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6 hot-button issues Pope Francis and Gen-Z confront in new Disney doc

"The Pope Answers" airs on Hulu beginning April 5. (Image: Hulu)

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

“The true Church is at the peripheries,” Pope Francis says in Disney’s new documentary “The Pope: Answers,” which was released April 5.

Directed by Spanish filmmaker Jordi Évole and available exclusively on Hulu in the U.S. The one hour and 23 minute-long documentary shares a conversation between the pope and 10 young people from around the world.

Filmed in a poor, working-class neighborhood in Rome, the documentary is entirely in Spanish but accessible to English audiences through subtitles.

Throughout the film, Francis maintains that the Church cannot allow itself to become “a club of nice people,” that is a group of people “who do their religious duties but lack the courage to get out to the ‘suburbs.’”

Using the term “suburbs” to describe those on the peripheries of the Church and faith, Francis shared his belief that it is the Church’s job to go out to those people at the very edges.

“We all like to be comfortable,” said Francis, but that desire for comfort can lead priests to forget they are the shepherd of a flock.

“If you want to see reality, go to the ‘suburbs,’” said Francis, “To find out what social injustice is, go to the ‘suburbs.’”

Among the group of 20- to 25-year-olds were Catholics, Protestants, atheists, agnostics, and one Muslim. Each has a unique problem with either the Church or God. They question the pope on some of the Church’s most controversial teachings and difficult problems.

Throughout the film the pope listens to the young people calmly, responding gently and retaining a smile even as some of his answers evoke anger and indignation.

They discuss immigration, depression, abortion, clergy sexual and psychological abuse, transgenderism, pornography, and loss of faith.

Here’s a taste of the conversation on these hot-button issues facing the Church and the world.

Women in the Church

One young woman, Milagros, from Argentina, describes herself as a feminist and asks why the Church objects to having women priests or even a woman pope.

“Therein lies a theological problem,” answers Francis. “Women have a function within the Church because the Church itself is female … The Church is a wife, Christ’s wife. It is not his husband. Christ is the husband. That is our faith.”

A few young women smirk, but the pope goes on, saying, “There are two constituting streams within the Church. Two principles. So, the ministry is for men. On the maternal side, which is far more important, are women. The promotion of women is aligned with their own vocation as women … otherwise, women would be diminished.”

The dignity of life

Milagros also objects to the pope’s description of abortion as “hiring a hitman” and argues that abortion is a woman’s right.

“I think Jesus would walk with that woman. He wouldn’t judge her like they would during Mass at a church,” Milagros says.

With tears welling up in her eyes, Milagros hands the pope a green bandana with the words “Keep abortion legal, safe, free” written in Spanish. She shared that she would keep that bandana in her backpack as a symbol and wanted to give it to him “lovingly and respectfully.” The pope accepted the gift with a smile, kissing Milagros on the cheek.

Though he agrees that the Church should never condemn a woman for having an abortion, Francis stands firm in his position that abortion kills an innocent child.

“Any embryology book shows us that a month after conception, the DNA is aligned, and all the organs are drawn. It is therefore not just a bunch of cells put together, but a systematized human life. So, the question that should be submitted when talking about the morality of this is; ‘Is it valid to eliminate a human life to solve a problem?’”

His response sets off a debate among the young women in the room in which many insist abortion must be kept legal to protect women, while one lone girl, Maria, from Spain, disagrees, asking Milagros; “You are surrounded by women who have had abortions. Don’t you see the suffering abortion causes?”

Throughout the exchange, the pope listens attentively and waits until the conversation has settled to give his thoughts.

“A woman who has an abortion cannot be left alone, we should stay with her,” Francis says, “We should stay by her side. But we should call a spade a spade. Staying by her side is one thing, but justifying the act is something else.”

Child sexual abuse

Tearing up, one young man in the group by the name Juan, from Spain, shares that when he was 11 and 12, he was sexually abused by a teacher at a Catholic school in Spain.

“There is so much hypocrisy [in the Church],” Juan says through tears. “What about pederasty in the Church?”

“It’s usually said that lives should be protected, there’s a right to live … But then, when it comes to other aspects … many people from within the Church reject the victims or stand on the perpetrator’s side,” says Juan. “You must be aware that there are many priests and bishops below you who are bad people.”

Francis responds, saying; “There are men and women who destroy. The abuser destroys a child, and if it’s a church person, the hypocrisy and double life are horrific.”

“I can’t possibly convey the empathy I feel for a person who has been abused, but it pains me deeply,” Francis says. “We’ve been clear about this, we’ve disciplined the seminaries, we’ve punished the abusing priests or even the abusing laypeople.”

Another member of the group Lucia, from Peru, objects, “I don’t think enough is being done, considering the people who have survived this have to wait for years for some type of reply, and alone! … You’re reinforcing something that’s been proven to be useless.”

“It’s a serious social problem,” the pope says. “We’re beginning to raise social awareness. That is key.”

Sex and pornography

Another, Alejandra, from Colombia, challenges the Church’s position on pornography. She shares that to earn a living she creates pornographic content on a social media site, asserting that it is the best job she has had because it allows her to stay home to care for her daughter.

The pope responds by reminding the young woman of the obligation to use social media responsibly.

“There should be a distinction between the richness of social media and the morality of what you do … The morality of social media depends on what you use it for,” the pope says. “Pornography diminishes, it doesn’t help you grow. Those who use pornography are diminished in human terms.”

Francis adds that he believes sex is often greatly misunderstood, even in Christian circles.

“I think we Christians haven’t always had a mature catechism regarding sex,” he says. Responding to the group’s discussion of pornography and masturbation, Francis says that neither are true expressions of the fullness of human sexuality.

“Sex is one of the beautiful things God gave human beings. To express oneself sexually is something rich. Anything that diminishes a true sexual expression, diminishes you as well, it renders you partial, and it diminishes that richness,” says the pope.

Gender ideology

Another member of the group, Celia, from Spain, describes herself as non-binary, asking the pope if he knew what that meant. He responds that he understands.

“I’m non-binary, and I’m a Christian,” Celia continues. “I’ve been meaning to ask you if you see some space inside the Church for trans people, non-binary people, or LGBT people in general.”

The pope responds firmly with a smile, “Every person is a child of God, everyone,” adding, “I don’t have the right to kick anybody out of the Church. My duty is to always welcome.”

Reaching the peripheries

Celia pushes further, asking what the pope’s opinion is on “church people or priests” who use the bible to promote what she described as “hate speech.”

Reaffirming his stance that the Church exists on the peripheries, the pope answers that every person is welcome in the Church and that those who use the faith as a justification for hate are “infiltrators.”

“In general, those who judge are inconsistent. There’s something within them, they feel liberated by judging others, when they should look inside at their own guilt,” says Francis. “But the day the Church loses its universality – the blind, the deaf, the good, the bad, everybody – it will stop being a Church.”

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  1. The perfection of an irrational perpetually adolescent mind is one that condemns being “judgmental.” It might even be a good definition of insanity instead of the idiotic popular notion of repeating the same thing expecting a different result, which happens to be a falsehood.
    Making judgments is the purpose of having a mind, and pretending not to make judgments is a lie. Everyone judges wrong behavior all the time. Judging people as wrong for judging people is an act of judging people. Phoniness taken to a level of functional insanity is popular because the notion of not being judgmental really means do not find fault with certain designated privileged behaviors popular with the culturally trendy as being bad behavior or you will be judged and condemned mercilessly.
    This “do not judge” cliché is stupid even when a Pope promotes it. Jesus admonished us to not judge the soul of another but insisted we always judge evil behavior for what it is.

  2. Young people are looking for wise teachers who can teach them to discern between what is right and what is wrong. They are seriously preparing themselves to be worthy stewards in the service of Planet Earth.

  3. For all those who would criticize the Pope’s replies I would ask: And what would you have said? Justice and mercy are hard to balance even in the best of circumstances. May God bless OUR Pope.

    • They don’t have to be “balanced.” They are never in conflict, which is what those who understand neither do not understand. When Francis contends, without serious consideration as to what he is saying, that it is acceptable for a man to abandon his family to start another, his tunnel vision tells him he is being “merciful” towards whatever guilt the man might have while ignoring the merciless damage to the abandoned family. Sentiment is cheap and phony and self-indulgent. Justice and real mercy are the same.

    • Personally, I would have turned down the pro-abortion bandana – politely, if I and my sinful self could help it – but then again, I’m not the Pope…

    • These are our children asking tough questions that expose our own sinfulness, imperfections and relationship or lack of with Our Blessed Lord. In agreement with Mr. O’Connor and with Mr. Reynolds below, I find myself challenged in conversations with my adult family. I remind myself not to close doors; they are searching as we did. They have individual stories as we do. God’s love can encompass all and he has them in his loving arms whether we judge or not. Loving them is not talking at them but perhaps waiting patiently, quietly and gently, so we may be there to hold them when they look to come home.

    • It fascinates me (in a unsettling way) that he will forever sing songs of praise for “the peripheries” and find ways to condemn what I suppose is the “middle class,” as though they (or we) don’t need teaching and support also. There was a huge number of people at Easter Mass last week. No sign of them this week. They need Jesus desperately and have no idea how meaningless their existence is as they assume His blessed Presence within us once a year is all anyone needs. They too need kindly but TOUGH preaching and talk so they won’t assume, as I’ve heard many times, “Well, I’m agood person and try to do my best etc” as though that was the answer to destroyed marriages and confused and drug ridden children. The secular world has every one of us at the throat, and not just in the barios/suburbs. A bit of Savonarola wouldn’t harm anyone for a change, rather the attempt to be “non-judgemental”–whatever that is. There are many ways to show people how much they need our Lord without hurling fire and brimstone, however. There are those who want their predelections justified, though.

  4. Echoes of Our Lord meeting the woman at the well? Remarkable that such an authentic sounding documentary was put together. Courage from the young people to participate, courageous of our Holy Father too. Hopefully young people will be intrigued to watch it and it will get wider distribution.

    These kinds of issues are exactly what my high school age children run into and I feel has damaged and weakened my eldest especially. To see their peers ask Pope Francis on point questions and receive replies that don’t compromise truth, but presented compassionately is great.
    I’m often concerned about some of Francis steps (I attend a vibrant FSSP parish and the extraordinary form feels under appreciated somewhat lately) but this documentary sounds good.

    • Gilberta you are wise. Fr Chad Ripperger says it best on his recent talk about the “state of the church and the world”

  5. Pope Francis answers all the key questions from pornography to abortion well, which is edifying. Except for a nuance in response to Gender Ideology, “My duty is to always welcome”.
    Welcome can mean compassionate embrace and appeal to repent from disordered acts. Or, it can mean compassionate embrace and unconditional access to all the sacraments inclusive of the Holy Eucharist. This is the dilemma of the call from him as well as other high ranking prelates for radical inclusion. Radical means the latter proposition since the former compassionate embrace including appeal to repent is taken for granted as the long standing Catholic position.
    If the Church permits the sexually active trans person to receive the Eucharist, it widens the area of acceptability minus repentance to all homosexuals, those in irregular unions. This alone destroys the integrity of the other ‘hot button’ issues.
    That question is included in Amoris Laetitia, which perceives reception of the Holy Eucharist as a ‘remedy’ for those living in irregular unions absent of the condition to repent. An absence that has never been taught by the Church Magisterium in its adherence to the words of Christ, Repent for the forgiveness of sins.

  6. The Jesuit pontiff employs the agency of Disney, presently an advocate of all that is demonic, to outreach to youth? Accepts a bandanna promoting abortion from a cognitively abused and catechetically deprived child, and we are expected to digest this without disgust? The medium is the message as every Jesuit is aware…the message here is not the Gospel.

  7. The only people who keep pro-abortion bandanas in their backpacks like a good-luck charm are the people who exist in documentaries for the purpose of presenting pro-abortion bandanas to the Pope. JP II and Benedict wouldn’t have given this shenanigans the time of day.

  8. Has this Pope lost or is in some process of losing his mind? Honestly, it might seem so. How does being in service to the “periphery” of humanity square with ALWAYS speaking the truth to young people like these with the truths of the gospels so that these young people will KNOW how to act in their various scenarios being verbalized? How many know that this Pope Francis has said in the past that he WILL NOT speak from the Chair of Peter to define what church teaching really IS, in order in the realm of,say, sexuality so that he can continue to be the first ‘modernist’ Pope in church history a la the “Sankt Gallen” theory? Look it up, it’s in his ouevre. And as always, just saying. God Bless all on this Holy Saturday — RTR

  9. Meanwhile, young Catholics who attend the TLM, and try hard to follow the church teaching on morality and faith are mocked and ridiculed by the Pope.

    • That is the real crux of the matter. One cannot just attribute the Pope’s misstatements and appalling gestures to a poorly conceived notion of evangelization. He combines his reverence for every trendy, worldly cause with his obvious disgust and hostile actions against everything Catholic.

  10. “With tears welling up in her eyes, Milagros hands the pope a green bandana with the words ‘Keep abortion legal, safe, free’ written in Spanish. She shared that she would keep that bandana in her backpack as a symbol and wanted to give it to him ‘lovingly and respectfully.’ The pope accepted the gift with a smile, kissing Milagros on the cheek.”

    I’m glad I’m not a Catholic. I view Francis with the utmost antipathy. He should’ve thrown the bandana on the ground and stomped on it.

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