As customary, the press conference given by Pope Francis on the return flight from Philadelphia to Rome was dense and rich in ideas. In the conversation, the Pontiff responded across-the-board to current important questions of the Church and of international politics without avoiding the thorniest problems.
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Sexual abuses by members of the clergy: “A sacrilege!”
Regarding questions on sexual abuses by members of the clergy, the subject was addressed following the Pope’s meeting with five victims of paedophilia and denounced this plague to Bishops gathered in Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. “I felt the need to express compassion because something really terrible happened. And many of them suffered who did not know of this.” Francis regarding his words to the U.S. Bishops. “And many of them suffered who did not know of this. I used words from the bible from Revelations: You are coming from a large tribulation. What happened was a great tribulation’ not only because of the “emotional suffering,” stressed the Holy Father, but also and especially because it was “a sacrilege,” almost “an apostasy.” It’s true – he admitted – “abuses are everywhere: in families, in neighborhoods, in schools, in gyms. But when a priest abuses it is very serious because the vocation of the priest is to make that boy, that girl, grow towards the love of God, toward maturity, and towards good. Instead this is squashed and this is nearly a sacrilege and he betrayed his vocation, the calling of the Lord.”
Bishops who have covered up abuses: “They are also culpable”
The Pontiff also pointed his finger against those who covered up these crimes, in the first place the Bishops. “They are also guilty,” he said, “words of comfort were not to say “don’t worry that was nothing…no, no , no, but it was so bad that I imagine that you cried hard”
Pedophile priests who do not ask for forgiveness
The problem is that some some priests do not apologize for the evil done, noted a journalist. “If a person has done wrong, if he is aware of what he has done and does not apologize, I ask God to take it into account. I forgive him, but he doesn’t receive the forgiveness; he is closed to forgiveness,” the Pope retorts, specifying: It is one thing to forgive – we are all obliged to forgive, because we have all been forgiven – and it is something else to receive forgiveness. If the priest is closed to forgiveness, he doesn’t receive it, because he has locked the door to God.”
... and victims who are unable to forgive. “I understand them ...”
On the other hand, there are victims who are unable to forgive. “I understand it and I pray for them, and I do not judge them,” said Pope Francis. Then he recounted how, during a meeting, “a woman said to me that ‘when my mother discovered that I had been abused, she blasphemed against God, lost her faith and died an atheist.” “I understand this woman – said the Pontiff – and I’m sure that God received her, because what was abused, what was tampered with was her own flesh, her daughter’s flesh. I understand her, and don’t try to tell her that she must forgive, I pray and ask God, because God is a ‘champion’ in the path to solutions.”
A close Church, not detached from the people
Turning to the Bishops, who have endured these sufferings within their own flocks, the Pope exhorted them to “continue to work with the people as they have worked up to now, accompanying them in their growth, in good things and in their difficulties,” “in joy and in awful moments of difficulty, when there is no work, or there is sickness.” Because the challenge of the Church today “is to be, as she has always been, close to the people,” “not a Church detached from the people, but close, close” – a lesson that the US Church has understood very well.
Remarried divorced persons. “Communion is not the solution”
Still on the subject of the challenges of the Church, the Pope referred to the imminent October Synod, when asked by a journalist if “in your heart of a pastor there is the will for a solution for divorced and remarried “ persons. “It seems a bit simplistic to me – the Pope stressed – to say that for these persons the solution is the possibility to go to Communion. It’s not the only solution. The Instrumentum Laboris proposes many things. And it is not only remarried divorced persons; there is also the problem of new unions. There are young people who don’t want to get married – yet another problem. Emotional maturity is another problem: faith, do I believe that this is forever? To become a priest one must prepare for eight years. For lifelong marriage there are four meetings of a pre-marital course. It is difficult to think how the preparation can be done.
Motu proprio on annulment causes. “Those who think of a Catholic divorce are mistaken”
Asked about the Motu Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, concerning the reform of the process for marriage annulment, which -- some say -- has introduced a sort of ‘Catholic divorce,’ Pope Francis responded clearly. First of all, he clarified, the process establishes if the marriage is null or not “Catholic divorce doesn’t exist. Annulment is granted if there was no marriage. However, if there was marriage, it’s indissoluble. This is clear.” Then, he argued the fact that with the reform of the processes “I closed the door to the administrative way, through which divorce could come in.” Moreover, he added, the document is the fruit of the request of the majority of the Synod Fathers in their session of last October, who asked that the processes be simplified, given that some lasted as long as 10-15 years, “a decision, and then another decision .... and then an appeal, then another appeal, and it never ended.”
Therefore, the Motu Proprio , confirmed the Pontiff, “facilitates the processes in time but it’s not a divorce,” because “marriage is indissoluble when it is a Sacrament, and the Church cannot change this.” “The legal procedure is to prove that what seemed to be a Sacrament wasn’t a Sacrament, because of lack of freedom, for instance, lack of maturity or because of mental illness ... But there are many reasons that lead to a study, to an ‘investigation.” In any case, “you can find it on the Internet,” said Francis.
No to women priests, but not because they aren’t capable. In fact, the Church is female!”
In the ecclesial realm, Pope Francis addressed the question – somewhat demode of women priests. He refers to Saint John Paul II who, “after long and intense reflection, said clearly, ‘no.’” However, “not because women don’t have the capacity,” specified the Holy Father. “Look, in the Church women are more important than men because the Church is female.. She is the Bride of Christ and Our Lady is more important than Popes, Bishops and priests.”
The Sisters of the US are good. The people love them”
Acknowledging the “delay” in the elaboration of a “theology of woman,” the Pope took the occasion to praise the American Sisters and their “wonderful” work in the field of education, of hospitality, of health, be it in poor neighborhoods, be it in wealthy neighborhoods. The people of the United States love the Sisters. I don’t know how much they love the priests but they love the Sisters a lot. And they are good, they are good women.
“So much so -- he said --, that “an important person of the United States government said to me in these days: ‘What I have of education I owe primarily to the Sisters.”
Conscientious objection: “A human right. Never deny it”
In connection with the Sisters, mentioned in the conversation was the Pope’s surprise visit in Washington on September 24 to the Little Sisters of the Poor, to whom he expressed his support for the judicial cause undertaken against ‘Obamacare.’ Hence the question to the Pontiff about conscientious objection for government employees who do not want to celebrate marriages between persons of the same sex -- a case that broke out in the past weeks in Kentucky. “Conscientious objection is a right that enters in every human right,” affirmed Pope Francis. “if a person doesn’t allow conscientious objection he denies a right,” and it ends “in the selection of rights: this is a quality right, this is a non-quality right.” Therefore, “if a government employee is a human person he has a right.”
Peace processes in Colombia: “I am very happy”
The Pope’s look then broadened to foreign politics, first of all to the peace process between the Colombian government and FARC which seems, finally, to be coming to an end after half a century of blood and conflicts, thanks also to the contribution of Vatican diplomacy. “When I heard the news that the agreement would be signed in March, I said to the Lord: “’Make it so that we arrive at March, that we arrive with this good intention, because little things are lacking, but there is the will on both sides,” said the Holy Father, confirming that he was “very happy” and that he felt part of this historic process. “I spoke twice with President Santos, but not only I; the Holy See is very open to help.”
Refugees: “Sooner or later walls collapse. A solution must be found”
Not lacking in the interview was a reference to the crisis of migrants in the whole of Europe. Asked by a woman journalist about the ‘walls” erected in some countries of the Old World, Francis cut short: You know how walls end up .... All walls collapse: today, tomorrow and after 100 years, but they collapse. A wall isn’t a solution. At present Europe is in difficulty, it’s true, but we must be intelligent,” that is, we must find a solution to this strong migratory wave through “dialogue between the countries.”
French raids in Syria: “I don’t know the political situation, but death and blood must be avoided”
In regard to France’s first bombings of ISIS positions in Syria, which got underway yesterday, the Pope didn’t have much to say: ‘I heard the news day before yesterday and I haven’t read ... I really don’t know the situation well, I’ve heard that Russia has a position and the United States is not yet clear.” However, he affirmed, “I don’t know what to say to you, but when I hear the word bombing, death, blood, I repeat what I said to Congress and to the United Nations: these things must be avoided. I don’t judge the political situation because I don’t know it.”
China: “I love the Chinese people, I would like to go to them”
There was also room in the conversation for a thought on China – “great nation which contributes to the world a great culture and many good things.” As in his return flight from Korea, Pope Francis confirmed his desire to go to the former Heavenly Empire because, he said, “I love the Chinese people, I love them, I hope that there will be a possibility to have good relations, that we have contacts, that we talk, that we go forward. For me -- he added --, it would be a joy to have China as a friend.”
“Is the Pope a star? No, stars fall. He is, better, ‘Servant of the servants of God’”
The last question was somewhat provocative: “Is it good for the Church that the Pope is a star?” “You know what the title was that Popes used and that must be used? Servant of the servants of God,” Francis responded. “He is somewhat different from a star.” “Stars, -- he continued --, are beautiful to look at; I like to look at them in the summer when the sky is serene, but the Pope must be, he must be the ‘Servant of the servants of God.’” Also because “how many stars we have seen, which then are extinguished and fall; they are a passing thing. Instead, to be Servant of the servants of God, this is good and it doesn’t pass.”