Pope Francis has granted a lengthy interview, published in the Italian Jesuit magazine “La Civilta Cattolica” and simultaneously in another sixteen magazines linked to the Society of Jesus throughout the world. The interview was the result of three private meetings and more than six hours of discussion between the Pope and the editor of “La Civilta Cattolica”, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, during the month of August at the Santa Marta guesthouse.
In the interview, more than thirty pages long, the Pope talks frankly about himself, his artistic and literary tastes (Dostoyevski and Holderlin, Borges and Cervantes, Caravaggio and Chagall, but also Fellini's “La Strada”, Rossellini, “Babette's Feast”, Mozart, and Wagner's “Tetralogy”), and his experience in the Society of Jesus and as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He defines himself as “a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
Referring to his period as Provincial in the Society of Jesus, he says, “My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative”. However, as archbishop this experience helped him to understand the importance of listening to the viewpoints of others. “I believe that consultation is very important. The consistories, the synods are, for example, important places to make real and active this consultation. We must, however, give them a less rigid form”.
He also talks about how his Jesuit training, and the process of discernment in particular, have enabled him to better face his ministry. “For example, many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. … The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.”
For the Pope, the Church nowadays is most in need of “the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. ... And you have to start from the ground up. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you! … Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent”.
With reference to complex questions such as homosexuality or the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics, he insists on the need to “always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy”.
The Pope added that “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent” and “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. … We have to find a new balance. … The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow”.
Reflecting on the role of women in the Church, he reiterated that “the feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church”.
Another theme considered during the interview was the importance of the Vatican Council II as “a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture,” says the Pope. “Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualising its message for today – which was typical of Vatican II – is absolutely irreversible”.
In the final passages of the interview, Francis spoke of the “temptation to seek God in the past or in a possible future”, and remarked that “God is certainly in the past because we can see the footprints. And God is also in the future as a promise. But the ‘concrete’ God, so to speak, is today. For this reason, complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how ‘barbaric’ the world is – these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the Church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defence. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today”.