In an interview appearing today in Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, Pope Francis rejected claims that he is a Marxist as well as the suggestion that women might someday be made cardinals.
In his conversation with Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli, which took place December 10, Pope Francis also spoke about the particular significance of Christmas, the plight of the poor and suffering, ecumenism, and reform in the Roman Curia, among other subjects.
It is the first papal interview since September’s controversial piece by La Repubblica’s Eugenio Scalfari, which was later revealed to have been an “after-the-fact reconstruction” rather than a verbatim interview.
Just as several paragraphs dealing directly with economic policy received the bulk of the media attention after the release of Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium last month, it can be expected that the Holy Father’s statements on Marxism and economics will be the most widely commented-upon aspects of this most recent interview (closely followed by his words on women cardinals, no doubt).
In response to Tornielli’s question about charges from American “ultraconservatives” that Pope Francis is a Marxist because of his statements on the economy in the exhortation, the Holy Father had this to say:
The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended. … There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.
On the possibility of women cardinals in the future, Francis said: “I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not ‘clericalised’. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”
The Holy Father also spoke about the “profound joy” of Christmas and its call to hope and tenderness, as well as the Christian response to suffering in the world:
One man who has been a life mentor for me is Dostoevskij and his explicit and implicit question “Why do children suffer?” has always gone round in my heart. There is no explanation. This image comes to mind: at a particular point of his or her life, a child “wakes up”, doesn’t understand much and feels threatened, he or she starts asking their mum or dad questions. This is the “why” age. But when the child asks a question, he or she doesn’t wait to hear the full answer, they immediately start bombarding you with more “whys”. What they are really looking for, more than an explanation, is a reassuring look on their parent’s face. When I come across a suffering child, the only prayer that comes to mind is the “why” prayer. Why Lord? He doesn’t explain anything to me. But I can feel Him looking at me. So I can say: You know why, I don’t and You won’t tell me, but You’re looking at me and I trust You, Lord, I trust your gaze.
On the properly pastoral administration of the sacraments:
In the Apostolic Exhortation you called for prudent and bold pastoral choices regarding the sacraments. What were you referring to?
“When I speak of prudence I do not think of it in terms of an attitude that paralyses but as the virtue of a leader. Prudence is a virtue of government. So is boldness. One must govern with boldness and prudence. I spoke about baptism and communion as spiritual food that helps one to go on; it is to be considered a remedy not a prize. Some immediately thought about the sacraments for remarried divorcees, but I did not refer to any specific cases; I simply wanted to point out a principle. We must try to facilitate people’s faith, rather than control it. Last year in Argentina I condemned the attitude of some priests who did not baptise the children of unmarried mothers. This is a sick mentality.”
And what about remarried divorcees?
“The exclusion of divorced people who contract a second marriage from communion is not a sanction. It is important to remember this. But I didn’t talk about this in the Exhortation.”
After expressing his hope that he will meet with the Patriarch of Constantinople during his trip to the Holy Land next year, Pope Francis had several things to say on the subject of ecumenism:
You announced a “conversion of the papacy”. Did a specific path emerge from your meetings with the Orthodox Patriarchs?
“John Paul II spoke even more explicitly about a way of exercising the primacy which is open to a new situation. Not just from the point of view of ecumenical relations but also in terms of relations with the Curia and the local Churches. Over the course of these first nine months, I have received visits from many Orthodox brothers: Bartholomew, Hilarion, the theologian Zizioulas, the Copt Tawadros. The latter is a mystic, he would enter the chapel, remove his shoes and go and pray. I felt like their brother. They have the apostolic succession; I received them as brother bishops. It is painful that we are not yet able to celebrate the Eucharist together, but there is friendship. I believe that the way forward is this: friendship, common work and prayer for unity. We blessed each other; one brother blesses the other, one brother is called Peter and the other Andrew, Mark, Thomas…”
Is Christian unity a priority for you?
“Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for. I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism. After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: “I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest’s.” This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptised in. We need to take these facts into consideration.”
The full interview can be read here.