Pope Francis takes on allegations and rumors about his papacy: 9 things to know and share

Pope Francis has made important clarifications about recent allegations and rumors concerning his papacy. Here are 9 things to know and share . . .
Pope Francis has made important clarifications about recent allegations and rumors concerning his papacy. Here are 9 things to know and share . . . (photo: Register Files)

Pope Francis has given a new interview in which he tackles several allegations and rumors about his papacy.

These concern allegations that he is a Marxist, rumors that he will soon appoint women cardinals, and proposals to give Holy Communion to those who have divorced and remarried without an annulment.

He also makes several other interesting comments, including plans for an upcoming trip to the Holy Land, breastfeeding in public, and what happened right after he was elected.

Here are 9 things to know and share . . .


1) Who did he give the interview to?

He gave it to the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

You can read the full interview here (and should; it’s worth it!).

This interview is different than the recent one which was yanked from the Vatican web site. That one was conducted by an atheist publisher (Eugenio Scalfari) who relied on his memory to give a partly fictitious account of what the pope said.

This one is with a well-known and respected Catholic expert on the Vatican, Andrea Tornielli.

Much greater care appears to have been taken with this interview, and at one point the Pope goes out of his way to deliberately correct what was written in the other one.

2) What does the Pope say regarding a proposed trip to the Holy Land?

In addition to expressing concern for the plight of Christians in Bethlehem, he indicates that he plans to go, stating:

Fifty years ago, Paul VI had the courage to go out and go there and this marked the beginning of the era of papal journeys.

I would also like to go there, to meet my brother Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and commemorate this 50th anniversary with him, renewing that embrace which took place between Pope Montini and Athenagoras in Jerusalem, in 1964.

We are preparing for this.”

We may thus expect a papal visit to the Holy Land very soon.

On a side note, observe that he refers to Paul VI as “Pope Montini.” This custom of referring to a pope by his family name is an established one in Italy and is not considered disrespectful.


3) What did the pope say about breastfeeding in public?

Pope Francis refers to breastfeeding in public as part of a set of larger remarks about the scourge of world hunger.

In the course of discussing this very weighty problem, he tells the following story:

At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few months old.

The child was crying its eyes out as I came past.

The mother was caressing it. I said to her: Madam, I think the child’s hungry.

“Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied.

“Please give it something to eat!” I said.

She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing.

Though the subject of breastfeeding in public is tiny compared to world hunger, this statement is noteworthy.

Pope Francis apparently has no problem with public breastfeeding, even at a papal event. As one might expect from Francis, his attitude is: If the child is hungry, feed it!


4) What did the pope say about allegations that he is a Marxist?

These allegations were made by some American commentators—notably Rush Limbaugh—after reading distorted press accounts of Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Latin, “The Joy of the Gospel”).

Reading the document itself, it is clear that the pope is not a Marxist. For example, at one point in the document, he says things like:

The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good (n. 189).

Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all (n. 203).

No Marxist would say such things, and so it is no surprise that the Pope denies being a Marxist, saying in the interview:

“The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.” 

5) What did he say about “trickle-down” economics?

We need to clarify something here. In the English translation of Evangelii Gaudium, we find the following statement:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.

This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system [n. 54]. 

This set off alarm bells among American conservatives because, as Michael Novak points out:

Only those hostile to capitalism and Reagan’s successful reforms, and to the policies of Republicans in general after the downward mobility of the Carter years, use the derisive expression “trickle-down,” intended to caricature what actually happened under Reagan, namely, dramatic upward mobility.

But the English translation is needlessly partisan, because, as Novak also points out:

Note first that “trickle-down” nowhere appears in the original Spanish, as it would have done if the pope had meant to invoke the battle-cry of the American Democrats against the American Republicans. Professional translators of Spanish say the correct translation of derrame is “spillover” or “overflow.”

The idea is of a cup overflowing to the benefit of others, not that of the poor receiving merely a “trickle” of water from the rich.

Unfortunately, the English translators at La Stampa seems similarly unaware of the partisan nature of the phrase “trickle-down” economics in English, and so the phrase also appears in the English translation of the new interview, where the Pope is presented as saying:

“There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church.

I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on.

The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world.

The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor.

But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.

This was the only reference to a specific theory.

I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine.

This does not mean being a Marxist.” 

As with the Spanish original to Evangelii Gaudium, the phrase “trickle-down” does not appear in the Italian original of the interview.

The phrase that the Pope uses is ricaduta favorevole, which would be literally translated “favorable overflow.”

Setting aside the problematic translation of this phrase into English, what the Pope says is quite true: Merely making business conditions easier on the rich does not automatically result in better conditions for the poor.

Things like the rule of law and the absence of government corruption are needed as well.

If a nation is run by a kleptocracy—such as the ones found in many Latin American countries, including Argentina—the poor do not automatically benefit when the rich do well.

The Pope is also right in pointing out that stating this fact “does not mean being a Marxist.”


6) What did the Pope Say about Communion and remarried divorcees?

In the apostolic exhortation, he had discussed the sacraments, notably baptism and the Eucharist, stating:

The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness [n. 47].

In the interview, he was asked about this and replied:

I spoke about baptism and communion as spiritual food that helps one to go on; it is to be considered a remedy not a prize.

Some immediately thought about  the sacraments for remarried divorcees, but I did not refer to any specific cases; I simply wanted to point out a principle.

We must try to facilitate people’s faith, rather than control it.

Last year in Argentina I condemned the attitude of some priests who did not baptize the children of unmarried mothers. This is a sick mentality.” 

He then went on to make a very important statement about the situation of the divorced and civilly remarried:

“The exclusion of divorced people who contract a second marriage from communion is not a sanction. It is important to remember this. But I didn’t talk about this in the Exhortation.” 

This is important because many have been speaking of the exclusion of the civilly remarried from Communion as if it were a penal sanction that the Church could simply lift by modifying its law.

This is not the case. The exclusion is caused by the fact that people who are civilly remarried are not validly married in the eyes of the Church.

As a result, unless they are living as brother and sister, they are committing grave sexual sin and it is the grave sexual sin that creates the barrier to receiving Holy Communion.

Some prelates, notably German Cardinal Reinhard Marx have stated that the subject of Communion and the civilly remarried will be discussed at the upcoming Synod of Bishops, seeming to suggest that the Church’s discipline on this might change.

Pope Francis indicates in the interview—as one would expect—that “marriage as a whole” will be discussed at the Synod (and at a consistory meeting in February), but his making the point that the inability to receive Communion is not a sanction points in the opposite direction of any dramatic change in the Church’s practice.


7) What did the Pope Say about the reform of the Roman Curia that he and his group of eight cardinal advisors are pursuing?

He gave a status update as follows:

There’s a lot of work to do. Those who wanted to make proposals or send ideas have done so.

Cardinal Bertello has gathered the views of all Vatican dicasteries.

We received suggestions from bishops all around the world.

At the last meeting, the eight cardinals told me the time has come for concrete proposals and at the next meeting in February they will present their suggestions to me.

This suggests that we are likely to see structural changes in the Curia (the group of departments that assist the Pope in governing the Church) sometime next year.


8) What did the Pope say about the possibility of women being named cardinals?

In recent months, some have been frantically speculating that Pope Francis would soon name one or more women to the college of cardinals.

Some have even declared that the Pope could do this without needing to do anything special regarding canon law, though this is inaccurate. The Code of Canon Law states:

Can. 351 §1. The Roman Pontiff freely selects men [Latin, viri] to be promoted as cardinals, who have been ordained at least into the order of the presbyterate and are especially outstanding in doctrine, morals, piety, and prudence in action; those who are not yet bishops must receive episcopal consecration.

Under current canon law, cardinals are only drawn from adult men (viri) who have become bishops or at least priests (“ordained at least into the order of the presbyterate”).

Pope Francis put the kibosh on all such speculation in the interview by stating:

“I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not “clericalised”.

Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.” 


9) What did the Pope say about the events of his election?

The previous, flawed interview with Eugenio Scalfari reported that the Pope described the events of his election this way:

When the conclave elected me Pope. Before I accepted I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square.

My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go way and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion.

At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance.

I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the '"Habemus Papam".

This was immediately suspect because, as Vatican experts pointed out, there is no room in St. Peter’s Basilica next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square.

Scalfari’s depiction of an anxiety-filled pope finding solace in this imaginary room is deliberately corrected by Francis in the new interview, where he states:

“I never lost my peace as the number of votes increased. I remained calm. And that peace is still there, I consider it a gift from the Lord.

When the final scrutiny was over, I was taken to the center of the Sistine Chapel and asked if I accepted.

I said I did and that I had chosen the name Francis. Only then did I walk away.

I was taken to the next room to change (my cassock).

Then, just before I made my public appearance, I knelt down to pray for some minutes in the Pauline chapel along with cardinals Vallini and Hummes.” 


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