Print Version    Email to Friend
Pope stresses value of mercy in 
free-wheeling interview on plane

HONG KONG (SE): In a dramatic break from previous papal customs, Pope Francis held an open press conference on the plane travelling back to Rome from his first international trip—to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 28.

During his 80-minutes of free chat with accredited journalists, he covered a range of topics from the importance of women in leadership in the Church, the gay lobby in the Vatican and problems with the Institute for Works of Religion (Vatican bank), as well as priests and homosexuality, the liturgy and the thorny issue of pastoral care for the divorced and remarried.

In a radical break from previous papal custom, Pope Francis took questions from the floor. In contrast, his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, only took a limited number of questions that had been submitted prior to takeoff and vetted by his minders.

While Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality, priests with homosexual tendencies and the gay lobby in the Vatican grabbed world headlines, the question came at the very end of the interview and only lasted for a few minutes.

In one sense, they were an afterthought, as the question came only after the pope had indicated that he would like to end the interview, saying that he thought he had kept everyone from their dinner long enough.

However, the pope did make pertinent remarks on the divorced and remarried, as well as on the place of women in the Church.

Although he really did not say anything new, Pope Francis did point to areas where we may in the future see changes in the model out of which he wants the Church to work, as well as the avenues that he may direct further research to travel.

Father Tom Rosica, from the Salt and Light Television Network in Toronto, Canada, pointed out that the pope’s responses to these questions must be understood through the lenses of the gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

He said in a press release that Pope Francis was speaking in the context of “the outreach and concern of the Church for those on the fringes, and the mercy and tenderness of a pastor who walks among his people.”

He also made his remarks out of the background of a directive from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, saying that such people should never be marginalised and they must be integrated into society.

A direct question from a journalist related to the position of Monsignor Battista Ricca, whom the pope had appointed prelate of the Vatican Institute for Religious Works on June 15, but who has since been accused of inappropriate homosexual behaviour, alleged to have taken place some 20 or so years ago.

In his response, the pope said that he had reviewed his case and found nothing untoward, going on to make a distinction between crime and sin.

“I see very often in the Church there is a tendency to seek out sins committed in youth and make them public. I am not speaking about crimes. The abuse of minors for example is a crime,” the pope said.

“But if a layperson, a priest or a sister has sinned, the Lord forgives and forgets. And this is important, the Lord forgets. We have no right not to forget,” he stressed, before pointing to the sin of denial by St. Peter, who was later to become the leader of the fledgling early Church.

As regards the gay lobby, he said that the problem lay with the lobby, not whether people are gay or not. “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge?” he was quoted as saying, reflecting a pastoral approach rather than being a suggestion the sin book may be rewritten.

The pope spoke with the same pastoral compassion about sacraments for the divorced and remarried, pointing out that the Eucharist is currently denied to them.

He then made reference to the Orthodox Church, saying, “They have a different praxis. They follow a theology of economy and they give a second chance. They allow that.”

He went on to say that he thinks the problem should be studied within the framework of marital pastoral care and should be on the agenda for the next Council of Cardinals.

He said that he looks at it as an anthropological theme and it should be studied in the context of how faith helps in the planning of a person, in the family—and enters into the pastoral world of ministry to matrimony.

“We are on the way towards a deeper matrimonial pastoral care. This is a problem for people,” the pope commented.

On the subject of women in the Church, he said that ordination is not the be all and end all of participation in Church life or in the leadership of the Church.

“Mary was more important than the apostles or the bishops. And so women in the Church are also more important than bishops and priests… There is a great need for theology to better explore the role of women in the Church.”

A question from a Russian journalist elicited an interesting reflection on liturgy from Pope Francis.

He asked the pope about the significance of the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of St. Rus, currently being celebrated in Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine.

In response, Pope Francis reflected on what he called the beauty of the pristine liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

“So beautiful. We (in the Latin rite) have lost a bit of the sense of adoration, they conserve it. They praise God, they adore God, they sing, time does not count. The centre is God and that is a richness that I would like to emphasise on this occasion as you ask me this question.”

Pope Francis also reflected on his experience at World Youth Day, speaking of the goodness and the suffering of the Brazilian people.

“The Brazilian people are warm hearted. They are amiable people, who even in suffering always find a way to seek out the best from all sides,” he noted.

“And this is a good thing. They are cheerful people who have suffered much… This trip has done me good… meeting people always does good, as in doing so we receive many good things from others.”

Reflecting on the much discussed security worries he created for his guards with his wandering ways, Pope Francis simply commented, “It is a security of trusting people.”

Father Rosica summarised the significance of the papal trip by saying that the pope stressed the importance of mercy throughout his time in Brazil and demonstrated this in his actions.

He added that this was especially evident when he met with people on the periphery of society, those in the drug rehabilitation centre, prisoners, the sick and young people whose spirit has been broken.


Father Rosica concluded that he truly showed himself to be a shepherd who bears the smell of his sheep.

More from this section