VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ latest interview, with a Spanish-language daily newspaper, discussed the recent synod and the controversial question of reception of Communion by divorced-and-remarried Catholics.
In the interview, published Sunday in the Argentine daily newspaper La Nacion, the Holy Father affirmed he is open to better integrating remarried Catholic divorcees in Church life and opposed to ruling out Communion altogether for such Catholics.
He is also content with the synodal process, and he rejected accusations that he demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court. The Pope revealed in the interview that he is planning on visiting Africa next year, with a possible trip to Argentina in 2016.
Speaking for 50 minutes to Argentinian journalist Elisabetta Piqué at his St. Martha residence Dec. 4, he gave some clues to his thinking and approach to the papacy: First, he doesn’t want to change as pope, but remain as he has always been, because to change at his age “would be to make a fool of yourself.”
Second, he welcomes resistance to his leadership, as it’s “very healthy” to have things “out into the open.”
And third, when it comes to the effect of criticism on him, he said God has bestowed on him “a healthy dose of unawareness. I just do what I have to do.”
The last comment is coherent with what has been said of the Holy Father — that he pays little or no attention to what the media says and rarely reads newspapers. He alludes to this in the interview, urging people to read his actual words rather than media interpretations.
‘Against the Pope’
Certain other passages are also worth noting. He rejected accusations that the divisions at the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family were “against the Pope,” saying he was “no benchmark,” because the pope’s role is simply to “get the ball rolling and to listen to everybody.”
He added: “The fact that, in the end, my address was accepted with such enthusiasm by the synod fathers shows that the Pope is not the issue, but, rather, the different pastoral positions are.”
Later in the interview, the Pope said, “We benefited from the synodal process,” which is a “protected space” where the Holy Spirit can work. He said those who stubbornly hold fast to positions are in need of prayer to the Holy Spirit “to convert them.”
But Pope Francis said the overall tone of the synod discussions was a “brotherly one, trying to find a way to tackle the family´s pastoral issues.” He added that it’s important to “analyze” the way couples are prepared for marriage, “because the great majority are unaware of the meaning of a lifetime commitment.”
He then gave an example of how one betrothed couple he recently met seemed unaware of the meaning of marriage and saw it as just a social event.
Asked about fears among some that “traditional doctrine will collapse” because of the synodal process, he said some are afraid “because they don’t read things properly” but pay attention to media interpretations.
He commended the way the synod was handled and said the post-synodal document and his closing address will “become relative and provisional,” turning into a guideline for next year’s synod.
‘The Solution Is Integration’
Pope Francis expressed the view that more needs to be done for divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics, but didn’t focus solely on the issue of Communion.
“Communion alone is no solution,” he said. “The solution is integration,” he added, meaning including such couples in the life of the Church as far as possible, including allowing them to be godparents. But he added: “Things need to change; our standards need to change,” and he remarked that “some panicked” at the synod “and went as far as to say: ‘Communion, never.’”
On reforming the Curia, some sources have suggested a “purge” is taking place of certain personnel. But Francis rejects talk of “cleansing” and instead sees the changes as going in the direction suggested by the meetings of cardinals before the conclave.
They demanded “lots of things, which we should certainly not forsake,” he said. The reform is a “slow process,” he added, and not expected before the new year, but he pointed to achievements already made and singled out the Institute for Religious Works (Vatican Bank), which is now “operating beautifully.” He also said certain departments will always be headed by a cardinal, but he is open to laity and even a married couple heading others.
“Spiritual reform is my great concern right now,” he said, “to change people’s hearts.” As during the Lenten retreat earlier this year, he revealed he is breaking with tradition and taking Curial heads to a retreat center outside of Rome for a week before Christmas.
Asked about his highlights of the past year, Pope Francis said every moment has its positive and negative aspects, but he specifically mentioned the “amazing beauty” in his meeting with grandparents and seniors last September. Speaking about his own age and infirmity (he turns 78 on Dec. 17), he said he has “some aches and pains,” but he has been able “to work steadily.”
Regarding Cardinal Burke’s appointment as patron of the Knights of Malta, the Pope stressed that he suggested moving him “long before the synod,” because he wanted a “smart American” to deal with the challenges presented in the new post. Cardinal Burke “thanked me in very good terms and accepted my offer,” Pope Francis said, adding that he had deliberately delayed the new appointment specifically in order that Cardinal Burke would be able to participate in the synod as prefect of Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
Said the Pope, “It is therefore not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod.”
During the La Nacion interview, Pope Francis alluded again twice to the striking phrase he utilized in an earlier interview with Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, in which the Holy Father characterized the Church as a “field hospital” for wounded souls.
Questioned about what “strategy” he employs to reach out to disaffected Catholics who “drop out” of the Church, he replied that he doesn’t approach the issue from that perspective, as it suggests “proselytism.”
“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,” the Pope emphasized. “We must reach out to them and heal their wounds.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Pope Emeritus Benedict Speaks
Meanwhile, in an article in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, also published Sunday, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has told a visiting reporter that he has “very good contact” with Pope Francis, and it’s very clear “who the real pope” is.
He said it was “utter nonsense” that he tried to engage the recent synod over divorce and remarriage, stressing that a revision of comments he made in 1972, which suggested a possibility of Communion for remarried divorcees, took place in August, months before the synod.
Furthermore, he said there is “nothing new” in it. He reiterated that, although it is important such Catholics are helped, the teaching must remain untouched, and no changes must be made except those that are “absolutely necessary.”
The Pope Emeritus also revealed he’d rather now be called just “Father Benedict” or “Father Benedetto,” but that he lacked the strength to enforce such an appellation.
The article is not a comprehensive report of what Father Benedict said, nor was it a formal interview, and some aspects were left out according to the pope emeritus’ wishes.