ROME—Pope Francis has vowed in a new interview that he won’t be slowed down by resistance from “ultra-conservatives” in the Church who “say no to everything,” insisting, “I’m going ahead without looking over my shoulder.”
The pontiff also suggested he has no intention of launching a crackdown on the opposition, saying, “I don’t cut off heads. That was never my style. I’ve never liked doing that.”
Weary of rumors that continue to circulate in his home country, Francis also told one of Argentina’s most respected journalists that there is no rift between him and the recently elected government of Mauricio Macri.
“Don’t look for reasons [for conflict],” he said. “There’s no historical motive for saying that I have a problem with Macri.”
The June 28 conversation was with journalist Joaquín Morales Solá, who writes for La Nacion in Argentina. It was Morales who used the word “ultra-conservative” to describe internal resistance to the pope, and Francis said he “rejects conflict” with them.
“They do their job, and I do mine,” the pope said.
“I want a Church that is open, understanding, that accompanies wounded families,” he said. “They say no to everything. I go ahead, without looking over my shoulder.”
Yet with what Morales described as a “wide smile,” the pontiff continued: “Nails are removed by applying pressure to the top … or, you set them aside to rest when the age of retirement arrives.”
The “nails” reference is often heard in Rome, used to refer to prelates who, having been bad administrators in their diocese – not criminally so, but simply inefficient – get appointed to a Vatican office. The suggestion appeared to be that Francis is slowly getting rid of people he perceives as problems, in many cases by waiting for them to reach the normal retirement age and then appointing someone else.
Another question was about emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who Francis said has “problems moving, but his head and his memory are intact, perfect.”
The pope says that his predecessor was a “revolutionary,” of “unmatched generosity.”
“His resignation made all the problems of the Church clear,” Francis said. “It had nothing to do with personal things. It was an act of government, his last act of government.”
On the subject of Macri, which constituted the bulk of the interview, Francis said he has no problem with the president.
“I don’t like conflicts,” the pontiff said. “I’m tired of repeating this.”
Francis said that he had only one run-in with Macri during the six years the two worked together in Buenos Aires, one as archbishop and the other as mayor.
“Only once in a long time,” he said. “The average is very low.”
Newspapers from those six years address two possible points of conflict, but only one with a direct role by Bergoglio, in 2009: Argentina’s first gay marriage. It took place in Buenos Aires almost a year before the country legally approved gay marriage.
The wedding became possible because the couple found a judge in Macri’s city who ruled that Argentina’s civil code was “unconstitutional” because it didn’t allow for same-sex marriage.
The future pope released a statement saying the union “sets a serious precedent in the legislative history of our country and throughout Latin America.”
According to the statement, Bergoglio and his six auxiliary bishops, who also signed it, regretted that Macri hadn’t allowed for the “completely illegal ruling” to be appealed, which could have opened the door to a deeper debate on a matter of “such transcendence.”
“Affirming the heterosexuality of marriage is not discrimination, but to begin from an objective fact that is its foundation,” the bishops said.
Morales Sola writes that the pope knows of the alleged “coldness” between himself and Macri, and insists throughout the conversation that he doesn’t know where those rumors originate.
“We had some other problems, which we spoke about privately and which we resolved privately. And the two of us always respected the privacy agreement,” Francis said.
Another issue Morales Sola delves into is the pope’s decision to welcome to the Vatican Hebe de Bonafini, the founder of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo movement, a divisive figure in Argentina who’s been openly critical of Bergoglio and the Catholic Church.
“Even a friend sent me a letter criticizing me for this,” Francis said.
“It was an act of forgiveness,” he said. “She asked for forgiveness and I didn’t deny her it. I don’t deny it to anyone.”
“She is a woman who had two of her children killed,” he said. “I bend over, kneel down in front of such suffering. I don’t care what she said about me. And I know she’s said horrible things in the past.”