ROME— Pope Francis said that clerical sexual abuse is the work of the devil, there’s corruption in the Vatican, warned against new religious orders with a “restorationist” mentality, and even appeared to take a gentle shot at reputed Marian apparitions such as Medjugorje, saying the real Madonna is not “the head of a post office that every day sends a different letter.”
These are only a handful of the points Pope Francis touched on during a meeting with 140 Superiors General of male religious orders and congregations last November, in an informal, behind-closed doors exchange.
The transcript of the encounter was published on Friday by the Jesuit-run magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, which is celebrating its issue number 4,000.
Regarding sexual abuse by clergy and religious men and women, Pope Francis said that “it seems that half of those who commit abuse have been victims of abuse,” which is “devastating” because it sows abuse into the future.
“If priests or religious are involved, it’s clear that the presence of the devil is in action, ruining the work of Jesus through those who were supposed to communicate Jesus,” Francis said.
The pontiff added that as long as “we’re not convinced” this is a disease, the problem won’t be solved. As such, he called for a better screening of candidates for the priesthood, and to never welcome those who have been refused by other seminaries or institutions without clear reasons as to why they were rejected.
The meeting between Francis and the religious lasted almost three hours, and took place on Nov. 25.
Speaking specifically about the members of religious orders, Francis said that within the dioceses, they “should not be afraid to say things.”
“A worldly and princely attitude has entered the structures of the Church, and religious communities can contribute to destroying this malign influence,” he said.
According to Francis, there’s no need for a man to be a cardinal for him to believe he’s a prince: “It’s enough to be clerical. This is the worst thing in the organization of the Church. Monks and friars can help with the testimony of a more humble kind of brotherhood.”
He also called for religious orders to be poor, because that’s what “the Lord wants.” When they aren’t, he added, God sends a “bursar to send the institute into bankruptcy!”
The bursar, the pope said, cannot be attached to money, and that it’s important to be sure of the investments by the banks where religious orders keep the money. “It must never happen that there are investments in weapons, for example. Never.”
The pope also acknowledged that he’s worried about the decline of religious vocations in the West, something for which he said he hopes the next Synod of Bishops, directed to youth and vocational discernment, can address and suggest solutions.
Yet he’s also worried about the rise of some new religious institutes that attract many religious vocations, but which then fail, some because of the scandals of their founders. These, he said, are not inspired by the Holy Spirit but by a charismatic person.
Some of these new orders, Francis added, are “restorationist,” seemingly providing security when in reality they give “rigidity.”
“When they tell me that there is a congregation that draws so many vocations, I must confess that I worry,” he said. “The Spirit does not follow the logic of human success.”
Some of these new religious congregations, Francis denounced, are “Pelagians,” who want a return to asceticism and penance, “soldiers who seem ready to do anything for the defense of faith and morality, and then some scandal emerges involving the founder [male or female].”
Don’t put your hope in the sudden, mass blooming of these institutes, the pope told the Superiors General of male religious orders and congregations.
“Instead, try the humble path of Jesus, that of evangelical witness,” he said who “put it perfectly when he said that the Church does not grow by proselytism but by attraction.”
The pope also repeated some of his usual concepts, such as the need for a Church that “goes out,” which he defined as one that is in the outskirts, both existential and social.
“We think of a form of poverty, linked to the problem of migrants and refugees: and more important than international agreements is the life of those people!” he said. Charity, he added, is also a way of ecumenism, because “it’s the poor who united divided Christians!”
He also talked about the need for seminarians to be taught discernment, because “In education we are used to dealing with black and white formulas, but not with the grey areas of life. And what matters is life, not formulas.”
Discernment, Francis pointed out, “means moving forward through the gray of life according to the will of God.”
One of the questions posed to Francis had to do with the three themes for the upcoming Word Youth Days, meaning the ones held annually in every country and then Panama 2019. All of them are related to the Virgin Mary.
The pope said that they had been the only ones suggested to him, but that he was “glad” with the ones proposed, because in Latin America there’s a strong Marian devotion.
“But the real Madonna! Not the Madonna at the head of a post office that every day sends a different letter, saying: ‘My children, do this and then the next day do that.’ No, not that Madonna. The real Madonna is the one who generates Jesus in our hearts, a Mother.”
The superstar Virgin Mary, who seeks the limelight, the pope insisted, “is not Catholic.”
Though he didn’t give examples as to what he was referring to, whenever Francis brings up the image of the Virgin as a “postmistress,” many think of Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where some believe she’s been appearing daily since 1981.
Asked about the source of his serenity, Francis said that he’s been at peace since he was named pope, without the need for “tranquilizers.”
He acknowledged that among the problems the Church faces is the corruption within the Vatican, but that even on this he’s at peace: “If there’s a problem I write a note to St. Joseph and put it under an image I have of him in my room […] now he sleeps under a mattress of notes!”
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To live in peace, he also said, a “healthy couldn’t-care-less attitude” is needed, something which he says he picked up from Italians.
Before closing the encounter, Francis also called the religious to “go forth with courage and without fear of making mistakes,” because those who make no mistakes are those who do nothing.
“We have to go forth! We’ll make mistakes, sometimes, yes, but God’s mercy is always on our side!” he said.