The complete transcript of the Pope's 45-minute interview with journalists aboard the papal flight
On the flight from Mexico to Rome, Pope Francis answered questions put to him by journalists, on a wide range of topics. On civil unions, he said: “The Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. A Catholic parliamentarian must vote according to their well-formed conscience.” On the Zika virus he said: “Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to kill someone in order to save another. This is what the Mafia does.” The Pope “needs the friendship and input of women too.” “I like that idea of the re-foundation of the European Union,” he remarked, adding: “My dream is to go to China.”
On the day that ended with a mass and silent prayer at the US-Mexico border, where thousands of Mexican and South American migrants have met death, Pope Francis answered a question put to him by journalists on Donald Trump’s recent statements. While giving the controversial Republican politician the benefit of the doubt, Francis said flat out that a person who thinks about building walls rather than bridges is not a Christian. He was referring not only to the American situation but also to those in Europe who are talking about or are already putting up walls and barriers to keep migrants out. This is the transcription of the Pope’s 45-minute interview with the journalists travelling on board the papal flight. He answered every question that was put to him.
Holy Father, thousands go missing in Mexico; but the case of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa is emblematic. I’d like to ask you why you didn’t meet with the family members and also, please leave a message for the thousands of people who have disappeared.
In my messages I constantly mentioned the murders, deaths and lives bought by all of these drug-trafficking gangs and human-traffickers, so I did speak of this problem, I spoke about the wounds Mexico is suffering from. There were so many groups — in some cases there were rivalries between them, in-fighting — who wanted to be received, so I decided I would see all of them at the mass in Juarez or at another mass. It was practically impossible to meet everyone and they had some in-fighting going on. It’s a situation that’s difficult for me as a foreigner to understand. But I believe Mexican society is a victim of all this, of all these crimes, treated like cannon fodder. I talked about it in every speech I could. It is a great pain that I take away with me, because this country does not deserve such suffering.
Child abuse – as Mexico knows so well — has very painful roots. The legacy left behind by the Fr. Maciel case weighs heavily on victims in particular. Victims feel vulnerable. What is your view on this/ Have you considered meeting with the victims? When priests are involved in such cases, they are transferred to another parish and that’s it…
First of all, if a bishop transfers a priest who has committed abuse against minors to another parish, that bishop is irresponsible and would do well to resign. Let that be clear. In Maciel’s case, the merit goes to Ratzinger for taking a stand against all this. Cardinal Ratzinger presented all of the documentation relating to the Maciel case and as a Prefect, he carried out the investigation, gathered all the documentation but was then unable to proceed with putting it into practice. But if you recall, ten days before John Paul II’s death, during the Via Crucis, Ratzinger told the whole Church that the filth in the Church needed cleaning up. And at the Pro eligendo Pontifice Mass, even though he knew he was a candidate — but not stupid — he didn’t seek to camouflage his position, he repeated the same thing he had said before. Today we are working hard with the cardinal Secretary of State and with the C9. I have decided to name a third secretary adjunct for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to take care exclusively of these cases. An appeals tribunal has been established, headed by Monsignor Sicluna. Then there is the Commission for the Protection of Minors which is in charge of protection: I spent an entire morning meeting with the six members of the Commission, who are all victims of abuse. In Philadelphia too I met with victims. I thank God that this issue has been brought to light, we need to continue shedding more light on it. Abuse is a monstrosity because a priest is consecrated so that he can bring a child closer to God and instead of that he “eats up” the child, destroying him or her in a diabolical sacrifice.
You spoke a great deal about the problems faced by immigrants, there is quite a tough campaign going on, on the other side of the border, in the US. The Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said in an interview that you are a “very political person” and a “pawn” of the Mexican government’s migration policy. Trump said he wants to build a 2,500-kilometer-long wall and deport 11 million illegal immigrants. What is your view on this? Can an American Catholic vote for such a man?
Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as a ‘homo politicus’, a political animal. So at least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgement and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.
The meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and the signing of the joint declaration sparked a reaction among Ukraine’s Greek Catholics: they said they feel betrayed and refer to it as a political document that supports Russian politics. Do you think you will go to Moscow or Crete for the pan-Orthodox synod?
I will be present, spiritually, in Crete with a message. I would like to go greet them but I must respect the synod. Behind the Catholic observers who will be present, I will be praying with my best wishes that the Orthodox will move forward because they are brothers and their bishops are bishops like us. Then, Patriarch Kirill, my brother. We kissed each other, embraced, and then we had a two-hour conversation. We spoke as brothers, sincerely and no one knows what was spoke about. About the statement that came from the Ukrainians: When I read it, I was a little bit worried because it came from the major archbishop of Kyiv-Haly?, Sviatoslav Schevchuk.” He said that the Ukrainian people, felt deeply disappointed and betrayed. I know Sviatoslav very well. In Buenos Aires, we worked together for 4 years. When he was elected major archbishop at the age of 42, he came to greet me and gave me an icon of Our Lady of Tenderness. And he told me: ‘This has accompanied me my entire life. I want to leave it with you, who accompanied me over the last four years. It’s one of the few things I brought with me from Buenos Aires and I keep it on my desk in Rome. He is a man whom I respect and there is a familiarity between us.
So, for this it seemed strange to me and I remembered something I said here to you: to understand a piece of news, a statement, you need to seek the hermeneutic of everything.” Now Schevchuk’s statement is in the final paragraph of a long interview. He declares himself to be a son of the Church and in communion with the bishop of Rome and the Church. He speaks of the Pope and his closeness with the Pope. In terms of the dogmatic part, there’s no difficulty there.
He’s Orthodox, in the good sense of the word, that is it is Catholic doctrine. And then, everyone has the right to express his own opinions, they are his personal views. Then, everything he said was about the document, not the meeting with Kirill. The document is open to debate and it is also worth adding that Ukraine is currently going through a war, it is going through a moment of suffering. I have expressed my closeness to the Ukrainian people on so many occasions. It is understandable that a people in this kind of situation should feel this, the document is open to debate with regard to the Ukrainian question, but in that part of the declaration is asking for the war to stop, for an agreement to be reached. I personally expressed the hope that the Minsk accords will move forward and that they will not rub out with their elbows what they wrote with their hands. I received both presidents, so when Schevchuk says he’s heard this from his people, I understand it. There’s no need to be frightened by that phrase. A piece of news must be interpreted with the hermeneutic of everything and not just a part.
Has Patriarch Kirill invited you to Moscow?
Has Patriarch Kirill invited me? I prefer to stick to what we said in public. A private meeting is private but I can tell you that I came away happy and so did he.
Over the past few days you spoke about family: in Italy there is a debate over civil unions going on. What do you think about adoptions and especially about the rights of children?
First of all, I don’t know how things stand in the thinking of the Italian parliament. The Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. At my first meeting with the (Italian) bishops in May 2013, one of the things I said was: with the Italian government you’re on your own. Because the Pope doesn’t meddle in a country’s specific domestic politics. Italy is not the first country to have this experience. I think what the church has always said about this.
Over the past weeks there’s been a lot of concern about the Zika virus. Pregnant women are most at risk. Some authorities have put abortion and contraception forward as means of avoiding pregnancy. Can the Church see this as a case of choosing “the lesser of two evils”?
Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to kill someone in order to save another. This is what the Mafia does. Regarding the lesser evil, avoiding pregnancy involves a conflict between the fifth and sixth commandments. The great Paul VI, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape. But let us not confuse the act of avoiding pregnancy with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in means killing someone and going against the Hippocratic oath. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. It is human evil, as any act of killing is. Avoiding pregnancy, on the other hand, is not an absolute evil and in certain cases, as in the one I mentioned, involving the Blessed Paul VI, this is clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against the mosquitoes that carry this disease.
You are to receive the Charlemagne Prize, one of Europe’s most prestigious awards. It was very important to John Paul II too, as was European unity which seems to be crumbling. What can you say to us Europeans living in this crisis?
As far as the prize is concerned, I am not in the habit of accepting prizes or doctorates, not out of humility, but because I don’t like them. But in this case, I don’t say (I was) forced, but convinced by the holy theological headstrongness of Cardinal Kasper, who was asked to convince me. I said yes, but I will receive it in the Vatican and I will offer it to Europe, so that Europe may do what I asked for at Strasbourg, and acts not as grandmother Europe but mother Europe. As I was leafing through a newspaper the other day, I came across a word I liked the sound of: “The re-foundation” of the European Union. And I thought of the great fathers, but today where is there a Schuman, an Adenauer, these great men who founded the European Union after the war? I like the idea of a re-foundation of the European Union, maybe it can be done, because Europe has a history, a culture that cannot be wasted, and we must do everything so that the European Union has the strength and the inspiration to go on.
You spoke a great deal about families in the Holy Year of Mercy but how can one be merciful with remarried divorcees? One has the impression that it is easier to forgive a murderer than a divorced person who remarries…
The family was the subject of discussion of two synods and the Pope has spent the whole year talking about it in his Wednesday catecheses. Your question is true, I like it. The post-synodal document that will be issued, possibly before Easter, picks up on all that was said during the synod; one of the chapters talks about conflicts, wounded families. Pastoral care for wounded families is one of the concerns, as is preparation for marriage. It takes 8 years of study and preparation to become a priest. If you want to leave, you can ask for a dispensation and that’s that. And yet for a sacrament that is meant to last a lifetime, all couples get is four meetings.
Preparing for marriage is very important. It is something the Church — at least in South America — has not considered enough. Some years ago, back in my homeland, people were in the habit of marrying in haste when there was a child on the way, to safeguard the family’s honor. People there weren’t free and these marriages were often null and void. As a bishop I forbade my priests to do this. When cases something like this came up, I would say: Let the baby come, let them continue as fiancées, and when they feel ready to make a lifetime commitment to one another, then they could go ahead and get married. Let us also remember that the victims of family problems are the children. Sometimes, a husband and wife don’t have much of a say in it, when they don’t have time to be with their children. When I listen to the confession of a husband and wife, I ask them how many children they have. They get a bit scared, maybe because they think they should have more, so I ask them: Do you play with your children? To which they often reply: I never have time! It was interesting that at the family meeting in Tuxtla Gutierrez there was a couple of remarried divorcees, married for the second time, who were well integrated in the Church’s pastoral care program. The key word the Synod used, and I will quote in the exhortation, is to “integrate” wounded families into Church life. And don’t forget the children, they are the number one victims.
Does that mean remarried divorcees will be able to receive Communion?
Integration does not mean Communion. I know Catholics who remarried and go to Church twice a year and want to receive Communion as if it was some kind of award. Work towards integration, yes, all doors are open. But we cannot say, ‘as of now you can receive communion.’ This would be an injury to marriage too. It wouldn’t make them take this path of integration.
This couple of remarried divorcees was happy. They used a beautiful expression: We don’t receive Eucharistic Communion, but yes, we receive communion when we visit hospitals, in this service, and so forth. Their integration has remained there. If there is something more, the Lord will tell them, but it is a path, a road.
The press has made a big thing out of the frequent correspondence between John Paul II and the philosopher Anna Teresa Tymieniecka. Can a Pope have an intense friendship with a woman? Do you?
I already knew about this friendship between St. John Paul II and this philosopher when I was in Buenos Aires. A man who does not know how to have a relationship of friendship with a woman — I’m not talking about misogynists; they are sick in the mind, — well, he’s a man who is missing something. As far as my own experience goes, when I a collaborator friend for advice, I also like to hear a woman’s opinion because they have so much to offer, they look at things in a different way. I like to say that it is women who build life in their wombs — and they have this charism (gift) of giving you things you can build with. A friendship with a woman is no sin, it’s a friendship. A romantic relationship with a woman who is not your wife, that is sin! But the Pope is a man. The Pope needs the input of women, too. And the Pope, too, has a heart that can have a healthy, holy friendship with a woman. There are saints like Francis and Clare… don’t be frightened! But women are still not well-considered; we have still not grasped the good that they can do in the life of a priest, in Church life, with a word of advice, a helping hand, a healthy friendship.
I return back to the topic of the law on civil unions that is being voted on in the Italian parliament. There is a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dating back to 2003 that focuses a great deal on this subject. It says expressly that Catholic parliamentarians must not vote for these laws. What position should a Catholic parliamentarian adopt in such cases?
I don’t remember that document well, but all I would say is that a Catholic parliamentarian must vote according their well-formed conscience. I believe this alone is sufficient. I say well-formed because I do not mean the conscience of ‘what seems to me’. I remember when same-sex marriage was voted through in Buenos Aires. I was there. There was a tie, so one parliamentarian advised the other: “Do you get what’s going on?” “No.” “Neither do I but we’re going to lose at this rate. If we don’t go and vote we won’t reach the quorum but if we reach the quorum then we give the vote to Kirchner. I prefer to give it to Kirchner than to Bergoglio, let’s go!” This is not a well-formed conscience.
First the meeting with the Moscow’s Patriarch, now Cairo. Could there be another thaw in relations on the horizon? Will an audience with Al-Azhar’s Imam go ahead?
Last week Mgr. Ayuso, Cardinal Tauran’s secretary went to meet the Imam’s deputy. I want to meet him. I know he would like to. Through Cardinal Tauran as always, we are looking into how to do this.
After this visit to Mexico, what other trips are you planning? Which other places do you dream of going to?
I’ll tell you: China. I would love to go there! I would like to say something about the Mexican people. It is a population that has so much going for it, Mexicans surprise us. They have a culture, a culture that goes back millennia. Do you know that in Mexico today they speak 65 languages? They are a people of great faith. They have also suffered religious persecution. There are martyrs, I will canonize two of them. You cannot explain a population because it is not a logical category, it is a mythical category. You cannot explain this wealth, this history, this joy, this capacity to celebrate, despite the tragedies it experiences. This unity, these people have managed not to fail, not to end, despite everything that’s going on: There in the city of Juarez a 12-hour ceasefire was agreed on the occasion of my visit. After that, the fighting will resume. But only Guadalupe can explain how people have managed to stay together. I invite you to seriously read up on Guadalupe. Mary is there. I cannot find any other explanation.
What did you ask Our Lady of Guadalupe for? Do you dream in Italian or Spanish?
I dream in Esperanto! Sometimes I remember some dreams in another language, but dreaming in languages, no. I dream in images. I asked la Guadalupana first and foremost for peace, poor her, she must have had a headache by the end… I asked for forgiveness, I asked for a healthy Church, I prayed for the Mexican people. I prayed hard for priests to be real priests, nuns to be real nuns and bishops to be real bishops. But the things a son says to his mother are a secret.