Below is a ZENIT translation of the question and answer session that took place after Pope Francis opened the Ecclesial Conference for the Diocese of Rome on Saturday:
Cardinal Vallini: Now, the Holy Father will listen to three questions that arose in the preparatory stage of our Congress. The first is that of Father Giampiero Palmieri, parish priest of San Frumenzio.
Father Giampiero Palmieri: Good evening, Your Holiness. In the Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, you say that today’s great problem is comfortable and greedy individualism and, in Amoris Laetitia you say that it is necessary to create and keep family bonds. You use an expression that in Italian also sounds somewhat bad: “the larger family,” extended family, networks of relations among families, not only in the Church, but also in society, where the littlest, the poorest, women who are alone, and the elderly can be welcomed. A revolution of tenderness, a mystical fraternity is necessary. You see, we also feel the ‘virus’ of individualism in our communities; we are also children of this time. So, we are in need of help to create this network of relations among families, capable of breaking those that are closed and of meeting one another again. Perhaps, this means changing many things in our parishes, many things that perhaps with time are settled: hostility, divisions, old resentments – this is the question.
Pope Francis: It’s true that individualism is like the axis of this culture. And this individualism has so many names, so many names of an egoistic root: they always seek themselves, do not look at the other, do not look at other families. Sometimes, one even arrives at pastoral cruelty. For instance, I speak of an experience that I had when I was in Buenos Aires: in a neighboring diocese, some parish priests didn’t want to baptize the children of unwed mothers. But look! As if they were animals, and this is individualism. “No, we are the perfect, this is the way …” It’s an individualism that also seeks pleasure, it’s hedonist. I was about to say a rather strong word, but I’ll say it between quotation marks: that “accursed wellbeing” that has done us so much evil: wellbeing. Today, Italy has a terrible drop in the birth rate — I believe under zero. But this began with that culture of wellbeing some decades ago … I have known so many families that preferred — but please, don’t accuse me, animal activists, because I don’t wish to offend anyone — that preferred to have two or three cats, a dog, instead of a child. Because to produce a son isn’t easy, and then to lead him forward … But what most becomes a challenge with a child is that you form a person who will become free. The dog, the cat, will give you affection, but a “programmed” affection, up to a certain point, not free. You have one, two, three, four children and they will be free, and they will have to go on in life with life’s risks. This is the challenge that causes fear: freedom. And we turn to individualism: I think we are afraid of freedom, also in pastoral care: “But what will be said if I do this … And can it be done? …” And one is afraid. “But you are afraid: take the risk! The moment you are there, and must decide, risk! If you make a mistake, there is the confessor, the Bishop, but take the risk!” It’s like that Pharisee: the pastoral of clean hands, everything clean, everything in its place, everything good. But outside of this environment, how much misery, how much pain, how much poverty, what a lack of opportunity for development there is! It is a hedonistic individualism; it is a hedonism that is afraid of freedom. It’s an individualism — I don’t know if Italian grammar allows it — I would say “caged”: it cages you, it doesn’t let you fly free. And then, yes, the extended family — it’s true, it’s a word that doesn’t always sound right, but according to the cultures. I wrote the Exhortation in Spanish … For instance, I’ve known families … In fact the other day, one or two weeks ago, the Ambassador of a country came to present his credentials. There was the Ambassador, the family and the lady who did the cleaning of their home for many years: this is an extended family, and this woman was of the family: a woman alone, and not only did they pay her well, paid her regularly, but when they had to come to the Pope to hand the credentials <they said to her>: “you come with us, because you are of the family.” It’s an example. This is to give a place to people. And among simple people, with the simplicity of the Gospel — that good simplicity –, there are such examples, of extending the family …
And then, the other key word that you said, in addition to individualism, fear of freedom and attachment to pleasure, you said another word: tenderness. Tenderness is God’s caress. Once, this was said in a Synod: “We must make the revolution of tenderness.” And some Fathers — years ago — said: “But this can’t be said, it doesn’t sound right.” But today we can say it: tenderness is lacking, tenderness is lacking. Caress not only the children, the sick, caress everyone, sinners … And there are good examples of tenderness … Tenderness is a language that is good for the littlest, for those that have nothing: a child knows its father and mother by their caresses, then their voice, but it’s always tenderness. And I like to hear when a father or mother speaks to a child that is beginning to talk, and the father and mother also makes themselves children [do the reverse] speak like that … We’ve all seen it, it’s true. It’s the way that Jesus followed. Jesus did not count His equality with God but emptied Himself (cf. Philippians 2:6-7). And He spoke our language; He spoke with our gestures, and the way of Jesus is the way of tenderness. See: hedonism, fear of freedom, this is in fact contemporary individualism. It’s necessary to come out of it through the way of tenderness, of listening, of accompanying, without asking … Yes, with this language, with this attitude families grow: there’s the small family, then the large family of friends and of those that come along … I don’t know if I’ve answered you, but it seems to me … it came to me this way.
Good evening, Holiness, I return to an argument you have already referred to. We know that as a Christian community we don’t want to give up the radical demands of the Gospel of the family: marriage as Sacrament, indissolubility, fidelity in marriage and, on the other hand, full acceptance of mercy in all situations, also in the most difficult. How can we avoid having a double morality in our communities, one exacting and another permissive, one rigorist and the other lax?
Both are not the truth; neither rigor nor laxity is the truth. The Gospel chooses another way. Hence, those four words — receive, accompany, integrate, discern — without poking one’s nose in people’s moral life. For your tranquillity I must tell you that all that is written in the Exhortation — and I take up the words of a great theologian who was Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Shoenborn, who presented it — everything is Thomist, from the beginning to the end. It’s certain doctrine. However, very often we want certain doctrine to have a mathematical certainty that doesn’t exist, either with laxity, indulgence or with rigidity. We think of Jesus: the story is the same; it’s repeated. When Jesus spoke to the people, the people said: “He doesn’t speak as the scribes, but as one who has authority” (Mark 1:22). Those Doctors knew the Law, and they had a specific law for each case, to arrive at the end to some 600 precepts — everything regulated, everything. And the Lord — I see God’s anger in the 23rd chapter of Matthew, that chapter is terrible. Above all it makes an impression on me when it talks of the Fourth Commandment and says: “You, that instead of giving your elderly parents to eat, say to them: ‘No, I’ve made a promise, the altar is better than you,’ are in contradiction” (cf. Mark 7:1013). Jesus was like that, and He was condemned out of hatred; they always put traps before Him: “Can this be done or not?” We think of the scene of the adulteress (cf. John 8:1-11). It’s written: she must be stoned. It’s the morality, it’s clear, and not rigid, it’s not rigid, it’s a clear morality. She must be stoned. Why? — because of the sacredness of marriage, fidelity. Jesus is clear on this. The word is adultery, it’s clear. And Jesus feigns being somewhat dumb, lets time pass, writes on the ground … and then says: “Begin: let the first one of you who has not sinned, throw the first stone.” In that case, Jesus was lacking in the Law. They went away, beginning with the oldest. “Woman, has no one condemned you? Neither do I.” What is the moral <teaching>? To stone her? But Jesus was lacking, He was lacking in morality. This makes us think that one can’t speak of “rigidity,” of “certainty,” of being mathematical in morality, as the morality of the Gospel.
Then, let us continue with the women: when that Mrs or Miss, the Samaritan, (cf. John 4:1-27], I don’t know what she was, began to be somewhat of a “catechist” and said: “But must we worship God on this or that mountain? …” Jesus had asked her: “And your husband? …” “I don’t have one” – […] And, in fact, she had so many medals of adultery, so many “decorations” … Yet it was she, before being forgiven, who was the “apostle” of Samaria. And then, what should be done? Let’s go to the Gospel; let’s go to Jesus! This doesn’t mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater, no, no. This means to seek the truth; and that morality is always an act of love: love of God, love of neighbor. It’s also an act that leaves room for the other’s conversion, doesn’t condemn immediately, leaves room.
Once — there are so many priests here, but excuse me — my predecessor, no, the other, Cardinal Aramburu, who died after my predecessor, when I was appointed Archbishop, gave me this advice: “When you see that a priest vacillates a bit, slides, call him and say to him: ‘Let’s talk a bit; I’ve been told that you’re in this situation, almost a double life, I don’t know …’ and you’ll see that priest begins to say: ‘No, no, it’s not true, no …’. Interrupt him and say to him: Listen to me: go home, think about it, and return in fifteen days and we’ll talk.’ And in those fifteen days that priest — so he said to me — had the time to think, to rethink before Jesus and return: ‘Yes, it’s true. Help me!’” Time is always needed. “But, Father, that priest lived and celebrated Mass in mortal sin in those fifteen days, so says morality, and what do you say?” What is better? What was better? That the Bishop have the generosity to give him fifteen days to rethink things, with the risk of celebrating Mass in <a state> of mortal sin, is this better or the other, rigid morality? And, in connection with rigid morality, I will tell you a fact that I myself witnessed. When we were in Theology, the exam to hear Confessions – “ad audiendas,” it was called – it was done the third year, but we, those of us of the second <year> had permission to attend to prepare ourselves. And once, a case was proposed to one of our companions, of a person who went to Confession, but <it was> a very intricate case, regarding the seventh Commandment, “de justitia et jure”; but it was in fact such an unreal case …; and this companion, who was a normal person, said to the professor: “But, Father, this isn’t found in life” – “yes, but it’s in the books!” I witnessed this myself.
Good evening, Holiness. Wherever we go, we hear today about the crisis of marriage. And so I would like to ask you: what can we point to today to educate young people to love, particularly to Sacramental Marriage, overcoming their resistances, skepticism, disappointments, the fear of the definitive? Thank you.
I’ll take up your last word: we also live a culture of the provisional. I heard it said that, a few months ago, a youth who had finished his University studies, a good youth, went to the Bishop and said to him: “I want to become a priest, but for ten years.” It’s the culture of the provisional. And this happens everywhere, also in priestly life, in religious life — the provisional. And because of this some of our Sacramental Marriages are null, because they [the spouses] say: “Yes, for life,” but they don’t know what they are saying, because they have another culture. They say it, and have the good will, but they don’t have the awareness. Once a lady in Buenos Aires reproached me: “You priests are wily, because to become priests you study for eight years and then, if things don’t go well and a priest finds a girl he likes … in the end you give him permission to get married and have a family. And to us laity, who must fulfill the Sacrament our whole life and indissolubly, we are given four conferences, and this for the whole of life!” In my opinion, one of the problems is this: the preparation for marriage. And then the question is very linked to the social event. I remember, last year, here in Italy, I called a youth that I had met some time ago at Ciampino, who was getting married. I called him and said to him: “Your mother has told me that you will get married next month … Where will it be? …” “But we don’t know, because we are looking for a church that will suit my girl’s dress … And then, we must do so many things: the sweets, and then find a restaurant that’s not far …” These are the concerns! It’s a social event. How can this be changed? I don’t know. A social event in Buenos Aires: I prohibited religious marriages in Buenos Aires in cases that we call “hurried marriages,” marriages “in haste” [reparatory], when the baby is coming. Now things are changing, but there is this: Socially, everything must be as it should be, the baby arrives, we get married. I prohibited this, because they’re not free, they’re not free! Perhaps they love one another. And I’ve seen some lovely cases in which later, after two-three years, they get married, and I’ve seen father, mother and baby by the hand enter the church, but they knew well what they were doing. The crisis of marriage exists because they don’t know what the Sacrament is — the beauty of the Sacrament: it’s not known that it’s indissoluble; it’s not known that it’s for life. It’s difficult. Another experience I had in Buenos Aires: when parish priests did courses of preparation, there were 12-13 couples, not more; it did not reach 30 persons. The first question they asked was: “How many of you are living together?” The majority raised their hand. They prefer to live together, and this is a challenge, it calls for work. One must not say immediately: “Why aren’t you married in the Church?” No. Accompany them: wait and let them mature — and let fidelity mature. In the Argentine countryside, in the Northeast region, there is a superstition: that engaged couples have a child; that they live together. This happens in the countryside. Then, when the child must go to school, they have the civil marriage. And then, as grandparents, they do the religious marriage. It’s a superstition, because they say that to do the religious <marriage> immediately scares the husband! We must also fight against these superstitions. Yet I can truly say that I’ve seen much fidelity in this living together, much fidelity; and I’m sure that this is a true marriage; they have the grace of marriage, precisely because of the fidelity they have. But they are local superstitions. The pastoral of marriage is the most difficult.
And then, peace in the family — not only when they argue between themselves, and the advice is never to end the day without making peace, because the cold war of the next day is worse! It’s worse, yes, it’s worse. However, when relatives meddle, mothers-in-law, it’s because it’s not easy to become a father-in-law or a mother-in-law! It’s not easy. I heard a lovely thing, which will please the women: when a woman hears from the ultrasonography that she is pregnant with a male, from that moment she begins to [realize she’ll] be a mother-in-law!
I return to what is serious: preparation for marriage must be done with closeness, without being frightened, slowly. Often it’s a path of conversion. There are boys and girls who have a purity, a great love and know what they do, but they are few. Today’s culture presents these youngsters to us; they are good and we must approach them and accompany them, accompany them up to the moment of maturity. It’s there that we carry out the Sacrament, but joyful, joyful! — so much patience is necessary, so much patience. It’s the same patience that is necessary for the pastoral of vocations. To listen to the same things, to listen: the apostolate of the ear, to listen, to accompany … without being frightened… I don’t know if I’ve answered, but I speak to you of my experience, of what I’ve lived as a parish priest. Thank you so much and pray for me![Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]