Francis to Jesuits in Chile and Peru: Don't be religious who live as gossipy bachelors
Holy Father, what are the great joys and great displeasures that you’ve had during your pontificate?
This pontificate is a rather peaceful period. From the moment in the Conclave when I realized what was going to happen—an instant surprise for me—I felt great peace. And up until today, that peace hasn’t left me. It’s a gift of the Lord, and I’m grateful. And I truly hope that he doesn’t take it away from me. What doesn’t take away my peace, but which does cause me pain, are gossips. I don’t like gossips, they make me sad. It happens a lot in closed environments. When it happens in the context of priests or religious, I ask myself: how is it possible? You’ve left everything, you’ve decided not to have a woman at your side, you haven’t gotten married, you haven’t had children… you want to end up as a gossipy bachelor? Oh, dear God, what a sad life!
What resistance have you found, and how have you faced it?
In the face of difficulty, I never say it is ‘resistance,’ because that would mean renouncing discernment, something which, on the contrary, I want to do. It’s easy to say that there is resistance, and not realize that, in that conflict, there can also be a particle of truth. This helps me also to relativize a lot of things which, at first glance, seem like resistance, but which in reality are a reaction that is born of a misunderstanding… When, on the contrary, I realize that there is real resistance, of course, I don’t like it. Some people tell me that it’s normal for there to be resistance when someone wants to make changes. The famous ‘it’s always been done this way’ reigns everywhere; it’s a huge temptation that we’ve all experienced. The resistance after Vatican II, still present, means this: relativize, water down the Council.
I’m even more bothered when someone enlists in a campaign of resistance. And unfortunately, I see that too. I can’t deny that there is some resistance. I see the resistance and I recognize it. There is doctrinal resistance. For my mental health, I don’t read the Internet sites of this so-called ‘resistance.’ I know who they are, I know the groups, but I don’t read them, simply for my mental health. If there is something very serious, they inform me about it, so I’ll know. And it’s unpleasant, but one needs to move ahead.
When I perceive resistance, I try to dialog, when dialog is possible; but some resistance comes from people who believe that they possess the true doctrine, and they accuse you of being heretical. When I don’t find spiritual goodness in these people, due to what they say or write, I simply pray for them. I experience displeasure, but I don’t ruminate on this feeling, for the sake of my mental health.
In which reforms can we support you better?
I believe that one of the things that the Church needs most today, and this is very clear in the perspectives and pastoral goals of Amoris Laetitia, is discernment. We are used to ‘you can or you can’t.’ I too, in my formation, was taught the way of thinking ‘up to here you can, up to here you cannot.’ I don’t know if you remember that Colombian Jesuit who came to teach us moral theology at the Collegio Massimo; when it came time to talk about the sixth commandment, someone dared to ask the question, ‘Can engaged couples kiss?’ If they could kiss! Do you understand? And he said, ‘Yes, they can!’ There’s no problem! All they need to do, though, is put a handkerchief between them.’ This is a forma mentis (mentality) of doing theology in general. A forma mentis based on limits. And we are carrying the burden of the consequences.
What would you say (in the Jesuits) to those who are getting older and see fewer people coming up behind them?
Considering the diminishing numbers of young members and forces, one could fall into a feeling of institutional desolation. No, you can’t let yourself do that. Sadness pulls you down, and is a wet blanket they throw over you to see how you manage, and it leads you to bitterness, to disillusionment. I ask myself if [St. Francis] Xavier, in the face of his failure of seeing China without being able to enter, was desolated. No, I imagine that he turned to the Lord, saying, ‘You don’t want it, therefore, goodbye, it’s OK this way.’ He chose to follow the road that was offered him, and in that case, it was death!… But that’s OK! Like Xavier at the gates of China, always look forwards… God knows!
I would like to to say a few words about the subject of sexual abuse. We have been branded by these scandals.
It’s the greatest sadness that the Church is experiencing. This makes us feel ashamed, but we need to remember as well that shame is also a very Ignatian grace. And therefore, let us take it as grace, and be profoundly ashamed. We should love a Church with wounds. Many wounds…
I’ll tell you a a story. On March 24, in Argentina, it’s the memorial of the military coup, of the dictatorship, of the ‘desaparecidos’ [those who disappeared during the dictatorship, victims of government repression], and Plaza de Mayo fills up with people to remember it. On one of those March 24, while I was about to cross the street, there was a couple with a baby that was two or three years old, and the baby ran ahead. The father told him, ‘Come, come, come here… Look out for the pedophiles!’ How ashamed I felt! What shame! They didn’t realize that I was the archbishop; I was a priest, and… What shame! Sometimes people pull out ‘consolation prizes,’ and someone even says, ‘Look at the statistics… It’s… I don’t know… 70% of pedophiles are found within the family, among acquaintances. Then in the gymnasiums and swimming pools. The percentage of pedophiles that are Catholic priests doesn’t reach 2%, it’s 1.6%. So it’s not so much…’ But it’s terrible, even if it were only one of these, our brothers! Because God anointed him to sanctify children and adults, and he has destroyed them. It’s horrible! All you need to do is listen to the experiences of someone who has been abused!
On Fridays—sometimes it’s publicly known and sometimes it’s not—I habitually meet with some of them. Their process [of recuperation] is very difficult; [the abuse] destroys them. For the Church, this is a great humiliation. It shows not only our fragility, but also, let’s say it clearly, our hypocrisy. It’s curious: the phenomenon of abuse has affected some new, prosperous Congregations. There, the abuse is always the fruit of a mentality tied to power, which needs to be healed at its malignant roots. There are three levels of abuse that go together: abuse of authority, sexual abuse, and financial misconduct. Money is always in the mix: the devil enters through the purse.
How do you see the Spirit moving the Church now towards the future?
Pick up the Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium. Speaking to the Chilean bishops, I exhorted them to declericalize. Evangelization is carried out by the Church as the people of God. The Lord is asking us to be a Church that goes out, a field hospital… A poor Church for the poor! The poor are not a theoretical formula of the Communist party; they are the center of the Gospel! It is along this line that I feel the Spirit leading us. There is strong resistance, but for me, the fact that it arises is a sign that we are on the right track. Otherwise, the devil wouldn’t work to create resistance.
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