Pope Francis is interviewed by the Argentinean website Infobae, on the 10th anniversary of his pontificate. He discusses his hopes for change in Venezuela, an end to the war in Ukraine, the situation in Nicaragua, the “discipline” of celibacy, “evil resistances” in the Church, and his vow to Our Lady not to watch television.
By Salvatore Cernuzio
Above all, Pope Francis focuses on Central and South America in an interview he gave to the Argentine news site Infobae, a few days before the celebration of the tenth anniversary of his pontificate. He discusses his desire for a trip to Argentina, his hope for change in Venezuela and the denunciation of a “crude dictatorship” in Nicaragua. In the interview at Santa Marta with portal owner Daniel Hadad, the Pontiff ranges from geopolitical issues, such as the war in Ukraine, to ecclesial issues, such as his approach towards homosexual people and the role of women, to more personal topics (“Why don’t you watch TV anymore?”).
The situation in Nicaragua
In particular, the Pope commented on the difficulties that the people and the Church of Nicaragua are experiencing today, where the nuncio has been expelled and the Holy Week processions have been banned, in addition to the constant attacks against bishops and priests. He denounced the lack of balance of those who lead the country and in reference to the bishop of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, sentenced to 26 years in prison, he added: “We have a bishop who has been imprisoned. He is a very serious and capable man. He wanted to give his testimony and did not accept exile. This is something that is not in line with what we are experiencing, it is like bringing the communist dictatorship of ’17 or Hitler’s dictatorship of ’35, here. They are sort of crude dictatorships. Or, to use a nice Argentine definition, guarangas (coarse)”.
On travelling to Argentina
Speaking of Argentina, the inevitable question about a possible trip to his home country came up. “It was planned for December 2017,” Jorge Mario Bergoglio explained, repeating what he had already said on the flight back from Iraq: “We would first go to Chile, then to Argentina and Uruguay. That was the schedule. But what happened? There were elections at that time, so we had to move Chile to December and then go to Argentina and Uruguay in January. Then, the programme changed and Chile and Peru were organised, leaving Argentina and Uruguay for later…
“There is no refusal to go, continued the Pope, “in no form. The trip was planned. I am open to the opportunity… I want to go to Argentina.”
Hope for Venezuela
Pope Francis then shifted his gaze to Venezuela, stating his hope that the regime can be changed. “I think so”, he declared, “because it is historical circumstances that will force them to change their way of dialogue… I never close the door to possible solutions. On the contrary, I encourage them.”
The Pope, however, was more cautious about a solution to the war in Ukraine. He said “they are all working for it”, before going on to mention that there are several heads of state who are mobilizing.
“We are all sinners”
Homosexual people, remarried divorcees, women and celibacy are the other topics the Pope addressed in his interview. On welcoming gay people, Pope Francis refered directly to the words of Jesus when he said “Everyone. Everyone. Everyone inside. When ‘the refined’ did not want to go to the banquet, He let them go to the crossroads and called everyone, good, bad, old, young, children, everyone. Everyone. The Church is for everyone. And everyone resolves his position before the Lord with the strength he has. This is a Church of sinners”.
“I don’t know where the Church of saints is, here we are all sinners,” the Pontiff reiterated, and as during his first trip to Rio de Janeiro in 2013, he repeated, “Who am I to judge a person if he has good will, right? If he is more like one of the devil’s gang, well, let’s defend him a little. But there is a lot of attention on this issue today. Jesus calls everyone and everyone resolves his relationship with God as he or she can or as he or she wants, sometimes they want to and sometimes they cannot, but the Lord always waits.”
Along these same lines, the Pope, speaking of the sacraments for remarried divorcees – a central theme in the 2014-15 Synod on the family -, recalled “the conscience of the bishop” and suggested to separated couples “to go to their bishop and present their situation to him”.
Men and women complement each other
Asked about the role of women, he highlighted the fact that there are now more working in the Church: a necessary step forward because “machism is bad,” he said. “Sometimes celibacy can lead you to machism. A priest who does not know how to work with women lacks something and is not mature. The Vatican was very macho, but it’s part of the culture, it’s nobody’s fault. It has always been done this way”. But now things are changing. “Women have a different methodology. They have a sense of time, of waiting, of patience, different to men’s. This does not diminish the man. They are different and they must complement each other”, said the Pope.
And regarding the question of celibacy in the Western Church, Pope Francis paused to explain that “it is a temporary prescription… It is not eternal like priestly ordination… Celibacy, on the other hand, is a discipline”. “So it could be revised?” the interviewer asked. “Yes”, replied the Pope.
Division within the Church
Hadad then quoted 92-year-old Cardinal Julián Herranz, when he said that out of the six Popes with whom he has worked “perhaps the devil has worked with two, Paul VI and Francis, always to divide the Church and hinder the spread of the Gospel”.
“I cannot judge whether this is true or not,” was the Pope’s reply. “Sometimes there is resistance, the bad kind. Not the good one. Because good resistance is that if I do a good project it is seen and discussed. The bad resistance is that which is discussed here and goes backwards looking for betrayal. But either I am naive or I don’t listen to them”. There are such things in the Church “there are, they are there, in a corner, hidden”.
“If we were on the verge of schism, that would be a bad thing – commented the Pope -. For example, he continued, “the case of a very well-known American bishop, who was nuncio. It is not known whether this man is Catholic or not, he is on the border. These resistances are badly handled. In the Church, from the beginning, there has been resistance.”
“When they criticise me head-on, I appreciate it,” he added. “Sometimes I don’t like it, but I appreciate it.”
Lastly, a mention of the vow made thirty-three years ago to the Virgin of Carmel not to watch television. It was 15 July 1990 and while he was with the community watching TV, “things that are not good for the heart were broadcast. Not sinful things, but those relativisms that weaken the heart”. The next day, at the Mass of the Virgen del Carmen, Pope Francis felt “that I should not see it, without any problem”. So he said ‘enough’, except for a few brief concessions.