I didn’t see a single Sean Bean in Game of Thrones “Brace Yourselves” meme this time, but there’s a little for everybody in the interview Pope Francis granted to Spain’s Radio COPE, which published on Wednesday (full English translation of the transcript via Vatican Media).
The interview revisits some well-trodden ground about Pope Francis’s love for nurses: he credits a nurse with saving his life in 1957. It also covers the papal diet and daily routine: he eats whatever he wants, he says, though that wasn’t the case before his recent colon surgery, and says he walks a fair bit.
The conversation with COPE’s Carlos Herrera (secured in significant part through the good offices of COPE’s Vatican correspondent, Eva Fernandez) captures several telling glimpses of the pope’s “human side” as it ranges across an impressive array of issues.
Radio COPE’s writeup led with Pope Francis’s assertion that he never considered stepping down during his recent health scare. “I don’t know where they got it from,” he said, “it didn’t even cross my mind.” He attributed the exaggerated rumours of his imminent abdication to sources in his native Argentina, where he heard about “a commotion” the whispers set off. That sounds like surmise more than certainty. Pope Francis also said he doesn’t watch TV and only reads one newspaper – Il Messaggero – but does “receive the report about some of the news of the day.”
One of the more interesting exchanges was over whether the bishops of the world are “doing the assignments [Pope Francis] sent them when [he] summoned them to Rome so that paedophiles would no longer exist among their ranks?”
Pope Francis offered a lengthy reply, which began with a paean to Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston – the pope credited him with inventing and setting up the Commission for Child Protection, which the Vatican had touted as Francis’s creation at the outset, and which has appeared to both founding members and outside observers as toothless and dysfunctional – and then turned the question into one regarding the general social problem of underage pornography.
“I sometimes wonder how certain governments allow the production of paedo-pornography,” Pope Francis said. “Let them not say they don’t know,” he added. “Nowadays, with the intelligence services, everything is known.”
There was plenty for the Catholic commentariat to chew on, too – grist for the intra-Catholic mill, so to speak – like Pope Francis’s remarks regarding his recent suppression of the traditional Mass, and his discussion of the German “synodal way” to name two.
He also fielded a question about Spain’s legalisation of euthanasia, which he turned into an occasion to discuss related life issues. His discussion of abortion in that context was couched in language biologists might cavil – the genetic uniqueness of an embryo is established at conception, while organs are distinguishable after three weeks – but his core point was one pro-life advocates could receive as strong tactical advice: not to get bogged down in semantic quibbles and academic debates.
“[A]ny embryology manual given to a medical student in medical school says that by the third week of conception, sometimes before the mother realizes [that she is pregnant], all the organs in the embryo are already outlined, even the DNA,” Pope Francis said. “It is a life,” he continued, “a human life.”
“Some say, ‘It’s not a person’. It is a human life! So, faced with a human life I ask myself two questions: Is it licit to eliminate a human life to solve a problem, is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem?”
Those are things we’ve heard him say before, but this articulation offers – perhaps – a glimpse into the rhetorical approach Pope Francis himself takes to the whole set of life issues, almost as though he really is aware of the real-life, real-world stakes and at pains to awaken people on every side to the fact that everyone has skin in the game.
In its coverage, the worldwide headlines understandably seized on his remarks regarding the big story of the late summer: the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“The fact of withdrawing is legitimate,” Pope Francis said. He said it appeared to him nonetheless that “not all eventualities were taken into account here.” He said, “[C]ertainly there was a lot of deception perhaps on the part of the new authorities,” and he wondered whether there wasn’t “deceit or a lot of naiveté,” as well.
Asked whether the Vatican can “pull diplomatic strings” in efforts to prevent reprisals against the population, Pope Francis responded: “I am sure that the Secretariat of State is doing so because the diplomatic level of the Secretary of State and his team is very high, also that of [the Section for] Relations with States.”
“It is a difficult situation,” he acknowledged. “I believe that as a pastor I must call Christians to a special prayer at this time, noting that wars are part of the tragic way of the world – he explicitly mentioned Yemen in this connection – but said that the situation in Afghanistan “is something very special, it has another meaning.”
Pope Francis said he will ask “for what the Church always asks for in times of great difficulty and crisis: more prayer and fasting,” adding that those three works are “what is asked for in moments of crisis.”
Pope Francis artlessly dodged a question regarding his greatest disappointment, falling back on an adage he has often quoted. “I had several disappointments in life,” he replied, “and that’s good because disappointments are like emergency landings.” Then, he quoted a mountaineering expression: “In the art of climbing, what matters is not not to fall, but not to stay fallen.” He never did quite get around to saying what was his biggest disappointment, though.
He did say that his election came as a surprise to him, and also that his programme of governance has been essentially one of implementation. “I didn’t invent anything,” he said. “What I did from the beginning is to try to put into action what we cardinals said in the pre-conclave meetings for the next Pope: the next Pope has to do this, this, this, this,” he continued. “[T]his is what I started to do. I think there are several things still to be done, but there is nothing invented by me.”
Regarding the highly anticipated and oft-delayed new Apostolic Constitution for the Roman Curia: “There is not going to be anything new.” Pope Francis said, “The reform will be nothing other than to put in place what we asked for in the pre-conclave,” which again raises a question about why he needed a special kitchen cabinet to draft it and also why it’s taking so long?
Asked whether the devil is loose in the Vatican, he responded: “The devil runs around everywhere, but I’m most afraid of the polite devils. Those who ring your doorbell, who ask your permission, who enter your house, who make friends.”
“They are the worst,” Pope Francis said of the polite devils, “and one is very deceived.”
On the reform of Vatican justice, specifically in regard to the maxi-trial of Giovanni Angelo Cardinal Becciu and his nine alleged co-conspirators, Pope Francis took an almost technocratic view of the reform.
Pope Francis downplayed the dramatic doings in Germany, where the country’s bishops are embarked on a controversial “synodal way” over which Roman and Teutonic heads have butted very publicly. Asked whether history isn’t repeating itself, Pope Francis replied: “Yes, but I wouldn’t get too tragic either,” and noted that the bishops have “a pastoral desire, but one that perhaps does not take into account some things that I explain in the letter,” presumably his letter to the German people that need to be taken into account.”
Read the whole thing. I’ve barely scratched the surface here.
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