vatican insider

The Pope on Brexit: No to balkanization but we need a new European Union

Remarks to reporters on the flight back to Rome from Armenia touched on several issues of the day

“For me, unity is always superior to conflict but there are different ways of being together. Something isn’t working in the European Union, it needs creativity. A new Union is needed.” Francis said this in a conversation with journalists on the flight back from Armenia. The pope explained why he used the word genocide, as he always had done in the past and explained that his intention was first and foremost to underline the fact that the great powers turned a blind eye to the extermination of the Armenians and to the crimes committed by Hitler and Stalin. In his remarks to journalists, the Holy Father also dismissed the possibility of a papal “diarchy” due to the presence of an emeritus pope.

You seem to be a supporter of the European Union as John Paul II was. Are you worried that Brexit may lead to the disintegration of Europe and to war?
“There is already a war going on in Europe. There is also a sense of division, not just in Europe. Think of Catalonia, Scotland last year… I’m not saying these divisions are dangerous but they need to be carefully examined before any steps are taken towards a split; there needs to be discussion and feasible solutions found. I have not looked into the reasons why Greta Britain took this decision. Some decisions are made in order to gain emancipation. For example, all our Latin American and African countries freed themselves from colonial rule. This is more understandable because there is a culture and a way for thinking behind this. However, the secession of a country, think of Scotland for example, is something politicians refer to as “balkanization,” no offense intended towards the Balkans. For me, unity is always superior to conflict but unity comes in different shapes and forms. Fraternity is better than distance. Bridges are better than walls. All this should make us reflect: can a country say: ‘I am in the European Union, I want to keep certain elements that are in my culture’? The step the EU needs to take to rediscover the strength of its roots is a step towards creativity as well as towards healthy ‘disunion,’ in other words give more independence and freedom to countries in the Union, think of a different kind of union. Creativity is needed in terms of jobs and the economy: in Italy, 40% of those under 25 are jobless. There’s something wrong in this massive Union, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater and let us try to recreate. Creativity and fertility are the two keywords for the European Union.”

Why did you decide to add the word “genocide” in the speech you gave at the presidential palace? Given how painful this subject is, do you think it does much for peace?
“In Argentina, when the subject of the Armenian genocide came up, the word genocide was always used and in Buenos Aires cathedral, we placed a stone cross  on the third altar on the left, to remember the Armenian genocide. I didn’t know any other words for it. I come to Rome, I hear the word “Great Evil” and they tell me the word genocide is offensive. I have always spoken of the three genocides that took place last century: the Armenian one, Hitler’s one and Stalin’s one. There was another one in Africa but only those three took place in the context of the two great wars. Some say it is not true, that there was no genocide. A lawyer told me it is a technical word that is not synonymous with extermination. Declaring a genocide involves reparations.When I was preparing the speech for the celebration in St. Peter’s last year, I saw that John Paul II had used the word and I put what he said in quotation marks. It did not go down well, the Turkish government issued a statement and within days recalled its ambassador back to Ankara — and he’s a good ambassador! He returned a few months ago. Everyone has the right to protest. My speech didn’t contain the word. But after hearing the tone of the Armenian president’s speech and given that I had used the word before, it would have sounded very strange had I not repeated the same thing I said last year. Last Friday, there was one other thing I wanted to underline: in the case of this genocide as well as in the other two that followed, the great international powers turned a blind eye. During World War II, some powers had the chance to bomb the railways that led to Auschwitz but they didn’t. In the context of the three genocides,  this historical question needs to be asked: why didn’t you do anything? I don’t know if it’s true, but they say that when Hitler persecuted the Jews, he said: ‘Who remembers the Armenians? let’s do the same with the Jews.’ In any case, I never intended to offend anyone with that word, I used it in an objective way.”

A pope and a pope emeritus. The comments made by Prefect of the Papal Household, Georg Gänswein, sparked a debate and they seemed to suggest the idea of a “shared” Petrine ministry. So are there two popes?
“There was a time when there were three! I haven’t read those statements. Benedict XVI is Pope Emeritus, he made it very clear on that 11 February that he was resigning the following 28 February. He said he was withdrawing in order to help the Church through prayer. Benedict is living in that monastery, praying. I have been to see him a number of times, we speak to each other on the phone, the other day he sent me a little note wishing me well on this visit. I have already said it is a gift to have a wise grandfather around. I even said this to his face and he laughed. To me, he is the Pope Emeritus, he is a wise grandfather, the man who watches my back with his prayer. I will never forget that speech he gave to cardinals on 28 February, when he said: ‘My successor is among you: I promise obedience to him.’ And he did it! I also heard rumors, though I don’t know if this is true, about some who apparently went to him to complain about the new pope and he sent them packing in that  Bavarian style of his. If it isn’t true, it is conceivable because he is a man of his word, he is an honest man. He is the Pope Emeritus. I publicly thanked Benedict for opening the door to Popes Emeritus. Nowadays, what with us living longer, can we lead a Church once we get to a certain age with all those aches and pains? He opened this door. But there is only one pope, the other one is a pope emeritus. Perhaps int he future there will be two or three, but they are emeritus. The day after tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of Benedict’s priestly ordination. There will be a small event with heads of the dicasteries because he prefers to do something small, very modestly. I will address a few words to this great, prayerful and courageous man, who is a pope emeritus, not a ‘second pope.’ In that he is true to his word and very wise.”

You encouraged the pan-Orthodox Council in Crete. What is your assessment of it?
“Positive! It marks a step forward, it was not 100%, but still a step forward. The reasons some Churches gave for their absence are sincere and they are things that can be resolved: the four primates that did not go wanted the Council to be held at a later stage. But you do what you can with your first step. Children, for example, move like cats when they take their first steps, then they walk. The sheer fact that these Churches held a meeting to look each other in the eye, pray together and talk, is very positive, I am grateful to the Lord. There will be more present at he next meeting.”

Speaking in Dublin in recent days, Cardinal Marx said that the Catholic Church needs to apologize to the gay community for marginalizing these people.
“Let me repeat what the Catechism says: these people are not to be discriminated against, they must be respected and receive pastoral guidance. They can be condemned, not for ideological reasons but for their political behavior, some demonstrations are too offensive for others. The problem is when a person in that situation is good willed and seeks God. Who are we to judge? We must offer good guidance, following what the catechism says. Some countries and cultures, of course, have certain tradition that have a different mentality when it comes to this problem. I believe that the Church, or rather, Christians, because the Church is holy, must not only apologize as that “Marxist” cardinal said… but they must also apologize to the poor, to exploited women, they need to apologize for blessing arms and for not guiding so many families. I remember, as a child, the closed Catholic culture in Buenos Aires: one couldn’t enter the house of a divorced couple. I’m talking about 80 years ago. Culture has changed, thank God. As Christians we have many apologies we need to make, not just for this: forgiveness, Lord, is a word we tend to forget about. The priest as a “master” rather than the priest as a father, the priest who scolds rather than the priest who embraces and forgives us… There are so many holy chaplains in hospitals and prisons but they are not seen because holiness is modest. Immodesty on the other hand, is brazen and showy. There are so many organizations with good people and not-so-good people. We Christians also have so many Mother Teresas. We must not be shocked, this is what Church life is all about. All of us are saints because we have the Holy Spirit but we are all sinners, myself first and foremost.”

This article is being updated…