ROME – In the latest wide-ranging interview, Pope Francis speaks about the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, his health and resignation rumors, the Vatican’s corruption trial against several people including one of his former closest advisers, and his decision to limit the use of the Tridentine Mass.
Francis, speaking about the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, said: “I was touched by something that Chancellor [Angela] Merkel, who is one of the great figures of world politics, said in Moscow. I hope the wording is correct, but she said: ‘It is necessary to put an end to the irresponsible policy of intervening from outside and building democracy in other countries, ignoring the traditions of the peoples.’”
(The quote was actually from Russian President Vladimir Putin.)
“I believe that as a pastor I must call Christians to a special prayer at this time,” he said. “It is true that we live in a world of wars, (think of Yemen, for example). But this is something very special, it has another meaning. And I am going to try to ask for what the Church always asks for in times of great difficulty and crisis: More prayer and fasting.”
Referring to the ongoing trial against Cardinal Angelo Becciu and other Vatican employees and consultants, Francis said that “at least at first sight, it seems that there is corruption,” acknowledging that corruption is “a disease that we relapse into.” However, he also said that he believes “progress has been made in the consolidation of justice in the Vatican state,” with the justice system becoming more independent.
The ongoing process, Francis said, began with “two complaints from people who work in the Vatican and who saw an irregularity in their functions. They made a complaint and asked me what to do.” He sent them to the prosecutors, including his signature under theirs in their complaint, “to say: This is the way, I am not afraid of transparency or truth. Sometimes it hurts, and a lot, but the truth is what sets us free.”
Asked specifically about Becciu, the pope said that he “goes to trial according to Vatican law,” and that “I hope with all my heart that he is innocent. Besides, he was a collaborator of mine and helped me a lot. He is a person whom I have a certain esteem for, that is to say, that I my wish is that he turns out well. This is simply the presumption of innocent. But in addition to the presumption of innocence, I want him to come out well. But Justice is the one that will decide.”
Pope Francis’s words came in a 90-minute interview with the Spanish radio station COPE, owned by the Spanish bishops’ conference.
Journalist Carlos Herrera, one of the most respected radio journalists in Spain, acknowledged that the interview was secured by Eva Fernandez, the radio’s Vatican correspondent.
Francis namedropped Fernandez during the interview, saying that it was only “because of Eva” that he even found out that rumors about his resignation had created havoc in his homeland, Argentina.
“She even said it with a very nice Argentine expression, and I told her that I had no idea because I read only one newspaper here in the morning, the newspaper of Rome,” the pope said. “I don’t watch television. And I do receive the report about some of the news of the day, but I found out much later, a few days later, that there was something about me resigning. Whenever a pope is ill, there is always a breeze – or a hurricane – of conclave.”
The Argentinian expression the pope referred to quilombo, which he didn’t say on air. The word has a strong connotation in Spanish, although it’s almost exclusively used in Argentina: It’s Buenos Aires slang that means scandal, uproar, or conflict; but it was originally used as a synonym for a brothel.
On the clerical sexual abuse crisis
When discussing the scandal of the clerical abuse of minors, Francis began by paying a tribute to Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, praising his courage and the work he’s done in this field from the beginning.
O’Malley, the pope said, began “to speak about this with courage, becoming a thorn in the side” for the Church. He also praised the cardinal’s “invention” of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was created early in Francis’s pontificate, and which the pontiff said includes “top-notch people from several different countries.”
He also spoke about his controversial 2019 speech at the end of the special Rome summit on clerical abuse in which he blamed the devil for the crisis and cited statistics that show how widespread the problem is in society.
“Someone said: ‘at the end of the day, the Pope said that it is everyone’s problem, he blamed the devil and washed his hands of it’,” Francis told COPE. “I blamed the devil, yes. As an inciter of this. But I blamed him when I talked about paedo-pornography. I said that abusing a boy in order to film a paedo-pornographic act is demonic. It cannot be explained without the presence of the devil.”
“I think things are being done well,” he continued. “In fact, progress has been made and more and more progress is being made. However, it is a global and serious problem. I sometimes wonder how certain governments allow the production of child pornography. Let them not say they don’t know. Nowadays, with the intelligence services, everything is known. A government knows who in its country produces child pornography. For me this is one of the most monstrous things I have ever seen.”
Euthanasia, abortion, and the throwaway culture
Pope Francis was also questioned about Spain’s legalization of euthanasia earlier this year, and he began by saying “let us situate ourselves. We are living in a throwaway culture. What is useless is discarded. Old people are disposable material: They are a nuisance. Not all of them, but in the collective unconscious of the throwaway culture, the old … the most terminally ill, too; the unwanted children, too, and they are sent back to the sender before they are born.”
But this throwaway culture is not only a Western problem, he said, noting that the same happens in the “great Asian peripheries,” such as situation with the Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic group that has long been persecuted in Myanmar and rejected in Bangladesh, to the point that today, they are “nomads” and “discarded. They don’t fit, they are no good.”
Francis also said that Europe is undergoing a demographic winter because the “pyramid has been inverted,” with more cases of abortion, and with profit being placed at the center.
With regard to abortion, the pope said: “It’s a life. A human life. Some say, ‘It’s not a person.’ It is a human life! So, in front of a human life I ask myself two questions: Is it licit to eliminate a human life to solve a problem, is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem? Second question: Is it fair to hire a contract killer to solve a problem? And with these two questions, what about the cases of elimination of people [the unborn or the elderly] because they are a burden for society?”
The pope also shared a story that used to be told in his household, in which a father tried to hide his own father from guests by setting a table for him in the kitchen because he would drool when he ate. One day, when he returned home, he found his young son playing with wood, nails and a hammer, “making a table” for when the man is old.
“In other words, what is sown with the discarded, is going to be harvested later,” Francis said.
On the Tridentine Mass
Asked about the decree Traditionis custodes, released in July, limiting the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, commonly known as the Traditional Latin Mass or the Old Mass, Francis said that Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to publish Summorum Pontificum, giving the possibility of celebrating the Mass with the Missal of John XXIII for those who had a “certain nostalgia,” was one “of the most beautiful and human pastoral things” by his predecessor, “a man of exquisite humanity.”
He said that last year the application of Benedict’s motu proprio was studied, through a year-long consultation of all the bishops around the world, and it became evident that what had been a pastoral gesture was “being transformed into ideology.”
“We had to react with clear norms,” Francis said. “Clear norms that put a limit to those who had not lived that experience. Because it seemed to be fashionable in some places. If you read the letter well and read the Decree well, you will see that it is simply a constructive reordering, with pastoral care and avoiding an excess of those who are not.”
Migration, climate and his epitaph
During the interview, Herrera and the pope often jumped from point to point, and their convsersation almost resembled a ping-pong match.
A few salient points of this back and forth:
- On the devil “running around the Vatican,” Francis said that “the devil runs around everywhere, but I’m most afraid of polite devils.”
- On climate change, he said that back in 2007, when he took part in the conference Latin American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, he didn’t understand why the Brazilian bishops spoke about preserving nature in relation with evangelization. “I am a convert on this,” he said, adding that “in principle” he will be in the 2021 Glasgow meeting on climate change, and that his speech is already being written.
- With regards to migrants, “four attitudes: Welcome, protect, promote and integrate. And as for the last one: if you welcome them and leave them loose at home and do not integrate them, they are a danger, because they feel like strangers.”
- On sports, he said he’s only now beginning to “understand a little” of Italian soccer, admitted that he didn’t watch any games of the Copa America, won by Argentina earlier this year, and avoided answering a question posed to him about Lionel Messi, who left his life-long Spanish team this year to play in France. Instead, Francis said that “to be a good soccer player you have to have two things: To know how to work in a team … and to not lose the amateur spirit. When sport loses that amateur spirit, it starts to become too commercialized.”
- On how he’d like to be remembered, Francis was concise and to the point, saying, “For what I am: A sinner trying to do good.”