Priest Gives Insight Into Pope Francis’ Interview Style
Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, who interviewed the Pope in August 2013, says the Holy Father makes ‘decisions by discernment,’ relying on inspiration and emotion as well as logic and reason.
ROME — Why has Pope Francis given so many interviews after having initially said he preferred not to give them? In this March 7 interview with the Register, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro helps to shed light on what events in August 2013 led to the Holy Father giving his first major interview to La Civilta Cattolica, which Father Spadaro edits, and the Pope’s decision to give subsequent interviews.
Father Spadaro also explains how his new book, My Door Is Always Open, should help readers to understand better the Pope’s words and his Jesuitical approach. The volume is the complete set of interviews between Pope Francis and Father Spadaro and is being billed as the “most convincing and persuasive guide” to Pope Francis’ vision. This interview took place at the launch of the English translation of the book at the British Embassy to the Holy See in Rome.
How much is there in this book that we haven’t read in the interview he gave you last year?
There is much more, because it’s not just the words I transcribed for La Civilta Catolica and [syndicated to] other Jesuit magazines; there are more words that I have published with his permission, of course. He reviewed the text again.
Sometimes, it’s very hard for a magazine to publish very long interviews, and we spoke in a “Jesuit language,” so I couldn’t transcribe everything he said because I would have had to explain too many things. For such an interview, published in a magazine, I could only select some things. In this book, I publish the entire dialogue, so it’s an expanded version. I also add all of what we said and what happened, as well as an extended commentary, because I realized there were some points where a commentary was necessary for understanding better what he meant.
What new things in the book strike you as the most interesting?
Well, Pope Francis’ way of making decisions, because it’s very Jesuitical. He speaks in a very Jesuitical language, so we have to explain it. He doesn’t make decisions balancing reasons. He makes decisions by discernment, so praying and trying to feel the Spirit, trying to be inspired, balancing the emotions of the spirit, not reason or logic. It’s a completely different way of proceeding, a different way of thinking. So I explain what this means in the book.
Does this perhaps explain why, initially, he said he never gave interviews, but now he has given six?
That was a surprise for me.
Does it have to do with this discernment process?
Exactly. When I asked him for an interview, he initially said “No.” I explain this very well in this book. Then he stared at me, took his time and said: “Well, I can do that. You can write down some questions, and I can give you answers by sending you a letter.” So we decided to get together; we got together in Rio during World Youth Day, and I gave him the questions in the morning. I still remember that morning, after Mass. Then after Rio, he called me on the phone again, saying: “I read your questions, and I realize it would be much better if we talked. So come over here, and let’s talk.” So it was a discernment, it was a process, and I felt the process. That was amazing.
What do you say to critics who say these interviews that he is giving are really just causing confusion and easily get misinterpreted, like the latest one he gave to Corriere della Sera and the issue of civil unions? Should he take more time and write his answers down instead?
Well, he was very open, and at some point, I even felt scared because I realized how open he was. So I tried to be very loyal to what he said, and I asked him to read everything carefully, change whatever he liked, and so on. At that point, he said: “No, we have to do that together.” And in writing the book, I try also to explain his way of thinking, because it’s not the same way of thinking that we’re used to seeing. So it’s very important, in order to understand well what he said, to read also what he says and what I write in this book; and also the commentary I write, where I try to explain the context.
What is your own personal opinion about these interviews?
It depends. I’m a journalist, so I can’t judge other journalists. I think we have to be very careful in understanding his words. I just read the last interview he gave to Corriere della Sera, and I can say it was very well done: I recognized his voice.
Do you have plans to do more interviews with him?
I don’t think so, but what happened — and I put this in the book — is that he called me after some months, asking me to be present for his conversation with the general superiors of male religious [in November]. It was very interesting, because he said: “Actually, I don’t want to give talks; I want to listen, to just talk with them, hear questions and give answers. So can you come over and take notes?” I said, yes, of course. I was there for three hours, and it was amazing. So I gave him my transcript, and we revised everything; we talked over the phone. We revised the text, and, for him, it was okay. He just asked for a footnote in a book, and so, in a sense, it was another interview. In this book, we published the complete version in English of this interview, this conversation.
Could this happen again?
I’ve no idea; I cannot say.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.