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Holy Father’s In-Flight Press Conference on Return from Ireland (Full Text)

‘The Irish people have a faith that is rooted and strong’

Following is the Vatican-provided transcript of the in-flight press conference Pope Francis held on his flight from Ireland to Rome, at the end of his Aug. 25-26, 2018, trip for the Ninth World Meeting of Families:


Yesterday, during the return flight from Dublin to Rome, at the end of his apostolic trip to Ireland for the Ninth World Meeting of Families, the Holy Father Francis met with journalists on board the aircraft in a press conference, the full text of which follows:

Greg Burke:
Good evening, Holy Father!

Pope Francis:
Good evening!

Greg Burke:
Holy Father, thank you for this time you are dedicating to us after two such intense days. Certainly, there were difficult moments in Ireland – there is always the matter of abuse – but also very beautiful moments: the Festival of Families, testimonies from families, the meeting with the young couples and the visit to the Capuchins, who greatly help the poor.

Let us hand over to the journalists, starting with the Irish… But maybe you want to say something first…

Pope Francis:
To say thank you, because while I am tired, I think of you who have work, work, work… I thank you so much for your effort and your work. Many thanks.

Greg Burke:
The first question, as usual, comes from a journalist from the country, who is Tony Connelly of RTÉ – Radio TV Ireland).

Tony Connelly, RTÉ (Radio Tv Irlanda)
Your Holiness, you spoke on Saturday about the meeting you had with the Minister for Childhood. You talked about how moved you were by what she said about the mother and baby homes. What exactly did she tell you? Were you shocked because it was the first time you had heard of these homes?

Pope Francis:
The minister first told me something that did not have too much to do with mothers and children. She told me, and she was brief: “Holy Father, we found mass graves of children, buried children, we are investigating… Does the Church have something to do with all this?” But she said it very politely and truly with a lot of respect. I thanked her, as this had touched my heart to the point that I wanted to repeat it in the speech. It is was not at the airport, I was mistaken, it was at the meeting with the President. At the airport, there was another lady, a minister I think, and I made the mistake. But, she told me, “I’ll send you a memo”. She sent me a memo and I haven’t been able to read it yet. I saw it was a memo, that she sent me a memo. She was very balanced in telling me, “There’s an issue, the investigation has not yet finished”. But, she made me understand that the Church has something to do with this. For me, this was an example of constructive collaboration, rather than, I don’t want to say the word “protest” … of complaint, of complaint for that which at one time maybe the Church had favoured. That lady had a dignity that touched my heart, and now I have that memo, which I will study when I get home. Thanks to her.

Greg Burke:
Now, another Irishman, Paddy Agnew, of the “Sunday Independent”, resident in Rome but an Irish journalist.

Pope Francis:
He is not the only Irishman in Rome!

Paddy Agnew, “Sunday Independent”:
Holy Father, thank you and good evening. Yesterday, Marie Collins, the abuse victim Marie Collins whom you know well, said that you are not favourable to a new tribunal for Vatican inquiries on the issue of abuses, new inquiries on the problem of sexual abuse, and in particular on a so-called tribunal of inquiry on the assumption of responsibility by bishops – bishop accountability. Why do you think this is not necessary?

Pope Francis:
No, no, it is not like this. Marie Collins is rather focused on the idea… I greatly respect Marie Collins. At times, we call her to the Vatican to give conferences. She is very interested in the idea of the text on “As a loving mother” (Apostolic Letter issued Motu proprio) in which it is said that it would be good to have a special tribunal to judge bishops. Then, we saw this was not practical, nor was it convenient for the different cultures of the bishops that had to be judged. You can take the recommendation of “As a loving mother” and make the “giuria” [commission of bishops] for each bishop, but it is not the same. This bishop is judged and the Pope makes a “giuria” that is more able to take on that case. It is something that works better, also because not all bishops are able to leave their dioceses. It is not possible. In this way, the tribunals, the “giuria” change. And that is what we have done so far. Quite a lot of bishops have been judged. The latest is that of Guam, the Archbishop of Guam, who appealed. And, I decided – because it is a very difficult case – to use a right I have of taking on the appeal myself and not sending it to the council of appeal that does its work with all the priests, but I took it upon myself. And made a commission of canonists who are helping me and who have told me that when I get back, after a maximum of a month, a recommendation will be made so I can make a judgment. It is a complicated case, on one hand, but not difficult because the evidence is clear. I cannot pre-judge, I await the report and then I will judge. I say that the evidence is clear because there is this evidence which led the first tribunal to the sentence. This is the most recent case. Now, there is another in process and we will see how it ends. But, of course, I told Marie that the spirit and also the recommendation of “As a loving mother” is being implemented… a bishop is judged by a tribunal, but it is not always the same tribunal, as it is not possible. She did not understand that well. But, when I see her, sometimes she comes to the Vatican, I will explain it more clearly. I wish her well.

Greg Burke:
Now the Italian group, Holy Father: there is Stefania Falasca, of “Avvenire”.

Stefania Falasca, “Avvenire”:
Good evening, Holy Father. You have said, even today, that it is always a challenge to welcome the migrant and the foreigner. Just yesterday a painful matter was resolved, that of the ship “Diciotti”. Is your “hoof” behind this solution? Is there your involvement, your interest?

Pope Francis:
It is the devil who has a hoof, not me! [Laughter] The hoof is the devil’s…

Stefania Falasca:
And then, many see extortion of Europe on the backs of these people. What do you think?

Pope Francis:
The welcoming of migrants is as old as the Bible. It is in Deuteronomy, in the Commandments. God commands welcoming the migrant, the foreigner. It is so old that it is in the spirit of revelation but also in the spirit of Christianity. It is a moral principle. I spoke about this. Then, I saw that I needed to bit a bit more explicit because it is not a reception with the “belle étoile,” no! It should be a reasonable welcome. And this applies to all of Europe. And when did I realize how this reasonable welcome must be? When there was the terrorist attack in Zaventem [Belgium]: that young men, the guerillas who carried out the attack on Zaventem were Belgians, but sons of migrants who had not been integrated, but rather had been “ghettoized”! That is, they were received by the country and just left there, and they formed a ghetto. They were not integrated. Then I remembered when I went to Sweden, and Franca [Giansoldati] in an article mentioned this, of how I expressed this thought, and when I went to Sweden, I spoke about integration, and I knew about this because during the dictatorship in Argentina, from 1976 to 1983, many, many Argentines and also many Uruguayans escaped to Sweden and there the government would integrate them immediately. It taught them the language, gave them a job and integrated them. To the point that, this is an interesting anecdote, a Minister who came to bid me farewell at the airport in Lund was the daughter of a Swedish and an African immigrant. This African migrant was so integrated to the extent that his daughter became a minister. Sweden was a model. But in that moment Sweden was starting to have difficulties, not because it did not have the good will for this, but because it did not have the possibility of integration. This was the reason why Sweden stopped a little, and took this step. Integration. And then, I spoke during the press conference among you about the virtue of prudence, the virtue proper to the governor, and I spoke about the prudence of peoples regarding the number [of migrants to receive] or the possibility. A people that can receive but which does not have the means for integrating [migrants], it is better not to receive them. There, there is the issue of prudence. And I believe that this is the real core of the dialogue today in the European Union. We must continue to speak. Solutions will be found.

What happened with the Diciotti? I didn’t put my “hoof” there. It was Fr. Aldo [Fr. Aldo Bonaiuto] who did the work with the Minister of the Interior, the good Fr. Aldo who continues the work of Fr. Benzi, whom the Italians know well, who works for the liberation of prostitutes, those who are exploited, and many things… The Italian Bishops’ Conference was also involved. Cardinal Bassetti was there, but on the telephone; he guided all the mediation, and one of his two under-secretaries, Msgr. Maffeis negotiated with the Minister. And I believe that Albania was involved.. Albania, Ireland, and Montenegro, I think, took a certain number of migrants, I’m not sure. The others were taken up by the Conference, I don’t know if under the “umbrella” of the Vatican or not, I do not know how it was negotiated there, and they will go to the “Mondo Migliore” Centre at Rocca di Papa, they will be welcomed there. The number I believe is more than a hundred, and there they will begin to learn the language and to do that work that is done with integrated migrants. I have had an experience that was very gratifying. When I went to Roma Tre (University), there were students who wanted to ask me questions and I saw a student and thought, “I know this face”, and she was one who had come with me among the thirteen I brought back from Lesbos. And that girl was at the university! Why? Because the Sant’Egidio Community, from the day after her arrival, took her to school, to study: go on, go on! and had integrated her at a university level. This is work with migrants. There is an openness of heart for everyone, suffering, then integration as a condition for welcoming and then the prudence of those who govern for doing this. I have seen a clandestinely made film of the things that happen to those who are sent back and fall into the hans of traffickers. It is horrible, the things that they do to the men – the women and the children, they sell them, but to the men, they do the most sophisticated torture. There was one there who was capable, a spy, of making that film that I sent to my two under-secretaries for immigration. For this reason, before sending them back you have to think carefully, very carefully.

Then, one last thing: there are these migrants who come, but there are also those who are tricked, at Fiumicino, they are conned. “No, we give you work”. They let them all have papers, but they end up on the street, enslaved, under threat from traffickers of women. This is what happens.

Greg Burke:
Thank you, Holy Father. The next question is from the English-speaking group: Anna Matranga, from the NBC American television.

Anna Matranga, CBS:
Good evening, Holy Father! I will return to the matter of abuse, of which you have already spoken. Every early this morning a document was issued by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, in which he says that in 2013 he had a personal conversation with you in the Vatican, and in this discussion he spoke with you explicitly about the behaviour and sexual abuse on the part of the ex-cardinal McCarrick. I wanted to ask you if this was true. And I also wanted to ask you another thing: the archbishop also said that Pope Benedict had sanctioned McCarrick, that he had said he could not live in the seminary, he could not celebrate Mass in public, he could not travel; he was sanctioned by the Church. Can I ask you if these two things are true?

Pope Francis:
One thing: I would prefer – although I will answer your question – I would prefer if first we spoke about the trip and then other matters… but I will answer. I read that letter this morning. I read it and sincerely I have to ask you this, you and all those among you who are interested: read it carefully, the letter, and then judge for yourselves. I will not say a word about this. I believe that the letter speaks for itself, and you have sufficient journalistic capacity to draw your conclusions. It is an act of trust: when a little time has passed and you have drawn your conclusions, perhaps I will speak. But I would like your professional maturity to do this work: it will do you good, truly. That’s good.

Anna Matranga:
Marie Collins has said, after having met with you during the meeting with victims, that she had spoken directly with you precisely about the ex-cardinal McCarrick; she said that you were very firm in your condemnation of McCarrick. I wanted to ask: when was the last time you heard talk of the abuses that the ex-cardinal had committed?

Pope Francis:
This is part of the letter on McCarrick: study it and then I will say. But since yesterday I had not read it, I allowed myself to speak clearly with Marie Collins and the group [of victims], in the meeting that lasted really an hour and a half; it was something that made me suffer greatly. But I think it was necessary to listen to those eight people; and from that meeting the proposal emerged – which I made myself and which they accepted and helped me to realize – of asking for forgiveness today in the Mass, but on concrete issues. For example, the last one, which I had heard:  those mothers, they called it the “cleansing” of women, when an unmarried woman became pregnant, she went to a hospital or, I don’t know what it was called, an institute – but there were religious sisters who ran it, and they gave the child up for adoption by other people. And there were children, at that time, who looked for their mothers, to know if they were alive, they didn’t know… and they were told that it was a mortal sin to do so; and also the mothers who looked for their children, they told them it was a mortal sin. This is why I finished today by saying that this is not a mortal sin, but rather the fourth commandment. And the things I said today, some of them I did not know, and it was painful for me, but also with the consolation of being able to help clarify these things. And I await your comment on that document, I would like to read it! Thank you.

Greg Burke:
Thank you, Holy Father. Now Cecile Chambraud of “Le Monde”.

Cecile Chambraud, “Le Monde”:
Good evening, Holy Father. I hope you do not mind if I ask my question in Spanish, and I ask you though to answer in Italian for all the colleagues. In your address to the Irish authorities, you referred to your recent Letter to the People of God. In that letter, you called upon all Catholics to participate in the fight against abuses in the Church. Can you explain to us what in concrete terms Catholics can do, each one in his or her own position, to fight against abuse? And in this regard, in France, a priest has started a petition calling for the resignation of Cardinal Barbarin, accused by victims. Does this initiative seem suitable or not?

Pope Francis:
If there are suspicions or evidence or partial evidence, I see no harm in carrying out an investigation, always on the basis of the fundamental legal principle: Nemo malus nisi probetur, innocent until proven guilty. And many times there is the temptation not only to carry out an investigation, but to publish that the investigation has been carried out and so in some media – not yours, I don’t know – they begin to create a climate of guilt. And I wish to say what happened in those times, which may help in this, because for me it is important how one proceeds and how the media can help. Three years ago, more or less, the problem of so-called paedophile priests began in Granada, a group of six, eight, ten priests, who were accused of abuse of minors and also of holding parties, orgies and these things. I received the accusation, directly: a letter written by a young man aged twenty-three; he said he had been abused, giving names and everything. A young man who worked in a religious college in Granada, very prestigious: the letter was perfect. And he asked me what could be done to report this. I said, “Go to the archbishop, the archbishop knows what you have to do”. The archbishop did all that he had to do, and the matter even arrived in the civil court. There were two trials. The media in the place had started to talk, to talk… Three days after, it was written all over the parish about “paedophile priests”, and things of that type, and so the idea that these priests were criminals was created. Seven were questioned, and nothing was found; the investigation continued regarding three of them, and they were imprisoned for five days, two of them, and one – Father Roman, who was the parish priest – for seven days. For almost three years they suffered hatred from all the population: criminalized, they could not come out, and they suffered humiliation from the jury in countering the accusations of the young man, which I dare not repeat here. After more than three years, the jury declared the priests innocent, all of them, but especially those three: the others were already out – and the accuser to be guilty. Because they had seen that the accuser liked to invent, but he was a very intelligent person who also worked in a Catholic college and had this prestige, which gave the impression he was telling the truth. He was ordered to pay costs and all these things, and they were innocent. These men were sentenced by the media first, before obtaining justice. And therefore your work is very delicate: you must accompany, you must say things but always with this legal presumption of innocence, and not the legal presumption of guilt! And there is a difference between the informer who informs on a case but does not bet on the outcome, and the investigator who acts like Sherlock Holmes, who goes ahead with the presumption of guilt. When we read the technique of Hercule Poirot: for him, everyone was guilty. But this is the role of the investigator. They are two different positions. But those who inform must always start out from the presumption of innocence, saying their impressions, their doubts, but without passing judgement. This case in Granada was for me an example that is good for us all, in our [respective] role.

Greg Burke:
The first part of the [preceding] question was what the people of God can do in relation to this matter…

Pope Francis:
Ah yes, yes. When we see something, speak immediately. I will tell you something else, not very nice. At times, it is the parents who cover up the abuse carried out by a priest. Many times. It can be seen in the sentences. They say, “But, no…”. They do not believe, or they convince themselves that it is not true, and that the boy or girl remains in this way. I receive one or two people a week, but it is not mathematical; and I received a person, a woman, who for forty years had suffered from this wound of silence, because her parents did not believe her. She was abused for eight years. To speak, this is important. It is true that for a mother, to see this… It would be better if it were not true, and perhaps to think that the son maybe has fantasies… But we must speak. And speak with the right people, speak with those who can initiate a judgement, at least a preliminary investigation. Speak with the magistrate or the bishop, or if the parish priest is good, speak to him This is the first thing the people of God can do. These things must not be covered up, they are not to be covered up. A psychiatrist told me some time ago, but I do not want this to be an offence to women, that out of a sense of maternity, women are more inclined than men to cover up issues relating to their children. But I do not know if it is true or not. But this is: speak. Thank you.

Greg Burke:
From the Spanish group there is Javier Romero, of “Rome Reports TV”.

Javier Romero:
Your Holiness, excuse me, I would like to ask you two questions. The first is that the Prime Minister of Ireland, who was very direct in his address, is proud of a new model of family different to the one traditionally proposed by the Church so far: he spoke about gay marriage. And this is perhaps one of the models that causes the most disagreement, especially in the case of a Catholic family, when there is a person in this family who declares to be homosexual. Holiness, the first question I would like to ask you is: what do you think, what would you say to a father whose son says he is homosexual and would like to go and live with his companion? This is the first question. And the second, that you too in the address to the prime minister spoke about abortion; we have seen how Ireland has changed greatly in recent years and it seemed that the Minister was indeed satisfied with these changes: one of these changes is in fact abortion. We have seen that in recent months, in recent years the issue of abortion has come out in many countries, including in Argentina, your country. What do you feel when you see that this is an issue you speak about often and there are many countries in which it occurs…

Pope Francis:
Good. I will start with the second, but there are two points – thank you for this- because they are linked to the matters we are talking about. On abortion, you know what the Church thinks. The problem of abortion is not a religious problem, we are not against abortion because of religion. No. It is a human problem, and it must be studied by anthropology. Studying abortion starting from the religious fact means sidestepping the thought. The problem of abortion must be studied by anthropology. And there is always the anthropological question of the ethical aspect of eliminating a living being to resolve a problem. But this is already the discussion. I want only to underline this: I never permit that the problem of abortion is discussed starting from the religious fact. No. It is an anthropological problem, it is a human problem. This is my thought.

Second. There have always been homosexuals and people with homosexual tendencies. Always. The sociologists say, but I do not know if it is true, that in times of epoch change some social and ethical problems grow, and this would be one of those. This is the opinion of some sociologists. Your question is clear: what would I say to a father who sees that his son or his daughter has that tendency. I would tell him, first of all, to pray: pray. Not to condemn, but to engage in dialogue, to understand, to give space to the son or daughter. Make space for them to express themselves. Then, at what age does this disquiet manifest itself? This is important. It is one thing when it is manifested in a child, when there are many things that can be done, to see how things are; it is another thing when it is manifested after twenty years or something like that. But I will never say that silence is the remedy: ignoring the son or daughter with a homosexual tendency is a lack of paternity and maternity. You are my son, you are my daughter, just as you are; I am your father, your mother, let us talk. And if you, father or mother, are not able to cope, then ask for help, but always in dialogue, always in dialogue. Because that son and that daughter have the right to a family and the family is the one that there is: do not push them out of the family. This is a serious challenge to paternity and maternity. I thank you for your question, thank you.

Greg Burke:
Thank you, Holy Father.

Pope Francis:
And then, I would like to say something to the Irish who are here: I found great faith in Ireland. A lot of faith. It is true, the Irish population has suffered greatly as a result of scandals. But there is faith, in Ireland, and it is strong. And in addition the Irish people know how to distinguish, and I quote what I heard today from a prelate: “The Irish people know how to distinguish well between the truth and half-truths: it is something they have within”. It is true that it is in the phase of processing, and of healing from this scandal; it is true that some open up to positions that seem to drift away from faith. But the Irish people have a faith that is rooted and strong. I want to say this because it is what I saw, I heard, and what I have found out about in these two days.

Thank you for your work, many thanks! And pray for me, please.

Greg Burke:
Thank you. Have a good dinner and a good rest.

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