Flying back to Rome after the conclusion of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis surprised journalists travelling with him by holding an impromptu, no-holds-barred Q&A for some 80 minutes. Hopefully we will see a full transcript of the session in English soon (it is in Spanish here; UPDATE: the official Vatican translation can be read here); so far the most complete reporting that I have seen comes from Catholic News Service’s Cindy Wooden, here and here.
Pope Francis answered questions about World Youth Day, about the reforms he envisions for the Roman Curia, and about the scandal-plagued Vatican Bank, among other things. The remark that will be get the most media coverage—much of it already skewed, it seems—is about homosexuality. The question put to the Holy Father appears to be about the “gay lobby” allegedly active in curial affairs. From Wooden:
Addressing the issue of the gay lobby, Pope Francis said it was important to “distinguish between a person who is gay and someone who makes a gay lobby,” he said. “A gay lobby isn’t good.”
“A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?” the pope said. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.”
Interestingly, the Holy Father’s affirmation of the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality isn’t mentioned in many reports this morning, including John Allen’s otherwise very thorough post on the Q&A session.
Pope Francis also answered questions about the controversial appointment of Msgr. Battista Ricca at the beleaguered Vatican Bank:
Soon after his nomination was announced, an Italian magazine published a story claiming Msgr. Ricca had been sent away from a nunciature in Latin American when it was learned that he had a male lover.
Pope Francis told reporters, “I did what canon law said must be done, I ordered an ‘investigation brevia,’ and this investigation found nothing.”
The pope continued by talking about how “many times in the church, outside this case, but also in this one, we go searching for the sins — of one’s youth, for example — for publicity. I’m not talking about crimes here — the abuse of a minor is a crime — but of sins.”
“But if a person, whether a layperson, priest or sister, goes to confession and converts, the Lord forgives. And when the Lord forgives, he forgets. This is important,” he said, because those who want the Lord to forget their sins should forget those of others.
“St. Peter committed one of the biggest sins ever — he denied Christ — and he made him pope,” Pope Francis said.
Reforms within the Roman Curia—often described as Francis’ “mandate” from the College of Cardinals that elected him pope—were also discussed:
The cardinals, he said, expressed “what they wanted of the new pope — they wanted a lot of things” — but a key part of it was that the Vatican central offices be more efficient and more clearly at the service of the universal church.
“There are saints who work in the Curia — cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters, laity; I’ve met them,” he said, they include those who work full time, then do volunteer work, feed the poor, help out in parishes on weekends.
The media only writes about the sinners and the scandals, he said, but that’s normal, because “a tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows.”
The Holy Father spoke on the subject of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics; from Wooden’s report:
Asked about any possibility that the Catholic Church would begin to allow Catholics who have been divorced and remarried only civilly to receive the sacraments, Pope Francis said he wanted to make it clear that divorced Catholics can receive the sacraments. The problems begin when they marry a second time without having their first union annulled.
He said the annulment process needs to be reformed and streamlined, but even more importantly the Catholic Church needs to get serious about developing a comprehensive pastoral program for the family, and that was one topic he planned to discuss Oct. 1-3 with the commission of eight cardinals he named to advise him on the reform of the Roman Curia and other important matters.
The late Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, his predecessor as archbishop of Buenos Aires, used to say that he thought half the Catholic marriages in the world could be annulled because people marry “without maturity, without understanding it was for one’s entire life or because it seemed socially necessary,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also mentioned the practice of the Orthodox churches that allow a second marriage — what he called “a second chance” — in some cases, giving the impression that the Catholic practice could undergo modification.
Pope Francis also spoke about his two predecessors, Pope John Paul II—whom he is expected to declare a saint sometime in the coming year—and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
Looking ahead, Pope Francis said he was looking forward to canonizing Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II, but choosing a date has become tricky.
First, he said, he thought the Dec. 8 feast of the Immaculate Conception would be appropriate, but that would make it difficult for poorer Polish pilgrims who would have to travel winter roads by bus. The late-November feast of Christ the King — which also is the end of the Year of Faith — is a possibility, he said, but it is probably not enough time to prepare. The best guess, he said, is Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, the Sunday after Easter in 2014.
Pope Francis also responded to a question about his relationship with retired Pope Benedict. Pope Francis smiled warmly and spoke with admiration of the retired pope’s humility, intelligence and prayerfulness.
The unusual situation of having a pope and a retired pope both living at the Vatican is working out very well, although he said he has tried to encourage Pope Benedict to feel freer to invite people over, to go in and out and to join him for events.
Having the retired pope nearby to consult with or ask questions of, he said, “is like having a grandfather at home — a very wise grandfather.”