Last Friday Pope Francis had other matters on his mind along with the ‘Ad limina’ visit of the Irish bishops. He gave hour and a quarter long interview with the Spanish Newspaper El País.
A translation is carried online on their English language edition.
We bring some sections of it to give a flavour of his thinking on the day he met the Irish bishops.
Interview in English
Interview in Spanish
Antonio Caño Pablo Ordaz
On Friday, just when Donald Trump was being sworn in to office in Washington, Pope Francis was giving a long interview to EL PAÍS at the Vatican, during which he was calling for prudence in the face of the alarm bells that were ringing due to the new US president.
During an hour and 15 minutes, in a simple room in the Casa de Santa Marta, where he lives, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was born in Buenos Aires 80 years ago and is on his way to completing his fourth year as Pontiff, explained that “in the Church there are saints and sinners, decent men and corrupt men,” but that what most worries him is “a Church that has been anesthetized by mundanity,” one that is far from the problems of the people.
Francis showed himself to be up to speed not just with what is happening within the Vatican, but also in the southern border of Spain or in the tough neighborhoods of Rome. He says that he would love to travel to China – “as soon as they invite me” – and that, although he sometimes “slips up,” his only revolution is the Evangelical one.
Q Your Holiness, after nearly four years in the Vatican, what is left of that street priest that came from Buenos Aires to Rome with the return ticket in his pocket?
A He is still a street priest. Because, as soon as I can go out on the streets to greet people at the general audiences, or when I am traveling… my character has not changed. I’m not saying that is deliberate: it has been a natural thing. It is not true that you have to change here. To change is unnatural. To change at 76 is putting on makeup. Perhaps I cannot do everything I want, but my street soul is alive, and you can see it.
Q. In the last days of his papacy, Benedict XVI said about his last years at the head of the Catholic Church: “The waters ran troubled and God seemed asleep”. Have you felt that loneliness too? The Church hierarchy was asleep with regard to people’s problems, both new and old?
A. Within the Church hierarchy, or among the Catholic Church’s pastoral agents (bishops, priests, nuns, laymen), I am more afraid, rather than of those who are asleep, of those who are anesthetized. Those who are anesthetized by worldly affairs. They sell out to worldliness. That is what worries me. Everything is calm, everything is quiet, when everything goes right. Too much order. When you read the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul’s epistles, it was a mess, there were troubles, people moved. There was movement and contact with people. An anesthetized person is not in touch with people. He protects himself against reality. He is anesthetized. Nowadays there are so many ways of anesthetizing oneself against the daily life, aren’t there? Maybe the most dangerous illness for a pastor is the one produced by anesthetics, which is clericalism. I am here and the people are there. But you are those people’s pastor! If you don’t take care of those people, if you give up on taking care of those people, you should pack your bags and retire.
Q. What are your main concerns with regard to the Church and the world in general?
A. With regard to the Church, I would say that I hope that it never stops being close. Close to the people. Proximity. A Church that is not close is not a Church. It’s a good NGO. Or a good and pious organization made up of good people that does good, meets for tea and work in charity… The hallmark of the Church is its proximity, being close siblings. We all are the Church. Therefore, the problem we should avoid is breaking that closeness. Closeness among everyone. Being close is touching, touching Christ in flesh and blood through your neighbor.
When Jesus tells us how are we going to be judged, Matthew chapter 25, he always talks about reaching to your neighbor: I was hungry, I was in prison, I was sick… Always being close to the needs of your neighbor. Which is not just charity. It is much more.
Also, in the world, there is war. We have a World War III in little bits. Lately there is talk of a possible nuclear war as if it were a card game: they are playing cards. That is my biggest concern. I am worried about the economic
Q. Your Holiness, about the world’s problems that you have just mentioned, Donald Trump has just become the president of the US, and the whole world is tense because of it. What do you think about that?
A. I think that we must wait and see. I don’t like to get ahead of myself nor judge people prematurely. We will see how he acts, what he does, and then I will have an opinion. But being afraid or rejoicing beforehand because of something that might happen is, in my view, quite unwise. It would be like prophets predicting calamities or windfalls that will not be either. We will see. We will see what he does and will judge. Always on the specific. Christianity, either is specific or it is not Christianity.
It is interesting that the first heresy in the Church took place just after the death of Jesus Christ. The gnostic heresy, condemned by the apostle John. Which was what I call a spray religiousness, a non-specific religiousness. Yes, me, spirituality, the law… but nothing concrete. No, no way. We need specifics. And from the specific we can draw consequences. We lose sense of the concrete. The other day, a thinker was telling me that this world is so upside down that it needs a fixed point. And those fixed points stem from the concrete. What did you do, what did you decide, how do you move. That is what I prefer to wait and see.
Q. For the most traditionalist sectors, any change, even if it is only in the language, amounts to treachery. For the other end, nothing is ever enough. You have said that everything was already written in the Gospel’s essence. Is it then a revolution of normalcy?
You have used the word “revolution”. That is a revolution! I am not a saint. I am not making any revolution. I am just trying to push the Gospel forward. In an imperfect way, because I make my blunders from time to time.
Q. Your Holiness, half a century has passed since almost everything happened. The Second Vatican Council, Paul VI’s trip to the Holy Land and his embrace with Patriarch Athenagoras. Some people say that in order to know you one must know Paul VI. He was to a point the unappreciated Pope. Do you feel also that way, an uncomfortable Pope?
A. No, no. I think that I should be more unrecognized because of my sins. Paul VI was the unappreciated martyr. (…) Evangelii gadium, which frames the pastoral principles that I want for the Church, is an update of Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi. He is a man who was ahead of history. And he suffered a lot. He was a martyr. There were many things that he wasn’t able to do, he was a realistic person and he knew that he wasn’t able and he suffered for it, but he offered his suffering. He did what he could. And the best thing that he did was planting the seeds. The seeds of things that history collected afterwards. Evangeli Gadium is a mix of Evangeli Nuntiandi and the Aparecida document. Things that developed from the bottom. Evangeli Nuntiandi is the best pastoral paper after the Council, and it still is current. I don’t feel unrecognized. I feel accompanied by all kinds of people, young people, old people… There are some who don’t agree, of course, and they have the right, because, if I felt bad because someone disagrees with me, I would have the germ of a dictator in me. They have the right to disagree. They have the right to think that the path is dangerous, that the outcome may be bad, they have the right. But provided they talk, that they don’t hide behind others. Nobody has the right to do that. Hiding behind others is inhumane, it is a crime. Everyone has the right to debate, and I wish we all would debate more, because it creates a smoother connection between us. Debating unites us. A debate in good faith, not with slander nor things like that.
A. But I don’t have the power. The power is something shared.
The power exists when we make decisions that have been meditated, talked about, prayed, prayer helps me very much, it is a great support for me. I don’t feel uncomfortable with power. I feel uneasy with certain protocols, but that is because I come from the streets.
Q. You haven’t watched TV for 25 years now, and I hear that you never were very fond of journalists, But you have reinvented the whole communication system of the Vatican, you have made it professional and have made it into a dicastery. Are media that important for the Pope? Is there a threat against the freedom of the press? Can social media be detrimental for the freedom of the individual?
A. I don’t watch television. I simply felt that God was asking that of me, July 16, 1990, I made that promise, and I don’t miss it. I only went to the television center that was next to the archbishopric to watch a couple of films that I was interested in, that I thought appropriate for my message. I used to love the movies, I had studied a lot about cinema, most of all the Italian cinema of the postwar period, Italian realism, and the Polish director Wajda, and Kurosawa, and several French directors. But not watching TV didn’t prevent me from communicating. Not watching TV was a personal decision, nothing more. Communication comes from God. God communicates. God has communicated with us throughout history. God doesn’t exist isolated. God communicates, and has spoken, and has accompanied us, and has challenged us, and has made us change course, and he is still with us. You cannot understand Catholic theology without God’s communication. God is not static up there, watching how people have fun or ruin themselves. God gets involved, through the word and through his flesh. And that is my starting point. I feel a little afraid when mass media don’t express themselves with an ethos of their own. For instance, there are ways of communicating that, instead of helping, weaken unity. A simple case. A family that is having dinner without conversation, because they are watching TV or the kids are with their phones, texting people that are somewhere else. When communication loses the flesh, the human element, and becomes liquid, is dangerous. It is very important for families to communicate, for people to communicate, and also in the other way. Virtual communication is very rich, but there is a risk if it is lacking human, normal, touching communication. The concrete element of communication is what will make the virtual element take the right course. As we see, the specific is non-negotiable, in everything. We are no angels, we are concrete individuals. Communication is key and must go forward. There are risks, as in everything. We must make adjustments. But communication comes from God. There are deficiencies. I have spoken about the sins of communication in a lecture I gave in ADEPA, in Buenos Aires, the association that bring together Argentinian publishers. The chairmen invited me to a dinner in which I gave this lecture. I signaled the sins of communication and said: don’t commit them, because you have a great treasure in your hands. Today, communicating is divine, it always was, because God communicates, and is human, because God communicated in a Human way. So, for functional purposes, there is a dicastery, to channel all this. But it is a functional thing. It isn’t because communicating is important today. Communication is essential to the human being, because it is essential to God.
Q. What do you hear from Spain? What do you hear about how are your message, your mission, your work received in Spain?
A. What I just got from Spain are some polvorones [shortbread] and turrón de Jijona [nougat] that I am going to share with the guys.
Q. Ha ha. In Spain there us a very lively debate on laicism and religiousness, as you know… A. Very lively…
Q. What do you think about it? Is it possible that the laicism process, in the end, will force the Catholic Church out to the margins?
A. Talk. That is the advice I give to every country. Talk, please. A fraternal conversation, if you feel up to it, or at least in a civilized way. Don’t throw insults at each other. Don’t condemn before talking. If, after the conversation, you still want to insult the other, alright, but first talk. If, after the conversation, you still want to condemn the other, alright, but first talk. Today, with the level of human development, politics without talking is unconceivable. And that applies to Spain and to elsewhere. So, if you ask me for advice for the Spanish people, I say: talk. If there are problems, first, talk.
A. Everywhere. In Europe… In Italy, for instance, I have visited organizations that rescue female prostitutes who are being taken advantage of by Europeans. One of them told me that they had brought her from Slovakia in a car trunk. They tell her: you have to earn such and such today, and if you don’t bring it in, we will beat you. They beat her. In Rome? In Rome. The circumstances of these women, in Rome!, is terrifying. In the house that I visited, there was a woman that had had an ear cut off. When they don’t earn enough, they torture them. And they are trapped because they are frightened, the abusers tell them that they are going to kill their parents. Albanians, Nigerians, even Italians. One very good thing this association does is that they go down the streets, approach the women and, instead of asking how much do you charge, how much do you cost, they ask: How much do you suffer? And they take them to a safe community so that they may recover. Last year, I visited one of those communities with recovering girls, and there were two men, two volunteers. And one of the women said to me: I found him. She had married the man who had rescued her and they were eager to have a child. The use of the woman is one of the worst things that are happening, also in Rome. The woman as a slave.
Q. Don’t you think that, after the failed attempt of the Liberation Theology, the Catholic Church has lost many points to the benefit of other denominations and even cults? What is the reason?
A. The Liberation Theology was very positive for Latin America. The Vatican condemned the part that adopted the Marxist analysis of reality. Cardinal Ratzinger conducted two inquiries when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. One, very clear, about the Marxist analysis of reality. And a second one that recovered some positive aspects. Liberation Theology had positive aspects and also deviations, mainly in the part of the Marxist analysis of reality.
Q. A frequent subject is the role of laymen and, most of all, the role of women in the Church. Your wish is that they have a bigger influence and even a role in decision-making. Those are your wishes. How far do you think that you will be able to get?
A. We must not look at the role of women from a functional point of view, because that way, in the end, the women, or the women’s movement in the Church, will be some sort of chauvinism in skirts. No. It is much more important that a functional demand. The functional aspect is alright. The deputy director of the Press room at the Vatican is a woman, the director of the Vatican Museums is a woman. The functional aspect is alright. But my concern is that women give us their thinking, because the Church is female, is Jesus Christ’s wife, and that is the theological foundation of women. When they ask me, I say yes, but women could have more. But what was more important on Pentecost, the Virgin or the apostles? The Virgin. The functional aspect may betray it when we put the woman in her place. We must do that, no doubt. Because there is a long way ahead yet, and we must work so that she may give to the Church the freshness of her being and her thinking.
Q. On some trips, I have listened to you addressing the churchmen, both from the Roman Curia and from the local hierarchies or even common priests and nuns, to ask of them more commitment, more proximity, even better humor. How do you think they receive those advices, those rebukes?
A. My focus is always proximity, closeness. And it is well received in general. There are always more fundamentalist groups, in every country, in Argentina. They are small groups and I respect them, they are good people that prefer to live their faith that way. I preach what I feel that the Lord asks me to preach. …….
A. The Lord is good and hasn’t taken away my good humor.
Translation from Spanish by María Luisa Rodríguez Tapia.