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Pope talks with young people at odds with Church teaching


Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 04/07/23

The Pope discusses sensitive subjects with 10 young people, including a "non-binary" person, a woman who creates "adult content," and more.

In a documentary called The Pope Answers, released on Hulu in the US on April 5, 2023, Pope Francis spoke with 10 young people about major societal issues such as abortion, pornography, and immigration.

The production is certainly unique, and, as is sometimes the case with Pope Francis’ media interactions, it was not arranged by the Vatican’s official communication organs. 

The documentary, which lasts just over an hour and twenty minutes, begins with a brief presentation of the protagonists. Ten young people between 20 and 25 years old, who are supposed to represent contemporary society, were selected by the production team to ask the Pope their questions.

All of them are Spanish-speaking, and live in Spain, Latin America or the United States. There is a young woman who describes herself as “non-binary,” a feminist pro-abortion activist, a man who was abused in a school run by Opus Dei, an atheist rapper, three migrants who are victims of racism, a former nun who became a lesbian, a mother who creates adult content online, and finally a young Catholic girl who expresses doubts about her faith.

Pope Francis in dialogue

The 86-year-old Pontiff, who says he is “old-fashioned” for his interlocutors, defends the beauty of sexuality, while positing that the Church’s theology on sexuality will continue to grow. The Church does not have “a mature catechism” on the subject, he said, saying that the Church’s teaching on this point is “at a very early stage.” (Indeed, only two popes ago, the Church’s theology on these matters deepened significantly, with Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.)

Several young people shared with him their own relationship to sex, for example by telling him about the Tinder application – which the Pontiff says he is doesn’t know and, even after explanation, does not seem to understand.

Pope Francis, without intervening, then listens to a woman who produces pornographic content online proudly describe her profession, before another young girl declares: “masturbation is something cool.” Undoubtedly uneasy, the Pontiff interrupts this pronouncement to “mention a criterion that will keep us from losing ourselves in some labyrinths.”

He explains that sexuality is “one of the beautiful things God has done” and that “to express oneself sexually is something rich.”

He highlights that pornography is not; it “diminishes” a person and “it does not help you grow.” 

“Anything that diminishes a true sexual expression diminishes you as well, it renders you partial, and it diminishes that richness,” he explains. 

During the meeting, several speakers reproached the Church for its “intolerance” on gender issues. The Pope, listening, acknowledged that there are “nasty people” in the Church. He said that “the Church cannot close its doors on anybody.” However, he also advises a young lesbian who used to be a nun not to “get tangled up in ideologies.”

No abortion is justifiable

In another sequence, a young Peruvian woman defends abortion. After listening carefully, the Pope reaffirms the position of the Church, stating that no abortion is justifiable. Using an analogy he has often used, he compared abortion to hiring a “hit man” — someone to take care of a problem the way the mafia does.

“A woman who aborts cannot be left alone, she must be accompanied,” he said, adding though that “it is one thing to accompany someone who did something, and another is to justify the action.”

He explains that he asks priests and bishops to show “mercy” in such situations.

First and second class migrants

“I have not suffered racism,” the Pontiff replied to a daughter of migrants who asked him about his experience as the son of Italian immigrants in Argentina. He explained that there is a small share of indigenous people in his country that is made up of mostly migrants, where all were “welcome.”

The Pope deplored the fact that some countries hit by the “demographic winter” do not see the point of welcoming migrants, especially in towns and villages that are becoming depopulated. He denounced the existence of “first-class and second class migrants,” citing Ukrainians as an example of the former category and Africans as that of the latter.

A Muslim Senegalese man recounted how his brother crossed the Strait of Gibraltar at 14 years old and said it is “sad” that one’s passport determines their future. In response the Pope once again denounced the exploitation of migrants by organized groups. He even asserted that certain authorities are “complicit” in this system, though choosing not to name any specific countries, “so I don’t cause diplomatic problems.”

To a young girl who told him that the Catholic Church supported colonization, especially in South America, Pope Francis acknowledged past wrongs but insisted on the importance of putting these situations in historical context. He also points out that the issue of colonization and slavery is still present in the world today, sometimes even in legal forms. 

“Everybody steals money here”

Asked how he uses the money available to the Church, the Pope explains that he is not paid and says “his lifestyle is rather humble” and similar to that of a “middle or low level worker.”

He confided that he does not hesitate to “ask for help” outside the Vatican, in order “not to burden the Holy See” to obtain money for causes he wishes to support. “Everybody steals money here, so I know where I can steal some,” the Pontiff joked, explaining that he recently helped a school in Papua New Guinea.

“A faith is tested when it is authentic”

Only one speaker did not ask the Pontiff about societal issues. Throughout the meeting, a 20-year-old Spanish woman contradicted the other young people by defending the Church’s positions on abortion and pornography, which earned her some curt responses. When it was her turn, she confided in the Pope that she sometimes doubts her faith.

“Your testimony of faith touches my heart, because you need to be brave to say what you are saying in this gathering,” the Pope assured her. In response to her comments, he encouraged her: “A faith is tested when it is authentic.”

A production outside the Vatican circuits

The recording took place several months ago in a trendy loft in the Pigneto district of Rome, around 20 minutes from the Vatican. In the documentary the 10 young people are delighted to meet a “laid-back” and accessible Pope, and wonder if they will be able to take “a selfie” with him.

“The communication services of the Holy See have not been associated or even informed of the production of this documentary,” a Vatican source told I.MEDIA. She said the Pontiff “manages himself” these types of interviews, in which he wants to be able to dialogue with the “peripheries.”

AbortionPope FrancisSexualityYouth
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