In his latest interview with a secular newspaper, Pope Francis has praised Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on contraception, saying his predecessor’s “genius proved prophetic.”
He also discusses civil unions, sexual abuse of minors, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and women in hierarchical positions in the Church. The interview was given to coincide with Francis' first year as pontiff.
UPDATE: ZENIT has translated the full text of the interview into English here.
Published in Italian in Corriere della Sera and in Spanish in La Nacion, the Holy Father tells journalist Ferruccio de Bortoli that Paul VI had "the courage to go against the majority, to defend the moral discipline, to exercise a cultural brake, and to oppose present and future Neo-Malthusianism.”
Neo-Malthusianism refers to those who generally share the same views of the Anglican minister Thomas Malthus who advocated population control in the belief it would safeguard resources for current and future populations.
The Holy Father also stresses that Paul VI “recommended that confessors should be very merciful, and be attentive to the concrete situations” concerning this area. He ruled out any change of doctrine on this issue, saying that instead “it is a matter of going into the issue in depth and bringing it about that the pastoral practice takes account of situations and of what is possible for persons”. This will be discussed at the upcoming synod on the family, he added.
Also in the interview, he says cases of clerical sex abuse “are terrible because they leave very deep wounds.” Benedict XVI, he adds, “was very courageous and opened up a path. The Church has done so much on this path.”
“The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show that the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighborhood environments,” Pope Francis added. “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have moved with transparency and accountability. No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to be attacked.”
On marriage and civil unions, the Pope said that “marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions driven by the need to regulate economic aspects between people, such as assuring health care.” Asked to what extent the Church could understand this trend, he replied: "It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety."
In the wide-ranging interview, he praises Pope Benedict XVI and says he is “not a statue in a museum [and] his wisdom is a gift from God.” He says he had discussed with him his situation and they concluded it was better that he should appear in public and “participate in the life of the Church.”
He says the Pope Emeritus needs to be “an institution,” much as the position of a bishop emeritus has become in the past several decades: “Benedict is the first, and maybe there will be others,” he says.
Francis reiterates that he initially had no plans to change the Church but it came only after listening to other cardinals in the conclave.
Elsewhere in the interview, he talks about his upcoming travels to the Holy Land, Asia, and Africa which he says he will do before making a trip to his homeland.
He says he does not like “ideological interpretations” of him and “a certain mythology of Pope Francis” such as portraying him as superman - an attitude which he finds “offensive.”
“The Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps peacefully, and has friends like everyone else. A normal person,” he says.
He says women “can and should be more present in decision-making positions in the Church but I would call this a promotion of functional type.” He stresses that the Church is feminine by origin and that Marian principles guide the Church. “The Virgin is more important than any bishop and any of the apostles,” he says, adding: Pursuit of greater “theological depth” regarding women in the Church “is already underway,” he said, adding that Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, “is working in this direction with many women experts.”
Asked about whether it makes sense to prolong the life of someone in a vegetative state, he says the traditional teaching of the Church is that “no one is obliged to use extraordinary methods when someone is in their terminal phase. Pastorally, in these cases, I have always recommended palliative care. In specific cases, where necessary, they should seek the advice of specialists,” he says.
Reflecting on Cardinal Walter Kasper’s recent keynote address at the consistory on the family last month, the Pope says his speech was a “beautiful and profound presentation”. He stresses that only one of five points Cardinal Kasper raised was on remarriage, and that he was grateful for the different views that followed which, he says, are “always enriching.” He adds he is “not afraid” of development in pastoral and theological thought.
He praises globalization for saving many from misery, but also criticizes it for condemning many to die of hunger “because this economic system becomes selective.” Globalization, he says, currently “produces a single thought, a weak thought,” in terms of finance and the economy, and at its center isn’t the individual person any more, but “just money.”
This is Pope Francis' sixth interview to the mainstream media. Some in the Vatican have quietly expressed disappointment that the Holy Father has so far only given interviews to the secular press and denied any to his own media outlets such as Vatican Television, Vatican Radio or the semi-official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. But Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II didn’t do so either, most probably as part of a strategy to reach out and evangelize secular society.
On behalf of the Vatican, Fr. Thomas Rosica released the following statement regarding certain interpretations of the interview:
"There have been numerous questions, calls and messages throughout the day today regarding Pope Francis’ recent interview in the Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera, particularly referring to the section on marriage and civil unions. Some journalists have interpreted the Pope’s words in the interview to reflect an openness on the part of the Church to civil unions. Others have interpreted his words to be addressing the question of same-sex marriage. I have consulted with Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, throughout the afternoon and have prepared the following notes on Pope Francis' interview.
Asked specifically about “unioni civili,” (civil unions), Pope Francis responded:
"Il matrimonio e' fra un uomo e una donna. Gli Stati laici vogliono giustificare le unioni civili per regolare diverse situazioni di convivenza, spinti dall'esigenza di regolare aspetti economici fra le persone, come ad esempio assicurare l'assistenza sanitaria. Si tratta di patti di convivenza di varia natura, di cui non saprei elencare le diverse forme. Bisogna vedere i diversi casi e valutarli nella loro varieta'."
"Marriage (matrimony) is between a man and a woman. Civil states want to justify civil unions in order to regulate (normalize) different arrangements of cohabitation; - prompted by the necessity of regulating (normalizing) economic aspects among people, for example in providing health insurance or benefits. This consists of different kinds of living arrangements which I wouldn't know how to enumerate with precision. We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case.”
[It is important to understand here that “civil unions” in Italy refer to people who are married by the state, outside of a religious context.]
Journalists have asked if the Pope was referring specifically to gay civil unions in the above response. The Pope did not choose to enter into debates about the delicate matter of gay civil unions. In his response to the interviewer, he emphasized the natural characteristic of marriage between one man and one woman, and on the other hand, he also spoke about the obligation of the state to fulfill its responsibilities towards its citizens.
By responding in this way, Pope Francis spoke in very general terms, and did not specifically refer to same-sex marriage as a civil union. Pope Francis simply stated the issues and did not interfere with positions held by Episcopal Conferences in various countries dealing with the question of civil unions and same sex marriage.
We should not try to read more into the Pope’s words that what has been stated in very general terms."