At the end of his Apostolic Journey to Mexico, Pope Francis met with journalists for a press conference on board the plane, during the return flight from Mexico to Rome.
Here is a summary of the Vatican translation of the transcription of the Pontiff’s conversation with the journalists. It is provided by Vatican Information Service.
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As is customary in his apostolic trips, the Pope answered questions posed by journalists during the return flight to Rome, on his visit to Mexico and his encounter in Havana, Cuba with the Patriarch Kirill. The Holy Father addressed a series of themes that ranged from his Mexican experience to the problem of paedophilia, immigration to the European situation, as well as the repercussions of the document signed with the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the law on civil unions and the various problems linked to the family. He also expressed his hope to meet with Imam of the Mosque of Al-Azhar and revealed that he would like to visit China.
The following is a summary of the questions asked by journalists and the replies given by the Pope:
Question: “Holy Father, thousands of people are missing in Mexico, but the case of the Ayotzinapa 43 is emblematic. I would like to ask you why you did not meet with their families and also if you could offer a message to the families of the thousands of missing persons”.
Pope Francis: “My messages make continual reference to assassinations, deaths, and lives taken by all these bands of drug traffickers, and by traffickers of human beings. I spoke about these problems as one of the wounds from which Mexico suffers. There have been some attempts to receive people, and there were many groups, even opposed to each other, with internal battles. Therefore I preferred to say that at the Mass I would have seen everyone, in the Mass at Juarez if they preferred, or at another, but I was open to this eventuality. It was practically impossible to receive all the groups who, on the other hand, were opposed to each other. It is a difficult situation to understand clearly, for me, as a foreigner. But I believe that Mexican society is a victim of this: of crimes, of this tendency to make people disappear, to discard them. I spoke about this in my discourses where I could. It is a great source of pain that I bear, as this people does not deserve to experience a tragedy like this”.
Question: “The theme of paedophilia, as you know, has very dangerous and painful roots in Mexico. The case of Fr. Maciel has left important scars, especially for the victims. The victims continue to feel that they are not protected by the Church. …What do you think about this idea that when priests are discovered in a case of this nature, they are to be moved to another parish, and nothing else. How do you regard this matter?”.
Pope Francis: “A bishop who moves a priest to a different parish if he detects a case of paedophilia is without conscience and the best thing for him to do would be to resign. Secondly, I would like to return to the Maciel case. Here I would like to render homage to a man who battled in a moment in which he did not have the strength to impose himself, to the point of being able to do so: Cardinal Ratzinger, a man who had all the documentation. When he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he had all the documentation in his hands, he carried out investigations … but was not able continue up to the end. But if you remember, ten days before St. John Paul II died, that Good Friday Via Crucis, he said to all the Church that it was necessary to clean up all the ‘filth’ in the Church. In the Mass Pro Eligendo Pontifice – he was no fool, he knew he was a candidate – he did not try to conceal his position, he said exactly the same thing. That is, he was the courageous man who helped greatly to open this door. Thirdly, we are working hard. With the Cardinal Secretary of State, in discussion, and also with the group of nine cardinal counsellors, I decided to appoint a third secretariat adjunct to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is occupied exclusively with these cases, because the Congregation is unable to manage them with all it has to do, and therefore this secretariat knows how to manage this. Further more, the Court of Appeal was constituted, presided over by Msgr. Scicluna, which is dealing with the cases of second instance, on appeal. … Another thing that is working very well is the Commission for the Protection of Minors. … With regard to Maciel, returning to the Congregation, action has been taken and now the Congregation, the governance of the Congregation is semi-commissioned, or rather the superior general is elected by the Council, by the General Chapter, but the Vicar is chosen by the Pope. Two general counsellors are elected by the General Chapter and the other two are chosen by the Pope, so that we are able to help them to review old accounts”.
Question: “You spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigrants. On the other side of the border, however, there is a rather tough electoral campaign in progress. One of the candidates to the White House, the Republican Donald Trump, recently said in an interview that His Holiness is a man of politics or indeed even a pawn in the hands of the Mexican government to favour a policy of immigration. He has declared that, if elected, he intends to construct a 2,500 kilometre wall along the border between Mexico and the United States, and to deport eleven million illegal immigrants, thus separating families, and so on. I would like to ask, first of all, what you think of these accusations and whether an American Catholic can vote for such a person”.
Pope Francis: “I thank God that he has said I am a politician, as Aristotle defined the human being as an ‘animal politicus’: at least I am a human being! And that I am a pawn … perhaps, I do not know. I will leave that to your judgement, to the people. A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever that may be, and not bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. With regard to what I would advise, to vote or not to vote: I would not like to become involved. I would say only that this man is not Christian. It is necessary to see if he has said these things, and for this reason I would give the benefit of the doubt”.
Question: “The encounter with the Russian patriarch Kirill and the signing of the Joint Declaration was acclaimed throughout the world as an historic step. But now, already, in Ukraine the Greek Catholics feel betrayed and speak about a ‘political document’, supporting Russian policy. On the ground, the war of words has broken out again”.
Pope Francis: “It is as document that is open to discussion. I would also add that Ukraine is a country that is going through a time of war, of suffering, with many interpretations. I have mentioned the Ukrainian people asking many times for prayers and closeness to them, both in the Angelus and in the Wednesday general audiences. But the historical fact of a war – everyone has their own idea: what is this war? Who started it? What must be done? What must not be done? It is clear that this is an historic problem, but also an existential problem for the country, and it speaks of suffering. And it is in this context that I insert this paragraph, and what the faithful say can be understood. [In an interview] the Ukrainian Catholic archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said that many faithful had called or written to him saying they felt profoundly disappointed or betrayed by Rome. It is understandable that a people in that situation feels this way. The document is debatable on this question of Ukraine, but there it is said that the war is to stop and the conflict is to be managed through agreements. I too have personally expressed my hope that the Minsk Accords go ahead, and that what is written with the hand is not cancelled out with the elbow. The Church of Rome and the Pope have always said, ‘seek peace'”.
Question: “The Italian parliament is discussing the law on civil unions, an issue that is giving rise not only to major political conflicts, but also to fierce debate in society and among Catholics”.
Pope Francis: “Firstly I do not know how things are in the Italian parliament. The Pope does not get involved in Italian politics. At the first meeting I had with the Italian bishops in May 2013, one of the three things I said was: with the Italian government you are on your own. The Pope is for everybody and he cannot get involved in the specific internal politics of a country. This is not the role of the Pope. What I think is what the Church thinks and has so often said – because this is not the first country to have this experience, there are so many – I think what the Church has always said about this”.
Question: “For several weeks there has been great concern in many Latin American countries, and also in Europe, regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or avoiding pregnancy. With regard to avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of ‘the lesser of two evils?'”
Pope Francis: “Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we speak in terms of a conflict between the fifth and sixth commandments. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape. Do not confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. … On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, or in the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against … this disease. Work needs to be done on this”.
Question: “You will soon receive the Charlemagne Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in the European Community. … Do you have a word for us in this situation of crisis in Europe?”
Pope Francis: “First, about the Charlemagne Prize. I had the habit of not accepting prizes or honours, not out of humility, but because I do not like these things. … But in this case, I would not say I was ‘forced’, but convinced by the holy and theological stubbornness of Cardinal Kasper. … I accepted and said ‘yes, but in the Vatican’. And I offer it to Europe, as a co-decoration for Europe, a prize so that Europe may do as I said at Strasbourg; that it may no longer be ‘grandmother Europe’ but ‘mother Europe’. Secondly, reading the news the other day about this crisis and so on … there was one word that I liked … the ‘re-foundation’ of the European Union. I thought of the great fathers, but today where is there a Schuman, an Adenauer, the great statesmen who after the war founded the European Union. I like this idea of the re-foundation of the European Union, maybe it can be done, because Europe – I do not say is unique, but it has a strength, a culture, a history that cannot be lost, and we must do everything so that the European Union has the strength and also the inspiration to go forward”.
Question: “Holy Father, you have spoken much about families and the Year of Mercy in this trip. Some wonder how a Church that claims to be merciful can forgive a murderer more easily than someone who has divorced and remarried?”
Pope Francis: “On the family, two synods have spoken. The Pope has spoken on this all year in the Wednesday Catechisms. The question is true, you posed it very well. The post-Synod document … reviews everything the Synod has said on conflicts, wounded families and the pastoral (care) of wounded families. It is one of our concerns. Another is the preparation for marriage. … Preparation for marriage is very important. … I believe it is something that in the Church, in common pastoral ministry, at least in my country, in South America, the Church has not valued much. For example, it does not happen so much now, but some years ago in my homeland there was a habit, something called ‘casamiento de apuro’, a marriage in haste because of an unplanned pregnancy, to protect the honour of the family. There, the spouses were not free and often this type of marriage is null. As a bishop I forbade my priests to celebrate this type of marriage. … I would say, let the baby come, let them continue as fiancées, and when they feel like they can continue for the rest of their lives, then they could go ahead. … Another very interesting chapter is the education of children: the victims of family problems are the children. … Another interesting thing from the meeting with families in Tuxtla – there was a couple, married again in second union, and ‘integrated’ in the pastoral ministry of the Church. The key phrase used by the synod, which I’ll take up again, is to ‘integrate’ wounded families, remarried couples and so on in the life of the Church. But the children who in the middle must not be forgotten. They are the primary victims, both of these wounds, and of conditions of poverty, work, and so on”.
Question: “Does that mean they can receive Communion?”
Pope Francis: “This is the last thing. Integrating in the Church does not mean receiving communion. … It is a path towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say, ‘from here on they can have communion.’ This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it would not allow them to proceed on this path of integration. And the couple in Tuxtla were happy. They used a very beautiful expression: we do not receive Eucharistic communion, but we receive communion when we visit hospitals, in this service, and so forth. Their integration has remained there. If there is something more, the Lord will tell them, but it is a path, a road”.
Question: “The media have referred to the intense correspondence John Paul II and the American philosopher, Ana Teresa Tymieniecka. … According to His Holiness, can a Pope have such an intimate relationship with a woman?”
Pope Francis: “I would say that a man who does not know how to have a relationship of friendship with a woman … well, he is a man who is missing something. … A friendship with a woman is not a sin. It is a friendship. … But the Pope is a man. The Pope needs the input of women, too. And the Pope, too, has a heart that can have a healthy, holy friendship with a woman. There are saint-friends – Francis and Clare, Teresa and John of the Cross. … But women are still not well considered; we have not understood the good a woman can do for the life of a priest and of the church in the sense of counsel, help and healthy friendship”.
Question: “On the topic of the law that is being considered in the Italian parliament: it is a law that in some ways is about other countries, because other countries have laws about unions among people of the same sex. There is a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith from 2003 that dedicates … a chapter to the position of Catholic parliamentarians in relation this question. It says expressly that Catholic parliamentarians must not vote for these laws. I wanted to ask, first of all, is this document of 2003 still in effect? What is the position a Catholic parliamentarian must take? Also, after Moscow, Cairo: is there another ‘thawing’ on the horizon? I refer to the audience His Holiness hopes for with the ‘Pope of the Sunnis’, if we may call him thus: the Imam of Al Azhar”.
Pope Francis: “On this second issue, Msgr. Ayuso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue presided by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, went to meet the deputy to the Imam, and to greet the Imam. … I want to meet him. I know that he would like it. We are looking for a way, always through Cardinal Tauran because that is the way. But we we achieve this. Regarding the first theme: I do not remember that 2003 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, but every Catholic parliamentarian must vote according their well-formed conscience. I would say only this. I think it is sufficient. … With regard to persons of the same sex, I repeat what I said on the trip to Rio di Janeiro. It is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church”.
Question: “Thank you for this trip to Mexico. … And we are already thinking about future trips. When are you going to go to Argentina, where they have been waiting for you for a long time? When will you return to Latin America, or will you go to China?”
Pope Francis: “I would love to go to China! … I would like to say something just about the Mexican people. It is a population that has a great wealth … a culture that goes back millennia. … It is a people of great faith. They have also suffered religious persecution. There are martyrs, and I will now canonize two of them. It is a people that you cannot easily explain, because the word ‘people’ is not a logical category, it’s a mythical category. The Mexican people cannot be explained: you cannot explain this wealth, this history, this joy, the capacity to celebrate amid tragedy. … A nation that nevertheless still has this vitality can be explained only by Guadalupe. And I invite you to seriously study the facts of Guadalupe. The Madonna is there. I cannot find another explanation. … There are good books that explain it, that also explain the painting and its meaning. In this way you can understand better this great and beautiful people”.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Vatican]