Expects Pope Francis to be a reformer
You were invited by Pope Francis to be by his side in his first appearance. What is your relationship like?
Card. Claudio Hummes – We have had so many opportunities to get to know each other because I was Archbishop of São Paulo, and he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. But it was especially in Aparecida where we worked together for a time during the fifth Latin American Conference in 2007. There was a writing commission there, the more important commission because it formulated the document to be voted on later. He was the president, and I was one of the members. I greatly admired his wisdom, serenity, divine holiness, and spirituality. He was very lucid and very pastoral, with great missionary zeal of wanting the Church to be more evangelical, more open.
How were you invited to the balcony?
When we began organizing the procession from the Sistine Chapel to the balcony in the Square, he called Cardinal Vallini, who takes the place of the Bishop of Rome, the vicar of the city, and he called me as well. He said, “Cardinal Claudio, you come too, stay with me now.” He even said, “Look for your zucchetto [bishop’s skullcap],” really informally. I went to look for my cap and I was truly happy.
It is customary for the Masters of Ceremony to go along, but there are never cardinals on the loggia along with the Pope; they are normally on the other balconies. The fact that he invited us also broke a lot of established protocol, but for me it was really very gratifying. And also the fact that he had recently chosen the name Francis. I am a Franciscan, so it really moved me in a very personal way.
How do you interpret this gesture?
As a personal gesture from him, I saw it as being very spontaneous, very simple. I do not know what he wanted it to mean. I said that I was very happy; I was there with the first Pope named Francis.
The pope refused the limo and paid his own hotel bill…
They are simple gestures, but they show who he is and how he sees things. I marveled that the common people and the media understood these gestures. The media also did a splendid job; they understood the messages that the Pope wanted to transmit.
What is the significance of having a non-European Pope after over a thousand years, and furthermore Latin American?
The other Popes who were not strictly speaking Europeans came from the Mediterranean region. In this sense, it was Europe in that time, a major geopolitical reality.
But the fact that today a Pope comes from outside of Europe is very significant because it shows what the Church has always maintained: the Church is universal, for humanity. It is not for Europe alone. Having a Pope is the greatest sign. It is a gesture which says the Pope can come from anywhere in the world.
I also think it is important that he came from a periphery that is still poor, emerging. This says to all of the Catholics from there, “We have a Pope who is from here.” And not just for Catholics, but even countries feel that they are much more on par with other countries.
St. Francis is also remembered for his mission to reform the Church as a whole. Does the name he chose also have this meaning?
Certainly. The name is this entire program for the Pope. Today, in fact, the Church needs to reform all its structures. It is common ground among us that was spoken about so much: to organize the life of the Church, the Roman Curia. It needs to be reformed urgently and structurally, but it is one thing to understand that it needs to be done and another thing to do it.
It will be an enormous task. Not because it's an enormous structure, but due to a world of trouble that you have within such a structure, which has been growing in recent centuries.
Someone said the choice of the name Francis is already an encyclical; he does not even need to write it. That is a very eloquent way of putting it. It is very promising.
In what sense is renewal necessary?
It is not just the Curia; there are many other things: the way we celebrate Mass and how we evangelize, new methods that are needed for the new evangelization. The Pope spoke at the meeting with the Cardinals about new methods, we need to find new methods.
But above all he spoke about the Roman Curia, which needs to be structurally reformed. It is very big, but all this needs to be studied, we do not have many coordinates.
Many say it is too big, it was given a little pull here, a little pull over there, another room here, add a commission there, but this one here is not prestigious enough…. All of those things that happen in this kind of structure.
The Church “does not work any more.” The recent issues that have happened lately show how it does not work. And then, once you have the new design, you need to seek suitable people to fill those positions, those services.
Legend has it that Pope Francis does not like to come to Rome, that his training was far from here. Did this influence his election?
I do not know if it influenced his election, but it is having an influence, now that he is the Pope, to be more independent, to have a more objective view. It is very different to watch a game from the stands and to watch a game of soccer as you are playing it. He did not play soccer, and that will certainly help. But he will also listen to people who played, because it is important to listen to the players, and for him to offer his perception of the game and how the way in which it is played needs to be adjusted.
Continuing the metaphor, you played here for four years and were already summoned by him. What can you tell him about what needs to be done?
We are always available to help, and help we must. The Cardinals are a body of advisors at the service of the Pope.
There are reports in the Argentine press about Pope Francis’ involvement – by omission or collaboration – with the military dictatorship. What can you say about that?
Certainly, this is not true. It is possible for someone to be mistaken in some insights, but knowing his entire person… I do not know the details, but knowing the person, it is not even possible to imagine that. He is a man who is extremely dedicated to the poor, to human rights, the rights of the simplest, the most oppressed, the most humiliated. He is an example of advocacy, of standing with the poor… it is unimaginable. I'm sure all this is really a big mistake, but also fraudulent.
The Church in Brazil, yourself included, had a very important role in the defense of human rights during the dictatorship. How did this happen in Argentina, without taking Pope Francis into account?
Churches around the world had their own assessments and their own way of addressing the matter. I do not feel authorized to judge the Church in this or that country.
There is much talk that the legacy of liberation theology for the Church in Latin America is the argument in favor of the poor. In the case of Pope Francis, what is his relationship to this movement?
Just look how he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires and the document of Aparecida, which says it all. He is definitely on that wavelength. If we want to find out what his line of social ministry and relationship with the poor are, we will find it there.
Liberation theology was a historical phase that obviously entails this question of being aware of the poor and of our need to constructively support social justice. Liberation theology also strengthened all this.
I think that if today we want to see how people relate to that past, we must look at today's documents. Otherwise, you begin to convey the past, which is no longer an answer for today. The world has already changed, and the answers are different.
The Pope’s first trip should be to Brazil, where the church faces very big challenges, such as losing the young people and the advancement of neo-Pentecostal religions. Do you have any idea of what orientation the Pope wants to suggest for the future of the Church in the country?
Nothing has been revealed yet about the messages that he will take there, but we know for sure that he will speak foremost about the importance of young people, that we should be at their side, that we should be understanding. He wants the Church to be understanding and compassionate, knowing how to move forward together and knowing that this is the necessary path. You cannot demand that someone already be a perfect Christian tomorrow. It is a journey, a process.
It is assuring the youth of the Church that the Church understands them and wants to join them, and that she also wants to reveal the light. That means, “Listen, there truly is meaning to life, there is someone who makes life worth living and for whom it is worthwhile to give one’s life. There is someone, Jesus Christ: he is a light that you should follow.” That is, do not fail to show the way, but at the same time, be understanding of where the young person still is on that path.
The New Evangelization is also certain to be another one of his main themes.
Since Vatican II, there is a great effort towards interreligious dialogue, especially with the older religions. In the case of Latin America, what is the dialogue between the Church and the ever-growing neo-Pentecostal movements like now?
Ecumenical dialogue with other non-Catholic Christian churches is very strong, especially since Vatican II. Among our interlocutors, there are the Orthodox and Protestant faiths of Lutheran and Calvinist origin, which are the more historic branches. Even with Judaism, there is great dialogue. And with Islam as well, but that is another sector because Jesus Christ is not the same for them as for us Christians. This dialogue is slow, but it is moving along.
With the neo-Pentecostal churches, where there is often a theology of prosperity, much emphasis is given to exorcism, tithing and things like that; they distinguish themselves from the Pentecostal churches. In reality, however, they are both very similar to each other. It is more difficult with them because many of them simply do not accept dialogue, even if we should want to talk. That is because they do not even consider the possibility of unity someday. Also, they are often aggressively anti-Catholic, so it is very complicated.
You are now Archbishop Emeritus, but are you going to remain in the Vatican in some function?
No, no, I will stay here until the 22nd. I will participate in the public religious ceremony and I will attend a meeting on the 21st, and then I go back to my work.
There are reports in the Italian press that you contributed to the election of Pope Francis during the conclave. Do you confirm that?
I cannot speak about anything that happened inside the conclave.
Returning to your work in the Curia from 2006 to 2010, in the Congregation for the Clergy, there was an interview in which you said that celibacy was a disciplinary matter and therefore was open to discussion. You would have been reprimanded when it reached the Vatican. Is it time for issues such as celibacy and the ordination of women to be less orthodox?
You are the one speaking about a reprimand. I only say about all of these issues, all of these challenges today, big questions that are left open out there, that the Church is not closed to discuss what needs to be discussed, to be developed in depth. And that means a Church able to talk, able to listen, able to develop things in depth, discuss and seek paths. That is certainly what it will do.
And this Pope is very open to listening. He himself said that he wants to listen to the world, and not just to the Cardinals and Bishops.
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