Pope Francis spoke to Spanish radio COPE about his health, Traditionis Custodes, Viktor Orbán, Afghanistan, upcoming travels, and more.
In a one-and-a-half-hour radio interview broadcast on September 1, 2021 on the Spanish radio station COPE, Pope Francis answered a series of questions regarding his health and his pontificate.
Pope’s health: “I have a normal life”
“I am still alive.” These were the first words of Pope Francis at the microphone of the Spanish radio station COPE. Asked about his health following his surgery in early July, he said a nurse saved his life. “He saved my life! He said to me, ‘You need to have an operation.’ There were other opinions: ‘It’s better with antibiotics …’ but the nurse explained it very well. He’s a nurse from here, from our health department, from the Vatican hospital. He’s been here for thirty years, he’s a very experienced man,” the Pope said.
The Pope then confirmed that his operation had been planned in advance. Almost two months after being released from hospital, he said he can now “eat everything’” which was not possible before. “I can eat everything. I still have the post-operative medication, because the brain has to register that it has 33 centimeters less intestine,” but “apart from that, I have a normal life, I lead a completely normal life,” he reassured listeners.
Rumors of resignation: “I do not fit into this game”
Regarding the rumors of his resignation spread in recent days by a certain Italian press, the Pope explained that he had heard the rumors, but that he did not play this game. “Whenever a Pope is sick, there is always a breeze or a hurricane of conclave,” he said, waving them off. He said the idea of stopping hadn’t even occurred to him.
Victor Orbán: “I don’t know if I will meet him”
A little over a week before his apostolic trip to Hungary and Slovakia, Pope Francis spoke of the figure of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: “I don’t know if I will meet him,” he said. This is an unexpected remark insofar as a meeting with the Hungarian head of government is officially scheduled in the program for September 12.
The Sovereign Pontiff affirmed he was going to the country without ulterior motives: “One of the things that I have learned is not to arrive with a script: when I am in front of a person, I look them in the eyes and let things happen. It hasn’t even occurred to me to think about what I’m going to say to him.”
On Traditionis Custodes: to fight against an “ideology”
When asked about the Motu proprio ‘Traditionis Custodes’ limiting the celebration of Tridentine Masses, Pope Francis defended himself on the radio from having “banged on the table”: “I am not the type to bang on the table (…) I am rather shy,” he assured.
Before explaining his approach, he first of all welcomed Benedict XVI’s 2007 decision to extend the possibility of celebrating Mass with the Missal of John XXIII in the Motu proprio ‘Summorum Pontificum.’ “It seemed to me one of the most beautiful and human pastoral acts of Benedict XVI, who is a man of exquisite humanity,” he stressed.
Then he noted that a comprehensive assessment had been carried out recently. According to him, the assessment revealed that what “was being done to help pastorally those who had lived a previous experience was being transformed into ideology.” “We therefore had to react with clear standards,” he insisted. Pope Francis said he “worked a lot, with common sense traditionalists.” He also wanted to re-explain the spirit of the letter: “If you read the letter well and if you read the decree well, you will see that it is simply a question of a constructive reordering, with pastoral care.”
In his long answer, he finally insisted on the fact that the proclamation of the Word had to be done in a language understandable by all, “otherwise, it mocks the Word of God.”
On Afghanistan: an “irresponsible policy” by the West
“Cardinal Parolin is truly the best diplomat I have ever met,” said Pope Francis, when asked about the crisis in Afghanistan. “He is a diplomat who ‘adds’, not one of those who ‘subtracts’, who is always looking for a ‘yes man,’” he said.
According to Pope Francis, his secretary of state and Vatican diplomats are fully involved in resolving the crisis in Afghanistan. “It’s a difficult situation. I believe that as a pastor I must call Christians to a special prayer at this time (…) Prayer, penance and fasting, this is what is required in times of crisis.”
Regarding the departure from the West, the Pope said he was touched by a statement he believed to be from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “one of the great figures in world politics.” According to him, she called for an end to the “irresponsible policy of intervention from the outside to build democracy in other countries, which ignores the traditions of peoples.” It was a “concise” statement for the Pope who said he “felt a sense of wisdom” in the face of such remarks.
However, it turns out that the phrase Pope Francis echoed was not spoken by the German Chancellor but by Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference between the two heads of state on August 20.
On Cardinal Becciu: “I hope with all my heart that he is innocent”
“All means must be put in place to avoid corruption,” warned the Argentine pontiff, when asked about the great trial in the London Building Affair which began at the end of July. Recognizing that corruption is a “recurring disease” in the Vatican, he believes that progress has been made over the past three years to make justice more independent.
Regarding the genesis of this particular affair in which Cardinal Becciu is entangled, Pope Francis made this revelation: “It all started with two complaints from people who work at the Vatican and who noted an irregularity in their work. They filed a complaint and asked me what to do. I told them: if you want to go ahead, you have to present it to the prosecutor. [These two people] were a little intimidated so, as if to encourage them, I put my signature under theirs. To say: this is the way to go, I am not afraid of transparency or the truth. […] Yes, you used the word ‘corruption’ and in this specific case, at least at first glance, it seems that there is corruption.”
The reporter then asked him if he feared Cardinal Becciu would be found guilty after the trial. Pope Francis replied, “I hope with all my heart that he is innocent.” Recalling that he was one of his collaborators, “he helped me a lot”, he admitted to having “a certain respect for him as a person.” “It’s an emotional form of the presumption of innocence,” he conceded, before concluding that the justice system would decide.
On the reform of the Curia: “Nothing new”
Pope Francis recalled that his reform program was contained in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, published in 2013. He noted that a fundamental problem persisted in the Church today, that of “preaching.” “Subjecting the faithful Christians to long courses in theology, philosophy or moralism is not Christian preaching,” he regretted, recalling his desire for “serious reform.” “Some do it, others don’t understand…”
Regarding the Apostolic Constitution “Praedicate Evangelium” on which the Pope and the Cardinals have been working since the beginning of his pontificate—and which will reform the structures of Vatican administration—the Pope confided that he had yet to read it: “The last step is to read it; and I have to read it because I have to sign it and read it word for word.” He explained that its publication had been delayed by his illness.
He then confirmed the idea that it contained “nothing new from what we see now. Maybe a few details, a few changes of unifying departments, two or three more, but that has already been announced.”
On abortion and euthanasia: “We live in a culture of waste”
Regarding abortion, Pope Francis has championed the view that a fetus is a human life. “Any embryology textbook that you give to a medical student in college says that in the third week of conception, sometimes before the mother realizes [that she is pregnant], all the organs of the embryo are already drawn, even the DNA. It’s a life. A human life.”
The pontiff then asked a series of questions: “Is it legal to take a human life to solve a problem (…) is it fair to hire a hitman to solve a problem?” “We live in a culture of waste,” he lamented. “What is unnecessary is discarded. The elderly are disposable: they are a nuisance (…) the most incurable patients too; unwanted children too, and they are returned to sender before they are born.”
On the Cop 26 in Glasgow: “The plan is to be there”
Asked twice about his presence in Glasgow for Cop 26 in early November, Pope Francis finally replied: “Yes, in principle, the plan is for me to go.” The announcement of the Argentine pontiff’s participation had been made in the summer by the bishops of Scotland but had not been confirmed by the Holy See. Pope Francis added, however, “It all depends on how I feel at the time. But in reality, my speech is already in the works, and the plan is to be there.”
On travel plans: Cyprus, Greece, and Malta
The Spanish journalist asked if the Pope planned to visit Spain soon. The pontiff replied that a trip to Santiago de Compostela was being considered. But if this were the case, it would not be a trip to Spain but to Santiago, he warned.
Pope Francis told explained during the radio interview that he wants to continue to visit smaller countries. “First it was Albania, then all the small countries. Now Slovakia is on the program, then Cyprus, Greece and Malta,” he announced.
On August 31, the Cypriot press announced the arrival of Pope Francis on December 2 and 3, but the Vatican did not confirm the information. Before the pandemic, a travel plan to Greece and Cyprus was under consideration and a trip to Malta had been postponed. The pope’s remarks on the radio therefore reinforce the probability of such trips.