Pope Francis surprises media with candid presser

News alerts blared that the pope said he won’t judge homosexuals. The more accurate headline would have been: ‘Pope Upholds Church Teaching.’

It all started when Pope Francis gave reporters on his plane an impromptu opportunity to ask him questions.

He took questions from reporters traveling aboard the papal plane for a full hour and 21 minutes with no filters or limits and nothing off the record. Francis stood for the entire time, answering without notes and never refusing to take a question. The final query was an especially delicate one about charges of homosexual conduct against his recently appointed delegate to reform the Vatican bank, and not only did Francis answer, but he actually thanked reporters for the question.

They didn’t pay much attention to the fuller interview, but ran with some variation of the ‘gay priest’ headline. Here’s a snip from that especially delicate portion of the Q&A:

As for the wider reform of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis said everything he has done so far flows from the concerns and suggestions raised by the College of Cardinals during the meetings they held before the conclave that elected Pope Francis in March.

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.”

Pope Francis himself described as “a scandal” the case of Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, a now-suspended official from the Vatican investment office, who was arrested in Italy June 28 on charges that he allegedly tried to help smuggle millions of euros into Italy from Switzerland.

“He didn’t go to jail because he’s a saint,” the pope said.

Pope Francis was asked about Msgr. Battista Ricca, whom he named interim prelate of the Vatican bank. The monsignor, who had served in the Vatican diplomatic corps, was director of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican residence where the pope lives.

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.”

Here’s where the media sharpened their focus:

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.”

Most media didn’t take away anything else from the presser but this, the ‘gay lobby’ issue and ‘gay priest’ issue and the pope’s remark about not judging. But they didn’t even get the fullness of the pope’s statements. The Italian transcript shows how long the interview was, and how ranging the pope’s remarks. He talked about the importance of having a proper ‘theology of sin.’ Notice that his answer above reference the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and its teaching that gays must not be marginalized but ‘integrated into society.’ That’s a good and necessary clarification. It’s not a redefinition of Church teaching. It’s an elucidation of it.

Besides that Italian transcript, here’s a Rome Reports video of the interview for a better idea of the pope’s open and free exchange with the press.

Working with an Italian speaking priest on the original transcript, I’ve come up with some bullet points of the presser that deserve attention. Aside from the above, here are some highlights:

  • On Vatileaks, Francis told the press an anecdote. ‘When I went to see Benedict in Castel Gonfolfo, he said to me in this big box there are all the statements heard by the commission of cardinals, but the conclusions are in this evnelope. And Benedict began to relate all the issues to me and I got it all in my head. Are there large problems? (eh) But am I scared, no.’
  • On divorce and re-marriage, which was one of the biggest news items in his presser, Pope Francis clarified something many Catholics don’t yet understand well. He said a divorced person can take communion if they are not re-married, and added that the Church has to treat ‘people who are wounded with great care.’ It was a bit surprising to hear him state that when the group of eight cardinals regroup in October, they’ll discuss how to move forward with pastoral care for marriage, adding that ‘the theme of nullity must be studied.’
  • On his relationship with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Francis called his predecessor a ‘blessed man of God, a humble man who prays. I love him so much. The last time there were two or three popes, they never spoke but fought to see who the true pope was! (This was a reference to the Avignon papacy in the middle ages.) For Francis, having Benedict around is ‘like having your wise grandfather in the house…if I have a difficulty I can go to him.’
  • On security for the pope, Francis said “I’d rather have the security problems we had in Rio than having a wall between the people and their ‘armored bishops’. I’d rather be with the people, embrace them, greet them without the armored cars. While there is always a danger some fool will do something, there’s always the Lord guarding us as well.”
  • On women in the Church, and this was an important and mostly overlooked statement, Francis said: “A church without women is like the apostolic college without Mary. And our Lady is more important than the apostles.” He said frankly that the door is closed to women’s ordination, but ‘the Church is feminine because it is a wife and mother…You cannot understand the Church without active women in it…We have not done a theology of women fully.’ This was news, at least in the Catholic world. Francis opened a door to a greater theology of women in the Church in that statement.
  • On his personal style, Francis was asked about his ‘handbag’, the well-worn attache case he carries with him and what’s inside. He joked that it was ‘the key to the atomic bomb,’ and obviously enjoyed his own joke. But then he responded that he always takes a bag with his normal stuff: a razor, his breviary, his agenda book, and a book to read. On the trip to Rio he took a book by St. Therese of Lisieux, to whom he has a devotion. Which was telling in itself, given that she was a cloistered Carmelite nun who never left her French convent before her early death at the age of 24 but became a Doctor of the Church for her spiritual writings and teaching of ‘the Little Way’ of spiritual devotion. Francis said he always goes around with his bag, and ‘we must be normal…we must get used to the normality of life’ and carry bags with essential items like most people.
  • On papal predecessors: This for me was a big chunk of his interview just about completely overlooked by media, but important because of what it said about he he sees his role of continuity in the succession of the papacy and being ‘Peter’ in all ages. Francis spoke at length of Pope John XXIII, who opened the Second Vatican Council, and gave him accolades for his virtues. He spoke of Pius XII, praised John XIII, and then he continued with John Paul II. And as mentioned above, he spoke very affectionately of Benedict XVI, who he obviously appreciated having around.

The first thing I planned on posting about Francis was the magnificent World Youth Day events just completed in Brazil, where pundits totally underestimated the growth of the young Catholic faithful and the movements spreading the faith in Latin America. Over three million people attended the papal Mass on Copacabana beach Sunday, after the hundreds of thousands of late week gave way to the millions by the end of the week. This young man is emblematic of the faithful there, and really the faithful anywhere.

He stressed that he hopes to tell the Pope that he is right, “we should let ourselves be guided by Jesus and I did that.”

“I would like to meet the Pope because priests and Popes don’t notice poor people and he lived directly with the poor people like if he was their brother,” Facundo said.

“It’s worth seeing a Pope who notices poor people and that’s why I would like to meet him,” he said. “I would really like to tell him how nice it is to follow Jesus and that he is right.”

Times and climate changed with Pope’s visit

This World Youth Day seemed different.

They each have their own unique character and memories of the big moments. But this time, the cultural climate and the natural one were more drastic.

The Irish Times:

WORLD YOUTH Day pilgrims struggled against wind, rain and lightning storms in Madrid overnight on Saturday during an outdoor vigil and Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI and attended by more than a million people.

Even the Pope was affected, briefly losing his zucchetto (the white hat he wears) in the high winds midway through the vigil.

The sudden change in weather after sundown was a cruel twist of fate following, as it did, a scorching day where pilgrims had chased fire trucks circling inside the Cuatro Vientos Aerodrome just to be sprayed with cool water.

Temperatures had reached 40 degrees at one stage in the afternoon and some 700 people suffered from heat-related problems, according to medical teams.

All that changed as the Pope took to the altar at 9pm when the winds that blew in the storm reached such a high level that one of the temporary chapels on the site collapsed, injuring several people.

“Pretty much everywhere you looked there were patches of lightning and then this horizontal rain started, so umbrellas were no use – not that we had any,” said Maeve Delargy (23), from Mount Merrion in Dublin.

After a break, during which Pope Benedict had to leave the altar, the vigil continued and the festival-like atmosphere that had permeated the event throughout the week returned, despite the occasional showers.

“The more important thing is that everyone is here and that everyone is in the same spirit – it is about a community atmosphere and that’s what we have now,” said Síofra Kelly…

The size of the crowd was breathtaking, stretching as far as the eye could see. Flags from countless countries and dioceses dotted the skyline…

Crowd estimates were between 1.5 and 2 million.

The New York Times paid attention.

Pope Benedict XVI closed the religious ceremonies of World Youth Day on Sunday with a giant Mass in which he told young people to “swim against the tide” and abide by the principles of the Catholic Church despite broader changes in society. 

…the huge and ebullient welcome for the pope provided a powerful demonstration of his influence, even at a time when church attendance has been dwindling in Roman Catholic countries like Spain.

At the end of Sunday’s Mass, the pope announced that the next such event would be in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. Until then, he told those at the service, in Portuguese, that they “will be swimming against the tide in a society with a relativistic culture, which wishes neither to seek nor hold on to the truth.”

While about 70 percent of Spain’s residents consider themselves to be Catholics, the percentage attending church has fallen sharply, and the number of civil weddings overtook religious ones in 2009.

Still, the economic downturn has shown the importance of religious charities, at a time when the government has imposed severe austerity cuts to help resolve its debt problems. About 800,000 people in Spain fell into poverty from 2007 to 2010, according to a report published last month by Cáritas, a Catholic charity.   

Besides being an opportunity for the Catholic Church to strengthen its support, the event should be seen as a call for “greater social engagement,” said Cristóbal Fones, a priest and musician visiting from Chile.

Still, most of the teenagers, dressed in the event’s official yellow T-shirt and waving their national flags, said the highlight had been seeing the pope…

This is remarkable.

News media skip World Youth Day

And thus, one of the biggest stories on the planet right now. Certainly, the most positive and hopeful one at the moment.

Where are all the social commentaries now? After weeklong rioting and violence in London by hostile youth mobs seized world media attention in continuous news cycles filled with political and social analysis, we have a weeklong ‘event’ in another European capital with a million young people pouring in from all over the globe and it’s largely and intentionally ignored by big media.

Never mind them. Here’s the story.

On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival in Madrid, the young people of the world gathered to welcome their Holy Father to the third World Youth Day he has presided over since his election in 2005.

This started with the ‘John Paul II Generation,’ but the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid designated this WYD as a turning point, marked by new realities young people are facing and answering in the ‘Benedict Generation.’

A massive Festival of Reconciliation, where confessions were heard in more than 10 languages, was inaugurated in Retiro Park — Madrid’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park — all fulfilling Pope Benedict’s desire that this World Youth Day be marked by a dedication to the formation of the young in the truths of the Catholic faith.

(more on that point in a moment…) 

Prior to the Holy Father’s arrival, the night of Aug. 16 belonged to both Pope John Paul II, the great friend of the world’s young people, and the Catholic faith of Spain…

It was marked by recalling the past and continuing spiritual presence of Blessed Pope John Paul II in the lives of young Catholics throughout the world. Cardinal Ruoco also called his fellow citizens of Spain to remember their Catholic roots and to see the week ahead as an opportunity to renew and strengthen their ancient faith. 

(again, hold that thought…)

In his homily during the “Mass of Blessed Pope John Paul II,” the newly approved liturgy since the late Pope’s beatification in May, the 74-year-old cardinal invoked the name of the Polish Pope more than a dozen times…

I’m talking about the unforgettable, venerable and beloved John Paul II — the Pope of youth! With John Paul II begins a new historical period, unprecedented, with respect to the Successor of Peter’s relationship with the youth, and, consequently, a relationship that until then did not exist between the Church and her young: direct, immediate, heart to heart, imbued with a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, enthusiastic, hopeful, joyful, contagious.”

With these words, a spontaneous and lengthy applause broke out across the plaza, and hundreds of national flags were waved in the steamy, 90-degree evening air, including two flags representing communist China, flags which are not normally seen at large Catholic gatherings.

Get that? This is a hugely important human event. Benedict is talking to them about ‘the full measure of what it means to be human’, about totalitarianism, lack of reference to God, utilitarian ideologies closed to reason, and the authentic idea of a university and the search for truth. He quoted Plato: ‘Seek truth while you are young, for if you don’t it will later escape your grasp.’

And much more….

So about those references to calling these young people to renew and strengthen their heritage in an ancient faith, John Allen sketches out this early but accurate and finely detailed ‘big picture’ of what’s happening in Madrid this week.

This is an important analysis.

The big picture is the following: World Youth Day offers the clearest possible proof that the Evangelical movement coursing through Catholicism today is not simply a “top-down” phenomenon, but also a strong “bottom-up” force.

“Evangelical Catholicism” is a term being used to capture the Catholic version of a 21st century politics of identity, reflecting the long-term historical transition in the West from Christianity as a culture-shaping majority to Christianity as a subculture, albeit a large and influential one…

Historically speaking, Evangelical Catholicism isn’t really “conservative,” because there’s precious little cultural Catholicism these days left to conserve. For the same reason, it’s not traditionalist, even though it places a premium upon tradition. If liberals want to dialogue with post-modernity, Evangelicals want to convert it – but neither seeks a return to a status quo ante. Many Evangelical Catholics actually welcome secularization, because it forces religion to be a conscious choice rather than a passive inheritance. As the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, the dictionary definition of an Evangelical Catholic, once put it, “We’re really at the dawn of Christianity.”

Paradoxically, this eagerness to pitch orthodox Catholicism as the most satisfying entrée on the post-modern spiritual smorgasbord, using the tools and tactics of a media-saturated global village, makes Evangelical Catholicism both traditional and contemporary all at once.

This is a most incisive piece, to be taken seriously.

You’ll get Evangelical Catholicism badly wrong, however, if you think of it exclusively as a top-down movement. There’s also a strong bottom-up component, which is most palpable among a certain segment of the younger Catholic population.

We’re not talking about the broad mass of twenty- and thirty-something Catholics, who are all over the map in terms of beliefs and values. Instead, we’re talking about that inner core of actively practicing young Catholics who are most likely to discern a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, most likely to enroll in graduate programs of theology, and most likely to pursue a career in the church as a lay person — youth ministers, parish life coordinators, liturgical ministers, diocesan officials, and so on. In that sub-segment of today’s younger Catholic population, there’s an Evangelical energy so thick you can cut it with a knife.

Needless to say, the groups I’ve just described constitute the church’s future leadership.


For the most part, it’s a mistake to diagnose this trend in ideological terms, as if it’s about the politics of left vs. right. For today’s younger Catholics, it’s more a matter of generational experience. They didn’t grow up in a stuffy, all-controlling church, so they’re not rebelling against it. Instead, they’re rebelling against a rootless secular world, making them eager to embrace clear markers of identity and sources of meaning.

It’s not that this is utterly fascinating writing, it’s that Allen has so deftly studied, analyzed and correctly explained the church today, at this moment in history, its role in the world and its future in the hands of this young generation in the midst of the world.

World Youth Day is perhaps the lone international venue where being faithfully, energetically Catholic amounts to the “hip” choice of lifestyle. To be clear, this passion isn’t artificially manufactured by party ideologues and foisted on impressionable youth, like the Nuremberg rallies or Mao’s Red Guard brigades; it’s something these young believers already feel, and WYD simply provides an outlet.

In that sense, World Youth Day is the premier reminder of a fundamental truth about Catholicism in the early 21st century. Given the double whammy of Evangelical Catholicism as both the idée fixe of the church’s leadership class, and a driving force among the inner core of younger believers, it’s destined to shape the culture of the church (especially in the global north, i.e., Europe and the United States) for the foreseeable future. One can debate its merits, but not its staying power.

Nor its power to communicate, through the new ‘gatekeeper media’. No wonder the old guard don’t want to give them attention.

More than 1 million Catholic kids from across the world are converging on Madrid, Spain, for World Youth Day 2011, and every one of them seems to be tweeting, texting and Facebooking home…

The official World Youth Day website has more than 400,000 members. Facebook is hosting national World Youth Day sites in 21 different languages. There fans who are not able to attend the event in person will be able to light a virtual candle.

“The whole world is online, the church and the Internet, belong together,”…

No denying that, nor counting the ways, people are being reached.