates so that by last year’s end the new archbishop might take over. That is to say, my mind was focused on the confessionals of the churches where I would be hearing confessions. I even had the project of spending two or three days in Luján and the rest of my time in Buenos Aires, because Luján means so much to me, and the confessions there are a grace. When I came here, I had to start all over again. All this was new. From the start, I said to myself, “Jorge, don’t change, just keep on being yourself, because to change at your age would be to make a fool of yourself”(hacer el ridiculo). That’s why I’ve always kept on doing what I used to do in Buenos Aires. Perhaps even making my old mistakes. But I prefer it like this, to be myself. That evidently caused some changes in the protocols—not in the official protocols, because I’m very careful about abiding by them. The thing is that I am who I am even where protocols are concerned, just as I was myself in Buenos Aires. You can see why “not changing” suited me so well.
When you came back from South Korea, somebody asked you a question and you answered that you were hoping to “go to the Father’s house.” Many people were worried about your health; they thought that you might not be well or something of the sort. How are you? You look so well.
I do have some aches and pains, and at my age ailments don’t go unnoticed. But I am in God’s hands. Up to now I have been able to maintain a rhythm of work that is more or less good.
A “conservative” sector in the United States thinks that you removed the North American cardinal Raymond Leo Burke from the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura because he was the leader of a group that resisted changes of any type in the Synod of Bishops. Is it true?
One day Cardinal Burke asked me what he would be doing, as he had still not been confirmed in his position, in the legal sector, but rather had been confirmed donec aliter provideatur [“until otherwise provided for”]. And I answered, “Give me some time, because in the G9 we are thinking of a restructuring of the legal sectors.” I told him nothing had been done about it yet and that it was being considered. After that the issue of the Order of Malta cropped up and we needed a smart American who would know how to get around, and I thought of him for that position. I suggested this to him long before the synod. I said to him, “This will take place after the synod because I want you to participate in the synod as dicastery head.” As the chaplain of the Order of Malta he wouldn’t have been able to be present. He thanked me in very good terms and accepted my offer; I even think he liked it. Because he is a man that gets around a lot, he does a lot of traveling and would surely be kept busy. It is therefore not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod.
Do you have plans for your 78th birthday on Dec. 17? Will you celebrate it with the barboni (the homeless) once again as you did last year?
I did not invite the barboni; they were brought in by the almoner. And it was a good idea, wasn’t it? That’s where the myth started that I had had breakfast with the barboni. You see, I had breakfast with all the staff of the house, and the barboni were present. This is part of all the folklore that people make up about me. Since it [my birthday] falls on a day when there is no Mass in the chapel because it’s Wednesday [the day of the general audience], that day we will all have lunch together, with all the staff. It will be just another day to me, pretty much like any other one.
On the Swiss Guard
Is it true that you fired the head of the Swiss Guard, [Colonel] Daniel Anrig, for being too strict?
No, that’s not true. Last year, two months after my election, his five-year term expired. Then I told the secretary of state—Pietro Parolin wasn’t there yet—that I could neither appoint him nor dismiss him, because I didn’t know the man. So I decided to extend his mandate with the typical formula donec aliter provideatur [“until otherwise provided for”]. It seemed unfair to make a decision at that time, one way or the other. Then I learned more about all that. I visited the barracks; I spent an afternoon with the Swiss Guards; I also stayed for dinner one evening. I got to know the people, and I felt a renovation would be healthy. It was a mere renewal, because his term was over, and it is healthy to know that nobody is eternal. So I talked to him and we agreed that he was leaving by the end of the year. He knew that since July.
Then it is not true that you fired him because he was too strict?
No, it’s not true. It is a change, a normal change. He is an excellent person, a very good Catholic, a man with an excellent family.
It was also said that you fired him because he lived in a luxurious apartment. That’s also false?
Last year, he renovated his apartments, which are certainly spacious, because he has four children. He is a believer, a very good man. I have an excellent relationship with him, so I talked with him face to face and said: “Look, I prefer a renewal.” There was nothing unusual in it. There’s no fault in him, no blame.
On the Synod
At the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, two different visions of the church surfaced, one sector open to debate and the other refusing to hear anything about it. Is this the case? What do you think?
I wouldn’t say that’s quite so.... True enough, if you wish to simplify in order to explain things, we might say that there were a few more on this side, or on the other side. What we benefited from was the synodal process, which is not a parliamentary process but rather a protected space so that the Holy Spirit can work. Two clear qualities are needed: courage to speak and humility to listen. And that worked very well. There are, indeed, positions more inclined this way or that way, but in the pursuit of truth. You could ask me, “Are there any that are completely obstinate in their positions?” Yes, there surely are. But that doesn’t worry me. It’s a question of praying for the Holy Spirit to convert them, if there are such people. The prevailing feeling was a brotherly one, trying to find a way together to tackle the family’s pastoral issues.
The family is so beaten up, young people don’t get married. What’s the problem? Afterwards, when they finally come to get married, having already moved in together, we think it’s enough to offer them three talks to get them ready for marriage. But it’s not enough, because the great majority are unaware of the meaning of a lifetime commitment. Benedict said it twice in his last year, that in order to grant nullity, we should take into account each person’s faith at the time of getting married. Was it a general faith? Did the person understand perfectly well what marriage is about? Did the person understand it enough to convey it to another person? That’s something we need to look into in depth, to analyze how we can help.
A few days ago, a couple who are living together came to tell me that they were getting married. I said: “Good. Are you ready for it?” They both answered. “Yes, now we are looking for a church that suits my dress best,” she said. “Yes, right now we’re in the middle of all the preparations—the invitations, souvenirs and all the rest,” he echoed. “There’s also the issue of the party. We cannot make up our minds because we don’t want the reception to be hosted too far from the church. And then there’s the other issue. Our best man and maid of honor are divorced, same as my parents, so we can’t have both of them.”
All these issues are about the ceremony! Indeed, getting married should be celebrated, because you need courage to get married and that should be commended. However, neither of them made any comment at all on what this meant to them, the fact that it was a lifetime commitment. What do I mean? That for a great many people getting married is just a social event. The religious element doesn’t surface in the least. So how can the church help in this situation? If they are not ready, do we slam the door in their face? It is no minor issue.
“Conservative” sectors, especially in the United States, fear that the traditional doctrine will collapse. They say the synod caused confusion because it did mention the “positive nuances” of living together, and gay couples were mentioned in the draft, although the bishops then backed off.
The synod was a process; the opinion of a synodal father was just that, the opinion of a synodal father. And a first draft was merely a first draft meant to record it all. Nobody mentioned homosexual marriage at the synod; it did not cross our minds. What we did talk about was of how a family with a homosexual child, whether a son or a daughter, goes about educating that child, how the family bears up, how to help that family to deal with that somewhat unusual situation. That is to say, the synod addressed the family and the homosexual persons in relation to their families, because we come across this reality all the time in the confessional: a father and a mother whose son or daughter is in that situation. This happened to me several times in Buenos Aires. We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by (accompanar) their son or daughter. That’s what the synod addressed. That’s why someone mentioned positive factors in the first draft. But this was just a relative draft.
Some people fear that the traditional doctrine will collapse.
You know, some people are always afraid because they don’t read things properly, or they read some news in a newspaper, an article, and they don’t read what the synod decided, what was published. What was worthwhile about the synod? The post-synodal report, the post-synod message and the pope’s address. That is definitive, but it will eventually become relative and provisional, turning into a “guideline” for the next synod.
I think some fathers made a mistake when they talked to the media. We decided that each one of us would grant as many interviews as he liked, with total freedom, no censorship was imposed. We chose transparency. Why did we choose briefings and not what the person said? For two reasons: first, because they sent written presentations in advance and then they said some things, or nothing at all, or they changed things and thus it might not be the real thing. And second, to protect that person. And this is what really matters to me. If this were a parliament, we would have to account to those who sent us, i.e., the local church. But this is not a parliament, and this man must be totally free to say what he feels without having to keep anything to himself, without people knowing that he said this or that. Disclosing what was said is O.K.; that’s why in the briefing we explained that we had said this, that or the other. Different bishops had different approaches, but we will all move on together. All this to protect this work, so that the Holy Spirit could move forward. I am not afraid.
Afraid of what?
Afraid of following this trail, the road of the synod. I am not afraid because it is the road that God has asked us to follow. More so, the pope is the ultimate guarantor, the pope is there to take care of this also. We must move forward. In my last address I said something interesting; I pointed out that we had not addressed any part of the doctrine of the church concerning marriage. In the case of divorced people who have remarried, we posed the question, what do we do with them? What door can we open for them? This was a pastoral concern: will we allow them to go to Communion? Communion alone is no solution. The solution is integration. They have not been excommunicated, true. But they cannot be godparents at baptism, they cannot read the readings at Mass, they cannot give Communion, they cannot be catechists. There are about seven things they cannot do. I have the list over there. Come on! If I tell all this, it seems that they are excommunicated de facto!
So let us open the doors a bit more. Why can’t they be godparents? “No, no, no, what testimony will they be giving their godchild?” The testimony of a man and a woman saying, “My dear, I made a mistake, I was wrong here, but I believe our Lord loves me, I want to follow God, sin will not have victory over me, I want to move on.” Any more Christian witness than that? And what if one of the political crooks among us, corrupt people, are chosen to be somebody’s godfather? If they are properly wedded by the church, would we accept them? What kind of testimony will they give to their godchild? A testimony of corruption? We must change things a little; our standards need to change.
What do you think about the solution put forward by Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany?
Kasper’s address to the cardinals last February included five chapters. Four of them are a jewel, about the purpose of marriage, open, profound. The fifth is the question of what do we do with divorcees who have remarried; they are part of our faithful after all. He made a hypothesis; he does not propose anything of his own. Let’s look into that. What happened? Some theologians got frightened by this hypothesis, and that is to hide one’s head. What Kasper did was to say, “Let us look for a hypothesis”—that is, he opened the field. And some got frightened and went as far as to say: Communion never. Only spiritual communion. And tell me, don’t we need the grace of God to receive spiritual communion? That’s why spiritual communion obtained the fewest votes in the [final] synod report, because nobody was in agreement, neither the one [group] nor the other. Those for it, because it was too little, voted against it; and those who are not for it and would rather go for the other one, because it’s not worth it.