ROME.- "God is good to me, he has bestowed on me a healthy dose of unawareness. I just do what I have to do. From the start I said to myself, Jorge, don´t change, just keep on being yourself, because to change at your age would be to make a fool of yourself".
These are some of the things Pope Francis said, as spontaneous as ever, during the exclusive interview with the argentine newspaper LA NACION almost 21 months after he was elected Pope.
Though he certainly does not look it, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires will be 78 next December 17. He said the reform of the Roman Curia will not be ready next year, as had been initially anticipated. He also admitted that ¨there still is a long way to go" to complete the cleansing work in the Vatican and spoke very naturally about the resistance he faces, which he said does not worry him.
"Certain resistance has surfaced; I think it´s a good sign when things are discussed openly and not secretly if people don´t agree. It´s good to discuss things openly, it´s healthy", he said in a 50 minute interview last Thursday, in suite 201 of the second floor of casa Santa Martha, in the Vatican, his home ever since he ascended to the throne of St. Peter on March 13, 2013.
In spite of his very busy day, with appointments and audiences from early morning hours, Francis (who has not lost his accent or his typical Buenos Aires ways) was friendly, in a good mood and laid back.
He did not dodge any sensitive issue, such as the controversies of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family which took place last October. This General Assembly allowed in-house divisions to surface differences in opinion about how to face certain challenges, such as the issue of catholics who have divorced and remarried, who the Pope defined as "excommunicated in fact". "The German Cardinal Walter Kasper said we should look for hypothesis, that is, he paved the way. And some people got frightened", he explained.
"I wonder about ourselves, what is it that we ourselves do, what is within the Church that makes the faithful unhappy? It´s that people don´t feel we are close enough, it´s clericalism "
To reassure those who think the synod created confusion, the Pope insisted that the synod "is a process" and that "the doctrine of the Church on marriage was not addressed at all". "I am not afraid of walking the synod road (synod comes from the Greek "syn", "odos" walk together) because that is the path that God expects us to walk. Indeed, the Pope is the ultimate guarantor", he said.
As to the huge number of Argentines that fly to Rome and overflood the city in the hope of having a photo taken with him, he confirmed that, in view of next year´s elections, he has decided not receive any more politicians in private and only to receive them at the end of general Wednesday audiences at Saint Peter´s square.
"Argentina has to complete its presidential term peacefully. A fracture of the democratic system, of the Constitution, at this point would be a mistake. Everybody has to cooperate and elect the new authorities. I do not want to interfere in that process, that is why I am not receiving any more politicians in private audiences¨, he said. Furthermore, he confirmed he will not be travelling to Argentina in July, 2016 for the Eucharistic Congress in Tucumán because it is very close to World Youth Day, to be held in Poland. He does, however, intend visit Argentina that same year at another time. He revealed that he will be travelling to another three Latin American countries in 2015 (which he preferred not to mention) and, for the first time, to Africa.
He also assured that the IOR, the Institute for Religious Works (also called the Vatican Bank), which was reformed by him after having been for decades the center of accusations and suspicions of money laundering and mafia involvement, "is working very well". And said that the "spiritual reform, the reform of the heart" is what really concerns him right now.
Francis gave this exclusive interview to LA NACION a few days before a key date: December 12, the day of the festivities of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patroness of Latin America, during which he will say mass at Saint Peter´s Basilica and during which Argentine musicians will interpret Misa Criolla, composed by Ariel Ramírez 50 years ago. The author´s son, Facundo Ramírez, and the singer Patricia Sosa will be performing together with a Roman choir.
"When I heard Misa Criolla for the first time I was a student, I think I was studying theology at that time, I can´t remember well. i really liked it! I enjoyed ´Lamb of God, which is magnificent. I will never forget that I heard Mercedes Sosa singing it", the Pope admitted.
-The first Latin American Pope, that is a great honour for all Latin America. What do you expect from Latin America?
-Latin America has been walking a path for some time now, since the first CELAM meeting. Monsignor Larraín, the first CELAM President, gave it great momentum. First came the Río conference, then Medellín, and then Puebla, Santo Domingo and Aparecida. The Latin American Episcopate paved the way with these milestones. It did so as a collective body, with different methodologies. At first it went about it shyly. Now this 50-year path can certainly not be ignored because it means building awareness in the Latin American Church and maturing in faith. Walking this road has also aroused great interest in studying the Guadalupe message. The amount of studies of the Virgin of Guadalupe, of her image, her mixed ancestries, of Nican Mopoua, is amazing, constituting fundamental theology. This is why, when we celebrate the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, on December 12, as well as the 50th. anniversary of Misa Criolla, we are celebrating the road walked by the Latin American Church.
-A recent survey (Pew) confirmed that, despite the "Francis effect", Catholics still keep leaving the Church
-I am familiar with the figures disclosed at Aparecida, it´s the only information I have. There are evidently several factors of influence, independent of the Church. The theology of prosperity, for instance, just to quote an example, has inspired many religious propositions which people feel attracted to. These people, however, end up in the middle. But let´s leave out factors which are external to the Church. I wonder about ourselves, what is it that we ourselves do, what is within the Church that makes the faithful unhappy? It´s that people don´t feel we are close enough, it´s clericalism. Today , to be close means to reach out to Catholics, to seek people out and be close to them, to sympathize with their problems, with their reality. Clericalism, as I told the CELAM bishops in Río de Janeiro, stopped laypersons from maturing. Precisely, laypersons are more mature in Latin America when they express popular piety. Clericalism was always an issue for lay organizations. I spoke of it in Evangelii Gaudium.
- Does the renovation of the Church which you have been calling upon since you were elected, and precisely in Evangelii Gaudium, also target staryed sheep and stopping the faithful from dropping out?
- I don´t like the "dropping out" image because it is all to close to proselytism. I don´t like to use terms connected with proselytism because that´s not the truth. 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. We must reach out to them and heal their wounds.
- ¿Is that, then, the strategy to recover those that have left?
"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 "
- I don´t like the word "strategy", I´d much rather speak about the Lord´s pastoral call, otherwise it sounds like an NGO It´s the Lord´s call, what the Church is asking from us today, not as a strategy, because the Church isn´t into proselytism. The Church doesn´t want to engage in proselytism because the Church does not grow on proselytism, it grows on attraction, as Benedict said. The Church needs to be a field hospital and we need to set out to heal wounds, just as the good Samaritan did. Some people´s wounds result from neglect, others are wounded because they have been forsaken by the Church itself, some people are suffering terribly
- As a Pope you are different because you speak with utmost clarity, you are completely straightforward, you don´t use euphemisms and don´t beat about the bush, the course of your papacy is extremely clear. Why do you think some sectors are disoriented, why do they say the ship is without a rudder, especially after the latest extraordinary synod of bishops on the challenges posed by the family?
- Those expressions strike me as odd. I am not aware of anybody using them. The media quote them. However, until I can ask the people involved "have you said this?" I will have brotherly doubts. In general people don´t read about what is going on. Somebody did say to me once, "Of course, of course. Insight is so good for us but we need clearer things". And I answered, "Look, I wrote an encyclical, true enough, it was a big job, and an Apostolic Exhortation, I´m permanently making statements, giving homilies; that´s teaching. That´s what I think, not what the media say that I think. Check it out, it´s very clear. Evangelii Gaudium is very clear".
- Some of the media have mentioned that the "honeymoon is over" on account of the divisions that surfaced during the synod...
- It wasn´t a division against the Pope, that is, the Pope was no benchmark. Because the Pope tried to get the ball rolling and to listen to everybody. 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.
- Whenever the statu quo changes, which is what happened when you were elected pope, it´s normal to find resistance. Some 20 months later, the resistance seems to have become more evident
- You said it. Resistance is now evident. And that is a good sign for me, getting the resistance out into the open, no stealthy mumbling when there id disagreement. It´s healthy to get things out into the open, it´s very healthy.
- ¿Do you believe resistance is connected with your cleansing efforts, with the in-house restructuring of the Roman Curia?
-To me, resistance means different points of view, not something dirty. It is connected to some decisions I may occasionally take, I will concede that. Of course, some decisions are more of the economic type, and others are more pastoral .
- Are you worried?
- No, I am not worried. It all seems normal to me, if there were no difference of opinions, that wouldn´t be normal.
- ¿Is the cleansing over, or is it still going on?
"Resistance is now evident. And that is a good sign for me, getting the resistance out into the open, no stealthy mumbling when there id disagreement. It´s healthy to get things out into the open, it´s very healthy "
- I don´t like to speak about cleansing. I´d rather speak of getting the Curia going in the direction identified by the general congregations (pre-conclave meetings). No, there´s still a long way to go. A long way, a long way. You see, in pre-conclave meetings, as cardinals we have demanded lots of things which we should certainly not forsake
- What you found in the cleansing process, is it worse than you expected?
- In the first place, I expected nothing. I expected to go back to Buenos Aires (laughter). And after that, well, I don´t know. You see, God is good to me, he´s bestowed on me a healthy dose of unawareness. I just do what I have to do".
-¿And how are things going at present?
-As everybody knows, it´s all public. The IOR (the Institute for Religious Works) is operating beautifully, we did quite a good job there. The economy is doing well. And the spiritual reform is my great concern right now, to change people´s hearts. I`m writing my Christmas address for the members of the Curia, I´m looking forward to two Christmas addresses, one for curia prelates and the other one for all the Vatican staff, with all our assistants, in the Paul VI room, with their families, because it´s they that keep their nose to the grindstone. Spiritual exercises for prefects and secretaries are a step ahead. It is a step ahead to stay six days locked in, praying; just as we did last year, we´ll do it again the first week of Lent. We´ll be staying at the same house.
- The G9 will be meeting again next week, the group of 9 consultant cardinals that are helping you with the reform process of the Curia and the universal church governance. Will the famous Church reform be ready by 2015?
- No, it´s a slow process. The other day we got together with the Dicastery heads and submitted the proposal of joining Laypersons, Family, Justice and Peace Dicasteries. We discussed it all, each one of us said what he thought. Now it will be forwarded back to the G9. You know, reforming the Curia will take a long time, this is the most complex part .
- That means it won´t be ready by 2015?
- No. We´re tackling it little by little.
- Is it true that a couple might be the head of this new dicastery, that you mightjoin the Laypersons, Family and Justice and Peace Pontifical Councils?
- Perhaps, I don´t really know. The heads of the dicasteries or of the secretariat shall be the fittest, whether man or woman, or even a couple...
- And not necessarily a cardinal or a bishop...
- The head of a dicastery such as the Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith, the liturgical dicastery or the new dicastery encompassing Laymen, Family and Justice and Peace will always be a cardinal. This is best because dicasteries are very close to the Pope. But dicastery secretaries do not necessarily have to be bishops because a problem we have is when we have to change a bishop-secretary, where do we send him? We need to find a dioceses, but sometimes they are not fit for one, they´re good at the other job. I´ve only appointed two bishop secretaries: the Governorate secretary, who thus more or less became the parish priest of all this, and the secretary general of the synod of bishops, for episcopalism.
- It was an intense year, with many significant trips, the extraordinary synod, the prayer for peace in the Middle East in the Vatican gardens What stands out as the best moment and what as the worst?
- I wouldn´t know. Every moment has something good and something not quite as good, isn´t that so? (silence). For instance, the meeting with the grandparents, the elderly, there was amazing beauty in that.
- Benedict was there as well...
- I enjoyed that ocasion very much, but that doesn´t make it the best because I actually enjoyed them all. I really don´t know, I wouldn´t know what to say, I never thought of that.
- And about being Pope, what do you like the most and what least of all?
- You know and this is the absolute truth, this is something I actually want to say. Before I came over here I was in the process of retiring. That is to say, I had agreed with the nuncio that when I got back to Buenos Aires we would be putting together a short list of three candidates so that by last year end the new archbishop might take over. That is to say, my mind was focused on the confessionals of the churches where I would be hearing confession. I even had the project of spending two or three days in Luján and the rest of my time in Buenos Aires, because Luján means so much to me and the confessions there are a grace. When I came here I had to start all over again, all this was new. From the start I said to myself: "Jorge, don´t change, just keep on being yourself, because to change at your age would be to make a fool of yourself". That´s why I´ve always kept on doing what I used to do in Buenos Aires. Perhaps even making my old mistakes. But I prefer it like this, to be myself. That evidently caused some changes in the protocols, not in the official protocols because I´m very careful about abiding by them. The thing is that I am who I am even where protocols are concerned, just as I was myself in Buenos Aires. You can see why "not changing" suited me so well.
- When you came back from South Korea somebody asked you a question and you answered that you were hoping to "go to the Father´s house" and many people were worried about your health, they thought that you might not be well or something of the sort. How are you? You look so well .
- I do have some aches and pains, and at my age ailments don´t go unnoticed. But I am in God´s hands, up to now I have been able to work steadily.
- A conservative sector in the US thinks that you removed the North American cardinal Raymond Leo Burke from the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura because he was the leader of a group that resisted changes of any type in the synod of bishops . Is it true?
- One day Cardinal Burke asked me what he would be doing as he had still not been confirmed in his position, in the legal sector, but rather had been confirmed "donec alitur provideatur". And I answered "Give me some time because we are thinking of a legal restructuring of the G9". I told him nothing had been done about it yet and that it was being considered. After that the issue of the Order of Malta cropped up and we needed a smart American who would know how to get around and I thought of him for that position. I suggested this to him long before the synod. I said to him "This will take place after the synod because I want you to participate in the synod as Dicastery Head". As the chaplain of Malta he wouldn´t have been able to be present. He thanked me in very good terms and accepted my offer, I even think he liked it. Because he is a man that gets around a lot, he does a lot of travelling and would surely be busy there. It is therefore not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod.
- Last question: do you have plans for your 78th. birthday next December 17? Will you celebrate it with the barboni (the homeless) once again as you did last year?
- I did not invite the "barboni", they were brought in by the charitable, and it was a good idea, wasn´t it? That´s where the myth started, that I had had breakfast with the "barboni". You see, I had breakfast with all the staff of the house and the "barboni" were present. This is part of all the fantasies that people make up about me. It´s the same as with the days when there is no mass in the chapel because it´s Wednesday, the day of the general audience. That day we will all have lunch together, with all the staff. It will be just another day to me, pretty much like any other one.
This article was translated by Vivien Pérez Moran.