Ahead of the tenth anniversary of his election, Pope Francis has given a new, wide-ranging interview to a Spanish-language paper in which he touches on several key topics, including homosexuality and priestly celibacy, as well as politics in Latin America and his own feelings about death.
In the interview, conducted by journalist Daniel Hadad and published Friday in Spanish-language newspaper infobae, the pope said he does not fear death.
“I know it’s coming. Sometimes when it seemed to me that there could be a risk, I prepared myself, when I had to do the operation that was risky,” he said, referring to his invasive colon surgery in July 2021.
“But I asked the Lord not to catch me unprepared, not that. At least let me see it coming,” he said, saying he has heard it said many times that fear of death itself, but the fear is “to see it coming,” however, he prefers to know it is coming, and to know that it is “the end.”
He also spoke of his health and ongoing knee troubles, saying an inflamed tendon caused him to walk poorly, which in turn caused the break of a small bone in his knee, which he said he has been able to heal with laser and magnetic therapy, and continues to make progress with continued rehabilitation.
Pope Francis also reflected on the conclave in which he was elected nearly ten years ago, and spoke of several of his pastoral decisions, criticisms he’s received, the situation in Nicaragua, and politics in Argentina.
Then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected to the papacy March 13, 2013, following the shocking resignation of his predecessor Benedict XVI, choosing the papal name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi.
In Friday’s interview, Francis said he knew there was a campaign to elect him when he began receiving questions from other cardinals during breaks in the conclave about his life, his past, and his health, even from cardinals he didn’t know.
He then recalled the late Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who after it was obvious that he had been elected told Bergoglio not to forget the poor, inspiring him to choose Francis as his papal name. He called Hummes, who recently passed away, “a great man,” who was “silent, but marked the course.”
Pope Francis in the interview was asked about his position on homosexuality, and whether he would give communion to a gay person who complied with church teaching.
In response, the pope did not give a direct answer, but repeated three past remarks on the issue, the first being his comment to journalists on his return flight from Rio de Janiero in 2013, when asked about homosexual clergy, that if a person is gay but is honest and seeks God, “who am I to judge?”
He also recalled remarks to journalists on a return flight from Ireland in 2018, when he told parents with gay children not to kick them out, but to keep them at home and “accompany them.” He also recalled a recent interview with the Associated Press in which he spoke against the criminalization of homosexuality in certain countries.
“The great answer given by Jesus: Everyone. All. Everyone is inside. When the exquisite ones didn’t want to go to the banquet: go there to the crossroads and call everyone, good, bad, old, young: everyone,” he said, saying the church is made up of sinners.
“I don’t know where the church of saints is, here we are all sinners, and who am I to judge if a person has good will,” he said.
Asked whether divorced and remarried Catholics could receive communion, Pope Francis said, “we cannot reduce a human situation to a prescriptive one,” and referred to comments made by his predecessor Benedict XVI on marriage, in which Benedict said that “a large part of marriages are invalid due to a lack of faith.”
Many weddings seem more like a “social reception” than a sacrament, and young people often don’t really understand what “forever” means, he said, noting as he has in the past that priests undergo years of training before their ordination, and they can still leave the priesthood, whereas couples often get married after a handful of courses, and their commitment is for life.
Side-stepping the communion issue and focusing on marriages that are invalid, Francis said there are many people whose marriages are invalid, but who are unable to prove it for one reason or another, and in those cases, “I advise separated couples to go to their bishop, go and present their situation to him,” and see what the bishop advises.
He also touched on the issue of priestly celibacy, and whether he believed more men would sign up for the priesthood if they were allowed to get married.
In response, the pope said, “I don’t think so,” and noted that eastern rite Catholic churches already have married priests.
“Celibacy in the western church is a temporary prescription: I don’t know if it will be resolved in one way or another, but it is provisional in this sense, it is not eternal like priestly ordination, which is forever, whether you like it or not,” he said, saying a man must discern before his ordination whether he wants to marry or remain celibate.
On the resistance he faces, Pope Francis said it is a form of “self-defense, always, in the face of any novelty,” and that resistance to change is normal. “I would be suspicious of decisions in which there is no resistance,” he said, saying resistance is good when it leads to a constructive discussion, but it is bad when it is done in secret “looking for betrayal.”
When there is a pocket of resistance and people who talk about it in secret among themselves, when they lead “to the brink of schism, that’s the ugly one,” he said, saying he appreciates criticism that is “head on.”
Francis also spoke of his daily life and was asked about personal decisions he has disclosed in other interviews, such as his decision not to watch television.
This pledge goes back to July 15, 1990, the pope said, saying he recalled watching something on TV that “didn’t do the heart good,” and made a commitment during Mass for Our Lady of Mount Carmel the next day to not watch television. However, this pledge is not “totally closed,” he said, saying he sometimes watches election results or coverage of major news events.
He touched on the importance of having an increased presence of women working in and around the Vatican, saying it is necessary because “machismo is bad. And sometimes celibacy can lead to machismo.”
“A priest who doesn’t know how to work with women is missing something, he is not mature,” Francis said, saying the Vatican “was all very macho, but it’s part of the culture, it’s no one’s fault. Now they are working more,” he said, referring to women, and noted that several women, religious and lay, are now in prominent positions in Vatican departments.
Asked about his frequent condemnations of global capitalism and those who believe he is against it, Pope Francis said those people “have those ideological preconceptions that qualify the person before listening to them. Listen to them, then speak,” he said.
To this end, he pointed to Pope John Paul II, who he said frequently spoke about the social market economy and market capitalism, referring to it as something lawful and not in itself bad, whereas “the opposite would be depersonalizing communism.”
“Both are depersonalizing, but a social market economy,” as John Paul II defined it, “I think it is the one that is appropriate to the thought of the church,” Francis said.
On the war in Ukraine, the pope said he has not spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said there are several groups, in India and Israel and elsewhere, working to find a solution. He highlighted other global conflicts and reiterated his condemnation of the global arms trade.
He also weighed in on the situation in troubled Latin American countries, including Venezuela, saying he has hope for a change in regime, after 2019 elections led to the disputed victory of incumbent Nicolás Maduro which still has not been resolved.
“It is the historical circumstances that are going to force them to change the way they have a dialogue,” the pope said, saying, “I never close the door on possible solutions. On the contrary, I encourage it.”
He also spoke of the situation in Nicaragua, where the Catholic Church has faced immense pressure from the government of President Daniel Ortega, and where the Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Alvarez, is currently behind bars serving a 26-year prison sentence on charges of conspiracy and treason. The Catholic Church in the country has been referred to as a “mafia” by Ortega, and processions for Holy Week were recently banned.
“With great respect, I have no choice other than to think about an imbalance in the person who leads,” Pope Francis said, referring to Ortega.
“We have a bishop in prison, a very serious man, very capable…it is something that is outside of what we are experiencing, it is as if it were bringing the communist dictatorship of 1917 or the Hitlerite dictatorship of 1935, bringing the same thing here,” the pope said.
He also condemned the drug trade in Latin America and said he is against the legalization of drugs as a solution, saying it would be like a child hitting their mother, and the proposed solution would be giving the child a softer whip, so the impact is not as harmful.
“The drug problem is the destruction of the person itself, of the mentality. You destroy yourself, it is a self-destruction,” he said.
Asked whether he plans to visit his home country of Argentina, Pope Francis said he has thought about it, and was planning a visit in December 2017 that would have also taken him to Chile and Uruguay. Then, Chile ended up holding national elections, so the decision was made to move that trip up, combining it with a stop in Peru, and to bump Argentina and Uruguay to a later date.
“There is no denial of going, not in any way. The trip was planned, I am open to the opportunity,” he said, saying a visit to Argentina depends on many factors, including the national election schedule and the possibility of the visit being taken advantage of politically.
“Sometimes the visit of a pope can be used, in all places, that it is not used for one side or another” is necessary for a trip to happen, he said, saying “I want to go to Argentina. I want to, but…”