Less than two weeks after the release of a headline-grabbing interview in Civilta Cattolica and other Jesuit publications around the world, yet another interview with Pope Francis was published today, this time in the Italian daily La Repubblica. Last week the Holy Father sat down with the newspaper’s atheist founder, Eugenio Scalfari, after the two publically exchanged letters, which were also published in La Repubblica. Francis and Scalfari discussed faith, reforms within the Vatican, and the role of the Church in the modern world, among other topics. Pope Francis also indicates that he will meet again with Scalfari for another, similar meeting, making one wonder if the papal interview will become a fixture in Francis’ pontificate.
My guess is this interview will receive considerably less media attention than the previous one, partly because the novelty of the pope sitting down and talking to a journalist may have worn off for some, but mostly because the subjects Francis discusses with Scalfari are not the ones that drove headlines for days following the first interview: there aren’t any references here to abortion, contraception, or homosexuality. The Repubblica interview does, however, offer insights into the problems Pope Francis believes the Church faces today, as well as provide a template of sorts for the kind of dialogue with unbelievers that he sees as critical to the Church’s mission in the modern world.
The full interview can be read in English here; some excerpts:
“The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crashed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”
Your Holiness, I say, it is a largely a political and economic problem for states, governments, political parties, trade unions.
“Yes, you are right, but it also concerns the Church, in fact, particularly the Church because this situation does not hurt only bodies but also souls. The Church must feel responsible for both souls and bodies.”
Discussing the “narcissism” of some leaders, including Church leaders, Francis states, “The court is the leprosy of the papacy.” Scalfari asks if this is a reference to the Curia:
“No, there are sometimes courtiers in the curia, but the curia as a whole is another thing. It is what in an army is called the quartermaster’s office, it manages the services that serve the Holy See. But it has one defect: it is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I’ll do everything I can to change it. The Church is or should go back to being a community of God’s people, and priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God. The Church is this, a word not surprisingly different from the Holy See, which has its own function, important but at the service of the Church. I would not have been able to have complete faith in God and in his Son if I had not been trained in the Church, and if I had not had the good fortune of being in Argentina, in a community without which I would not have become aware myself and my faith.”
On Christians living as a minority in today’s world:
“We always have been [a minority] but the issue today is not that. Personally I think that being a minority is actually a strength. We have to be a leavening of life and love and the leavening is infinitely smaller than the mass of fruits, flowers and trees that are born out of it. I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.”
On the temporal power of the Church:
I think love for temporal power is still very strong within the Vatican Walls and in the institutional structure of the whole Church. I think that the institution dominates the poor, missionary Church that you would like.
“In fact, that is the way it is, and in this area you cannot perform miracles. Let me remind you that even Francis in his time held long negotiations with the Roman hierarchy and the Pope to have the rules of his order recognized. Eventually he got the approval but with profound changes and compromises.”
Will you have to follow the same path?
“I’m not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness. But I am the Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic world. The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers. Not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings. This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal. When Cardinal Martini talked about focusing on the councils and synods he knew how long and difficult it would be to go in that direction. Gently, but firmly and tenaciously.”
On Catholics and politics:
“Why do you ask? I have already said that the Church will not deal with politics.”
But just a few days ago you appealed to Catholics to engage civilly and politically.
“I was not addressing only Catholics but all men of good will. I say that politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion. Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres. All my predecessors have said the same thing, for many years at least, albeit with different accents. I believe that Catholics involved in politics carry the values of their religion within them, but have the mature awareness and expertise to implement them. The Church will never go beyond its task of expressing and disseminating its values, at least as long as I’m here.”
At the end of the interview, it is clear both Pope Francis and Scalfari expect another meeting to take place at some point in the future. “We will also discuss the role of women in the Church. Remember you that the Church (la chiesa) is feminine,” Pope Francis told him. “And if you like, we can also to talk about Pascal. I’d like to know what you think of that great soul.”