VATICAN CITY — In a new, wide-ranging interview published Friday on the second anniversary of his election, Pope Francis said that although he still thinks his papacy will be brief, he is ruled by an “inner peace.”
Interviewed by journalist Valentina Alazraki for the Mexican broadcaster Televisa, he also said giving holy Communion to remarried divorcees “won’t solve anything” and noted that the Roman Curia is the “last court” not to have been democratized left in Europe.
The Holy Father went on to say he would be ready to resign the papacy rather than serving for life and that the only thing he dislikes about being Successor of Peter is the inability to be free to just go for a pizza without being recognized. He also revealed that he prays “three Rosaries daily.”
The Pope began the interview by explaining why Mexico was not part of his scheduled visit to North America in September. He said he had thought of entering the United States by passing through the border with Mexico, but going to Ciudad Juarez or Morelia without a visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe would be perplexing for Mexicans. He also said any visit to Mexico would need at least a week, but he promised to pay a visit as soon as possible.
Voice for Migrants
Turning to the subject of migration, Francis agreed that, as a Latin American, he sees himself as having a special responsibility for millions of migrants and wants to be a voice for them. His sensitivity towards the issue is “not ideological,” he said. Migration is the “result of a malaise” and linked to “hunger and lack of work.” People, he added, “are being discarded and forced to seek employment elsewhere.”
But he said he “rejoiced” that Europe is reviewing its migration policy, and he praised the mayor of Lampedusa, the Italian island housing many asylum seekers, who has “put herself on the line” by trying to make the island a welcome place of asylum rather than a tourist destination — which means less income. “This is heroic,” the Pope said.
Returning to the situation in Mexico, Francis said he wished to make Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia — a diocese hard hit by drug-related violence — a cardinal “because he is in the firing line” and a “great priest.” Asked about the recent brutal, drug-related murder of 43 students in Iguala, Francis recalled the country’s long history of saints and martyrs and underlined the importance of altruism in helping society overcome its ills.
“We cannot turn away as if the problems did not concern us all, and we cannot blame it all on the government or one sector, group or person, because that would be infantile,” he said.
Warning Against Clericalism
Remaining with Latin America, the Pope warned against a “strong clericalism” on the continent that creates “a certain distance” from people and stops the laity from growing. Regarding evangelical-Protestant movements, the Pope distinguished between those that are good and others that are considered sects. He said many Catholics have joined these groups because of “disastrous homilies” that “do not reach the heart.” Typically, evangelicals are “close to the people” and prepare homilies really well. For Protestants, he observed, the homily is “almost a sacrament.”
In discussing reform of the Roman Curia, the Holy Father said, “All change begins in the heart.” He noted the Curia is “the last court that remains in Europe,” while others “have been democratized.” The papal court “maintains a somewhat atavistic tradition,” he said, stressing he didn’t mean that in a derogatory way, but that it’s a “question of culture.”
Synod’s ‘Protected Space’
Concerning the upcoming Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, the Pope recognized there are “enormous expectations,” but he believes the Lord wants the Church to address specific problems, such as “marriage preparation, support for cohabiting couples, accompanying newlyweds, support for those who have failed marriages and new unions.”
He stressed that a synod must have freedom of discussion or it is simply a conference and that it should be “protected space” where the Holy Spirit can work.
On the related and hotly debated issue of admitting divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to holy Communion, the Pope said to “simplify” pastoral practice in such a way would “not solve anything.” Instead, the Church wants them to “integrate” themselves into the Church’s life.
‘Protection of Minors’
Asked about the issue of child abuse and zero tolerance for offenders among the clergy, the Pope stressed that the newly created Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors “is not about abuse, but for the protection of minors.” Even one priest committing abuse “is sufficient reason to mobilize all structures of the Church to confront the problem,” he said, and he paid tribute to the work of Benedict XVI and John Paul II in dealing with clerical sex abuse.
Francis recounted in the interview his election on March 13, 2013. Much of what he said is already known, but he revealed he had come to Rome with just a “small suitcase,” as he didn’t think he would be elected pope, and he remembered that London bookies had ranked him in 42nd and 46th place. An acquaintance “bet on him” as a joke and did very well, he said.
After he had received a significant number of votes in the morning of his election, he said he was asked about his health, and, when the cardinals came back in the afternoon, he believed “the cake was already in the oven.” Noticing the relatively high number of votes he received in the first vote that afternoon, he realized the situation “may be irreversible.”
As the second vote took place, he said he was praying the Rosary — “I usually pray three Rosaries daily” — and added that he felt “great peace, almost to the point of insentience.” He continued to feel such peace when “everything was resolved,” and this, for him, “was a sign that God wanted it.” From that day on, he continued, “I have not lost it. It is ‘something inside’; it is like a gift.”
Benedict XVI has “opened a door” to papal resignations, he said, adding that he can imagine popes retiring at 80, like bishops, but he doesn’t like the idea of age limits for popes, as he sees the papacy as a “kind of last instance,” a “special grace.” He praised the pope emeritus as a “man of God” who has adhered to his promise to be loyal, faithful and obedient to his successor.
Asked if he liked being pope, he replied, “I do not mind,” but the only thing he would like to be able to do would be to “go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.” He said in Buenos Aires he was a “rover” and moved between parishes, and this has been “hard work to change.” But he said he has gotten used to it and has found ways around it “on the phone or in other ways.”
The Pope has often said he believes his will be a short pontificate, and in the interview, he repeated he had a “feeling” it would be brief, maybe four to five years or even two to three. “It’s a somewhat vague sensation,” he said. “Maybe it’s like the psychology of the gambler who convinces himself he will lose so he won’t be disappointed and if he wins is happy. I do not know.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.