I experience suffering. I experience enormous suffering. The exploitation of children makes me suffer. It’s the same in Argentina. For some types of manual labor children are used because they have smaller hands. But children are also exploited sexually, in hotels. Once I was told that, on one street in Buenos Aires, there were child prostitutes only 12 years old. I checked and it was actually the case. It made me sick. But it made me even more sick so to see big cylinder cars driven by old men stop. They could have been their grandfathers. They had the little girl get in and paid her 15 pesos that was then used to buy drugs. For me, these people who do this to young girls are pedophiles. It also happens in Rome. The Eternal City, which should be a beacon in the world, is a mirror reflecting the moral decay of society. I think these problems are resolved through good social politics.
What can politics do?
Respond in a clear way. For example, with social services that help families … by assisting them to get out of difficult situations. The phenomenon points to a deficiency in society’s social services.
Yet the Church is working very hard …
And she must continue. She needs to help families that are struggling. It is an uphill battle that requires a common commitment.
In Rome, more and more young people don’t go to Church, they don’t baptize their children, they don’t even know how to make the sign of the Cross. What strategy will help to reverse this trend?
The Church has to go out into the streets, seek people out, go to their homes, visit families, go to the peripheries. She must be a Church that not only receives but that offers.
And pastors shouldn’t put curlers on the sheep …
(Laughing) Obviously. We have been in a moment of mission for almost ten years. We must insist.
Does the culture of the declining birthrate in Italy worry you?
I think we have to work harder for the common good of children. Starting a family is a commitment, sometimes a salary isn’t enough to make it to the end of the month. People are scared of losing their jobs or of not being able to pay the rent. Social politics doesn’t help. Italy has an extremely low birthrate; Spain is the same. France is going a little better but she’s also low. It’s as if Europe is tired of being a mother and prefers to be a grandmother. A lot depends on the economic crisis, and not only on a cultural drift marked by selfishness and hedonism. The other day I was reading a statistic on the spending criteria of populations worldwide. After food, clothing and medicine, three needed items, comes cosmetics and expenses for pets.
Animals count more than babies?
It’s another phenomenon of cultural decline. This is occurring because relationships with animals are easier, more easily to control. An animal isn’t free, whereas having a child is complex.
Does the Gospel speak more to the poor or to the rich to convert them?
Poverty is at the heart of the Gospel. One cannot understand the Gospel without understanding real poverty, while taking into account that there a very beautiful poverty of spirit also exists: to be poor before God so that God may fill you. The Gospel is addressed to the poor and rich alike. And it speaks of poverty and of wealth. It does not in fact condemn the rich at all, but rather riches when they become idols. The god of money, the golden calf.
You are taken for a communist, pauperist, populist Pope. The Economist, which dedicated a cover to you, stated that you talk like Lenin.
I’ll only say that the communists have stolen the flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the heart of the Gospel. The poor are at the heart of the Gospel. Take Matthew 25, the protocol on which we shall be judged: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was in prison, I was sick, naked. Or let’s look at the Beatitudes, another flag. The communists say that all of this is communist.