ROME — Despite widespread perceptions of animosity between Pope Francis and American Cardinal Raymond Burke, seen as the leader of the pope’s conservative opposition, the pontiff has declared in a new interview that “I do not see Cardinal Burke as an enemy.”
Francis also denied that the recent decision to send him to Guam to lead a canonical trial of an archbishop accused of sexually abusing minors was any kind of exile.
“Cardinal Burke was [in Guam] because of some terrible incidents there. For that I’m very grateful to him, he’s an excellent lawyer, but I believe the assignment is almost completed,” the pope said.
Speaking about the Order of Malta, which made headlines recently over the firing and re-hiring of its grand chancellor and the role of Burke, chaplain of the knighthood, Francis says that there were problems the American prelate wasn’t able to cope with, but that “he continues to be the patron of the order of Malta.”
Pope Francis did, however, issue a gentle critique of what he described as “fundamentalist Catholics,” a group with which Burke is sometimes associated.
Asked about how the faithful can help each other through “crises of faith,” the pontiff said that crises are essential for growth, both in life and in faith. He referred to a passage from the Gospels in which Peter denied Christ three times, after asserting he would never do so.
“When Jesus feels that certainty of Peter, it makes me think of so many fundamentalist Catholics,” Francis said.
Peter, Francis said, “denied Jesus, had a massive crisis, and was made pope!”
The pope’s comments came in a new wide-ranging interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, published on Thursday.
One of the many issues Francis was asked about was a recently set-up commission to study the historic role of female deacons in the Church, where the pontiff seemed to downplay expectations for rapid breakthroughs.
“I was asked, why don’t we form a study commission to figure out what these women did and whether they were consecrated or not. I answered, yes, why not?” he said, referring to an audience he had last year with the superiors of female religious orders last year.
“It’s about exploring the subject, not opening a door … Time will tell what the commission finds. They’re supposed to come together again in March for the third time, and I’m going to inquire about where things stand,” Francis told journalist Giovanni di Lorenzo.
The issue of papal trips was also touched upon during the interview, and Francis revealed that a trip to Egypt is in the works for 2017. He also said that, despite recent talks, a trip to South Sudan and the two Congoes (Republic of the Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo) this year has been almost ruled out. Another trip that he won’t be able to make, is Russia, “because I would have to go to Ukraine too.”
He did, however, confirm that he’s going to India and Bangladesh, which has been in the works for a while, but with no date having been announced yet, and Fatima, in Portugal, mid-May.
Another trip that is being planned for 2017 is Colombia, which has been a possibility almost since the beginning of the pontificate, even more so after the government signed a peace deal with the country’s largest guerrilla, the FARC, to put an end to the longest civil armed conflict in recent history.
Asked if the attacks he receives, particularly those coming “from the Vatican” hurt him personally, Francis responded no.
“From the moment that I was elected pope, I never lost my sense of peace,” he said. “I understand that some might not like my way of acting, I even justify it: there are so many ways of thinking; it’s even licit, human and even a richness.”
On the recent posters that accused him of not being merciful and the spoof version of the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the pope said that even though he found no richness in the latter, he did in the posters.
“The Romanesco [Italian dialect] in those posters was beautiful!” Francis said, adding that they had been written by a cultured person.
“Someone from here?” the journalist asked, meaning the Vatican, where the interview took place.
“No: a cultured person!” Francis said, laughing.
Later on, he revealed that every day he prays St. Thomas More’s prayer, asking for a sense of humor. “The Lord hasn’t taken my peace, and gives me enough sense of humor,” he said.
As he’s done before, the pope acknowledged that he’s a sinner, and that there have been moments in which he’s been mad at Jesus or said that he didn’t understand why something was happening, including things of the pope’s own making, caused by “my own sin: I am a sinner, and I get mad … now I’ve gotten used to it.”
Francis also says that he doesn’t feel like “an exceptional man,” and that the expectations put upon him, “that exaggerate,” don’t do him justice.
“I am not a poor guy, no, but I’m a man who does what he can, but common. That’s how I feel. And when someone says to me: ‘No, you, you are…’ this doesn’t do me any good,” he said.
Asked if he didn’t fear disappointing those in the Roman curia with these words, who have the need of an impeccable father, Francis says that there’s no such thing, because there’s only one, God.
“Every father is a sinner- thanks be to God- because this even encourages us to go forth and give life, in this epoch of orphanhood, where there’s a need for paternity,” he said.
“I am a sinner and I am fallible, and we must not forget that the idealization of a person is always also a subliminal type of aggression,” he said.