VATICAN CITY — Britain’s decision to exit the European Union is a call to the EU to rediscover what strengthened its roots and allow for a “healthy disunity” by giving more independence and freedom to countries, Pope Francis said on his return flight from Armenia on Sunday. “Creativity and fruitfulness” are now the “two keywords” the European Union needs to ponder.
In a wide-ranging in-flight press conference, the pope also explained why he used the word “genocide” in Armenia; called Benedict XVI a “great, prayerful and courageous man, who is a pope emeritus,” but “not a ‘second pope’”; and said that while persons with homosexual tendencies must not be discriminated against, they must “be respected and receive pastoral guidance.” But he said gay activist demonstrations “can be condemned” for being “too offensive to others.”
Here below we publish a translation of several questions from the in-flight press conference, with translations provided in part by Vatican Insider.
Holy Father, like John Paul II, you appear to have been a firm supporter of the EU and praised the European project when you won the Charlemagne prize recently. How concerned are you that Brexit could lead to the disintegration of Europe and possibly war?
“There is already war in Europe. Moreover, there is a climate of division, not only in Europe, but in the countries themselves. If you remember Catalonia, last year Scotland. These divisions… I don’t say they are dangerous, but we must study them well, and before taking steps towards a division, we must have a good talk amongst ourselves, and seek out viable solutions.
For me, unity is always superior to conflict, always! But there are various forms of unity. And also brotherhood, and here I come to the European Union, is better than enmity or distance. Compared to distance — let’s say — brotherhood is better. And bridges are better than walls. All of this should make us reflect. It’s true, a country says: I am in the European Union, but I want to have certain things that are mine, that belong to my culture…”. And the step, and here I come to the Charlemagne Prize, which the European Union has to make to find the strength it had in its roots is a step of creativity, and also of “healthy disunion”; that is, giving more independence, giving more liberty to the countries in the Union. To think of another form of union, to be creative. Creative regarding jobs, and the economy. There is a liquid economy in Europe. For instance, in Italy 40 percent of young people aged 25 and younger do not have work. There is something wrong with that massive Union. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! Let us seek to redeem things and recreate. Because the recreation of human things — also of our personalities — is a journey, which must always be taken. An adolescent is not the same as an adult or an elderly person: he is the same and not the same, he is being recreated continually. And this gives him life and the will to live, and it gives fruitfulness. And this I would underline: the two keywords for the European Union today are creativity and fruitfulness. This is the challenge.”
Why did you decide to add the word “genocide” in the speech you delivered 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 the 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. When I came to Rome, I hear the expression “The 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 and Stalin’s. There was another one in Africa but only those three took place in the context of the two World 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 February 11 that he was resigning the following February 28. He said he was withdrawing in order to help the Church through prayer. Benedict is living in the 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 February 28, 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 certainly 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 in the 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.”
Speaking in Dublin in recent days, Cardinal Marx said that the Catholic Church needs to apologize to the gay community for marginalizing these people.
“I will repeat what I said on my first trip, and I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally.
One may condemn — not for ideological reasons but for, let’s say, reasons of political behavior — some demonstrations that are a little too offensive for others. But these things have nothing to do with the problem: if the problem is a person who has that condition, who has good will and seeks God, who are we to judge him? We have to accompany them well, according to what the Catechism says. The Catechism is clear! Then there are traditions in some countries, in some countries that have a different mentality when it comes to this problem.
I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness — as that “Marxist” cardinal [Cardinal Marx] said — from the gay person who is offended, but must also ask for forgiveness from the poor too, from women who are exploited, from children who are exploited for labor. The Church must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for often not behaving well – when I say the Church, I mean Christians. The Church is holy, we are sinners. Christians must ask forgiveness for having not accompanied so many choices, and 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. Forgiveness, and not just apologies. “Forgive me, Lord”: words we often forget.” … No, this is true, so often it is the “master priest” and not the priest who is a father, the priest “who clobbers” and not the priest who embraces, forgives, consoles…
But there are so many! So many hospital chaplains, prison chaplains, so many saints! 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. Or people to whom you give a big “bag” and they turn a blind eye, like the international powers with the three genocides.
Also we Christians — priest, bishops — have done this; but we Christians also have a Teresa of Calcutta and many Teresa of Calcuttas! We have so many sisters in Africa, so many lay people, so many holy married couples! The wheat and the weeds, the wheat and the weeds. This is what Jesus says about the Kingdom. We should not be scandalized to be this way. We should pray that the Lord makes the weeds to cease and more wheat abound. We are all saints, because we all have the Holy Spirit within, but all of us are sinners, myself first and foremost. Agreed? Thank you. I don’t know if I responded … Not only apologies, but forgiveness!”
This article will be updated as the official Vatican transcript becomes available.