During an hour long press conference on the papal plane back from the Holy Land, Pope Francis revealed he is to make a two day trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January next year.
He also criticised low birthrates in Europe, an “inhumane economic system”, and announced he would meet clerical sex abuse victims at the Vatican next week.
In the wide ranging question and answer session with reporters last night, the Pope also discussed whether he would consider resigning one day as Pope, Pius XII’s beatification cause, the European elections, the upcoming synod on the family, priestly celibacy, financial misconduct in the Vatican, and Catholic-Orthodox relations.
Francis said the Church needs to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to clerical sex abuse, and revealed he would be meeting victims of abuse next week, on June 6-7, at Casa Santa Martha in the Vatican. He compared priestly sex abuse to “celebrating a black mass.”
Asked about future trips, the Pope revealed that as well as his visit to South Korea in August, he will make “a two-day trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, to the area affected by the typhoon” next January. Acknowledging that religious freedom is lacking not only Asia but further afield, he said “we need to approach certain places carefully, to go and help them, pray a lot for these Churches that are suffering… but it’s not an easy task.” He said he felt there were “more martyrs now than the early Church had seen.”
Turning to recent European Parliament elections, the Pope said he did not know much about the subject, but lamented low birth rates in Europe, citing Italy and Spain in particular. He spoke of how the young and the old are “discarded” and decried high unemployment rates on the continent. “It is an inhumane economic system”, he said, which is “centred on money, not the human person.”
Asked if he would ever consider resigning as Pope, he said he would “do what the Lord tells me to do” and “pray and try to follow God’s will.” Benedict XVI opened the door to the possibility, he said, but “whether there will be others, only God knows.”
“I believe that if a bishop of Rome feels he is losing his strength, he must ask himself the same questions Pope Benedict XVI did,” Francis said.
On Pius XII beatification cause, the Pope said no miracle has been found yet so the process “has stalled”.
Asked about the Church’s approach to divorced and ‘remarried’ Catholics, the Pope said the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family will deal with more than just this issue as the subject of the family is vast. “What I didn’t like, was what some people, within the Church as well, said about the purpose of the Synod: that it intends to allow remarried divorcees to take communion, as if the entire issue boiled down to a case,” he said.
He revealed that choosing the subject of the synod was a “powerful spiritual experience” as the discussion “turned slowly towards the family”. He said he was “sure the Spirit of the Lord guided us to this point.”
The Pope told reporters the “door is always open” to ending mandatory priestly celibacy as it is not a dogma of the faith, but he appreciates it a “great deal” and believes it is “a gift for the Church.”
On allegations of financial misconduct at the Vatican, the Pope said an investigation into possible embezzlement of €15 million from the IOR (Vatican Bank) “is still being looked into”. “We are sinners, we are weak,” the Pope said. “The Secretariat for the Economy will help prevent scandals and problems. For example, 1600 illegitimate accounts have been closed down in the IOR.”
Regarding reform of the Vatican and Roman Curia as a whole, the Pope said: “The path of persuasion is very important. There are some people who don’t understand. But I am happy, we have worked hard.”
Asked about Catholic-Orthodox relations, Francis said the different date of Easter in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches is a “bit ridiculous” and he discussed that and the pan-Orthodox council with Patriarch Bartholomew at the weekend. He stressed that unity “comes along a path” and it could never be created “at a theological congress.”
Reflecting on his trip to the Holy Land, the Pope said his invitation to the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents to pray at the Vatican was a spontaneous one. They had wanted to have it during the visit, but logistically that wasn’t possible. “The purpose of the meeting will be to pray, not meditate,” he said.
On the future of Jerusalem, the Pope said it must be resolved “in a spirit of fraternity and mutual trust, following the path of negotiation.” He said courage is needed and he prayed that “these two presidents have the courage to go on.” Jerusalem, he said, “should be the city of peace of the three religions.”
The Vatican has published excerpts of the press conference here. ZENIT will publish an official transcript of the Q&A as soon as it’s available. Vatican Insider has published an unofficial version here.