Returning from his visit to the Central American nation of Panama, Jan. 22-27, 2019, Pope Francis held his traditional in-flight “press conference” with journalists on board the papal plane touching on a wide range of issues.
The first questions related to his just-concluded Apostolic Visit to the Central American country for the occasion of the XXXIV World Youth Day, where he discussed its fruits, the importance of giving positive witness to the young to stay credible and the nobility he observed in the Panamanian people.
When asked about married priests, the Argentine Jesuit Pontiff echoed the words of his predecessor St. Pope Paul VI: ‘I would prefer to give my life before changing the law of celibacy’ for Latin-rite priests.
Speaking for himself, Pope Francis stated: “Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church and I do not agree with allowing celibacy to be optional.”
After making this explicit statement, he did not exclude studying the question, and the possibility that in exceptional circumstances, where absolutely necessary, one could consider some exceptions.
Journalists asked the Pope about the upcoming summit for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults in the Vatican, Feb. 21-24, 2019, to which he warned to not overly raise expectations, as it is to address three main points.
The Pope stated the three points as being the following: raising awareness,
- “One, a catechesis: that we become aware of the tragedy, what is an abused boy, an abused girl. I regularly receive abused people [in audience]. I remember one… 40 years without being able to pray. It is terrible, the suffering is terrible. That first, [the bishops] become aware of this.”
- “Second: that they know what must be done, the procedure, because sometimes the bishop does not know what to do. It is something that has grown very strong and has not arrived at all angles, so to speak. And then, let them make general programs, but they will come from all the episcopal conferences: what the bishop must do, what the archbishop who is the metropolitan must do, what the president of the episcopal conference must do. But it must be clear in that… that they are – let’s say it in terms [that are] a little juridical – that there are protocols that are clear. This is the main thing.”
- Three, the bishops “will pray. There will be testimonies to help to become aware and then a penitential liturgy to ask forgiveness for the whole Church.”
While stressing that developing clear protocols that bishops know how to follow to prevent cover-up and help victims is essential, the Pope warned against ‘inflated expectations,’ noting that they ought to be ‘deflated’ as ‘abuse is a ‘human problem’ that ‘won’t go away,’ but ought to be tackled. He stressed that the progress that the Church will work toward ideally could help the rest of society.
The Holy Father also responded to an assortment of other questions ranging from Venezuela, abortion, migration, and sexual education in Latin America.
Abortion, Sing a Lullaby to Heaven
Responding to a question regarding abortion, Pope Francis reiterated his condemnation of abortion, but acknowledging this ‘difficult type of mercy’ for the mothers who undergo something so devastating, a type of drama you only ‘understand in the confessional.’
The Pope stressed: “The message of mercy is for everyone. Also, for the human person who is in gestation. It is for everyone. After this failure, there is mercy as well. But difficult mercy because the problem is not in giving forgiveness.”
The problem, he said, is to accompany a woman who has become aware of what it means to have had an abortion. “These are terrible tragedies.”
“Once I heard a doctor talking about a theory that a cell of the newly conceived fetus goes to the marrow of the mother and there is also a physical memory. This is a theory, but to say, a woman when she thinks about what she did… but I tell you the truth, you have to be in the confessional and you have to give comfort there, you can’t say anything. That is why I have opened up the power [for priests] to absolve abortion out of mercy, because many times, but always, they have to meet with their child.”
“I advise many times when they call, they have this anguish: ‘Your child is in heaven, talk to him. Sing to him the lullaby that you have not sung… you have not been able to sing to him.’ And there is a way for the mother to reconcile with her child. With God there is already forgiveness, God always forgives. But mercy also, that you elaborate on this. The tragedy of abortion, to understand it well, one must be in a confessional. Terrible.”
The Holy Father has decried abortion often, comparing aborting to hiring an ‘assassin’ and saying that you cannot kill someone to resolve a problem. In the Pope’s letter to the Pontifical Academy for Life for its 25th Anniversary, signed Jan. 6, 2019, Francis appealed for promoting and protecting human life at every stage of its development, stating ‘abortion and euthanasia are extremely grave evils which contradict the Spirit of life.’
Venezuela, Sex Education, Pride ‘in What?’
When asked in today’s presser about Venezuela, the Pope expressed his support for the population in the South American country “who are all suffering.”
“What scares me is the bloodshed,” he said. “The problem of violence terrifies me.”
Regarding to what extent he believes sex education in the schools is necessary, Francis stressed that this type of education must start at home, and while acknowledging that being informed or educated in schools on this has its purpose, he warned against methods that can be “harmful,” namely full of ‘ideological colonization’ which could “destroy the person.”
In the questions, when asked why young people leave the Church, he alluded to a lack of witnessing what they preach by clergy, religious, and even popes. He said we need this witness and certainly must get rid of the hypocrisy which discourages them.
Pope Francis concluded, before dinnertime, calling Panama a noble nation, I found nobility. He recalled that in Panama and in Latin America, there was something that we don’t see in Europe, “that is, the pride, in this case of the Panamanians.”
“You lift up the children and they say to you, ‘this is my victory,’ ‘this is my future,’ ‘this is my pride.’ This in the midst of the demographic winter we’re living in Europe. In Italy, below zero.”
“It has to make us think. What is my pride? Tourism? The villa [home]? The dog? Or lifting up a child?”
“Thanks! Pray for me, I need it.”
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