Media asks, Pope Francis answers

Categories: Nation/World

Returning from World Youth Day, Holy Father holds press conference for 80 minutes aboard plane

August 2, 2013, edition
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

Pope Francis said he was responding to the clear wishes of the College of Cardinals when he set up commissions to study the Vatican bank, Vatican financial and administrative procedures and the reform of the Roman Curia.

Popelistenstoquestionsfromjournalists aboard flight back to Rome

Pope Francis listens to a question from a journalist on his flight back to Rome July 28. The pope answered questions from 21 journalists over a period of 80 minutes on his return from World Youth Day in Brazil.

The pope also said he knows people have spoken about some kind of “gay lobby” at the Vatican protecting certain priests by threatening to blackmail others. The pope said the “lobbying” is what is worrisome.

Pope Francis held his first news conference July 28, shortly after the Alitalia flight taking him back to Rome departed from Rio de Janeiro. He answered questions from 21 journalists over a period of 80 minutes. The questions were not submitted in advance and no topics were ruled out of bounds.

On the Vatican Bank

Asked about the Vatican bank, Pope Francis said he does not know what will become of the Institute for the Works of Religion, which is the formal name of the scandal-plagued bank. He has appointed an outside commission and is involved in discussions about how to organize it, “how to restore it, reformulate it.”

But he also told journalists traveling with him that “transparency and honesty” were essential at the Vatican bank and that while moral failures by clergy caused scandal and pain, people also needed to recognize that sometimes the media and the public go searching for scandal.

Referring to the institute by its Italian initials, IOR, the pope said, some have suggested it should become a real bank, others say it should be a “charitable fund, others say it should be closed. I don’t know. I have confidence in the work of the people at IOR, who are working a lot, and in the commission,” studying the bank and its role in the universal mission of the church.

“Whatever it ends up being — whether a bank or a charitable fund — transparency and honesty are essential,” he said.

As for the wider reform of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis said everything he has done so far flows from the concerns and suggestions raised by the College of Cardinals during the meetings they held before the conclave that elected Pope Francis in March.

The cardinals, he said, expressed “what they wanted of the new pope — they wanted a lot of things” — but a key part of it was that the Vatican central offices be more efficient and more clearly at the service of the universal church.

“There are saints who work in the Curia — cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters, laity; I’ve met them,” he said, they include those who work full time, then do volunteer work, feed the poor, help out in parishes on weekends.

The media only writes about the sinners and the scandals, he said, but that’s normal, because “a tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows.”

Pope Francis himself described as “a scandal” the case of Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, a now-suspended official from the Vatican investment office, who was arrested in Italy June 28 on charges that he allegedly tried to help smuggle millions of euros into Italy from Switzerland.

“He didn’t go to jail because he’s a saint,” the pope said.

Pope Francis was asked about Msgr. Battista Ricca, whom he named interim prelate of the Vatican bank. The monsignor, who had served in the Vatican diplomatic corps, was director of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican residence where the pope lives.

Soon after his nomination was announced, an Italian magazine published a story claiming Msgr. Ricca had been sent away from a nunciature in Latin American when it was learned that he had a male lover.

Pope Francis told reporters, “I did what canon law said must be done, I ordered an ‘investigation brevia,’ and this investigation found nothing.”

The pope continued by talking about how “many times in the church, outside this case, but also in this one, we go searching for the sins — of one’s youth, for example — for publicity. I’m not talking about crimes here — the abuse of a minor is a crime — but of sins.”

“But if a person, whether a layperson, priest or sister, goes to confession and converts, the Lord forgives. And when the Lord forgives, he forgets. This is important,” he said, because those who want the Lord to forget their sins should forget those of others.

“St. Peter committed one of the biggest sins ever — he denied Christ — and he made him pope,” Pope Francis said.

On gays: ‘Who am I to judge?’

Addressing the issue of the gay lobby, Pope Francis said it was important to “distinguish between a person who is gay and someone who makes a gay lobby,” he said. “A gay lobby isn’t good.

“A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?” the pope said. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.”

On the role of women

On the possibility of the Catholic Church ordaining women priests, Pope Francis said, “the church has spoken and said, ‘no,’ ” and the form in which Blessed John Paul II declared that was “a definitive formula.” Blessed John Paul said that because Jesus chose only men as his disciples, the church was not able to ordain women.

However, Pope Francis said, the Catholic Church still has far to go in developing a real theology that explains the importance of women in the church and how it would be impossible for the church to live up to its role as mother and bride without the contribution of women.

“It is not enough to have altar girls, women readers or women as the president of Caritas,” he said. “Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” just like “Mary is more important than the apostles.”

On divorce

Asked about any possibility that the Catholic Church would begin to allow Catholics who have been divorced and remarried only civilly to receive the sacraments, Pope Francis said he wanted to make it clear that divorced Catholics can receive the sacraments. The problems begin when they marry a second time without having their first union annulled.

He said the annulment process needs to be reformed and streamlined, but even more importantly the Catholic Church needs to get serious about developing a comprehensive pastoral program for the family.

The late Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, his predecessor as archbishop of Buenos Aires, used to say that he thought half the Catholic marriages in the world could be annulled because people marry “without maturity, without understanding it was for one’s entire life or
because it seemed socially necessary,” the pope said.

On mercy

Asked about why he speaks so frequently about God’s mercy, he said, “I think this is a time for mercy,” particularly a time when the church must go out of its way to be merciful given the “not-so-beautiful witness of some priests” and “the problem of clericalism, for example, which have left so many wounds, so many wounded. The church, which is mother, must go and heal those wounds.”

A Brazilian journalist asked Pope Francis why he did not speak out during his trip against proposals to liberalize Brazil’s abortion laws and to legalize gay marriage.

“The church already has spoken on these issues,” he said. “Young people understand perfectly what the church’s point of view is.”

On his housing choice

As for his decision to continue living at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse, he insisted it was a matter of liking to have a lot of people around and not a statement about simplicity or austerity, although he said both are essential for every minister in the church.

“I couldn’t live alone or with just a few people,” he said. The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace “isn’t luxurious — it’s large, it’s big, but not luxurious.”

He said people were mistaken if they thought the cardinals who work in the Curia live a life of luxury.

“They don’t live like rich men, they live in little apartments,” he said.