Pope Francis Interviewed by Mexican Media Company Televisa
Valentina Alazraki

Two years into his pontificate

Do you like being Pope? Do you like living in Santa Marta? Do you feel alone? These are some of the questions that Pope Francis answered on 6 March — on the occasion of the second anniversary of his election as the Supreme Pontiff — for the Mexican journalist and writer Valentina Alazraki, correspondent for Televisa. In their friendly conversation, the two were seated in front of a large picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The technical aspects of the interview were handled by the Vatican Television Center and Vatican Radio. The transcript was then translated from the Spanish and edited by L'Osservatore Romano.

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Pope Francis, above all, thanks a million. Although I’ve been in Rome for many years, this is the first time that I’ve sat down with a pope to do a formal interview.

How frightening!

I am quite intimidated. With John Paul II, I used to hide behind the plants, sneaking in here or there, but there was never an interview like this: seated, formal. So, the truth is, I am very moved, but, above all, very very grateful. And the first thing that I am going to ask you is what all Mexicans or many, or the majority of Mexicans, are asking themselves: knowing that there’s no place like Mexico, how is it possible that you are not visiting us this year? There were great expectations that you would come in September…

I was thinking about doing it, because I wanted to enter the United States through the Mexican border. But, if I went to Ciudad Juárez, for example, and entered from there, or to Morelia, and entered from there, it would cause a bit of a fuss: why is he going there and not coming to see Our Lady, the Virgin Mother? What’s more, you can’t visit Mexico in little bits. Mexico takes a week. I promise to make a trip to Mexico of the sort that Mexico deserves — not in a hurry or just passing through. That’s why I decided not to enter through Mexico.

You chose this room where I know that you also have very important meetings. This is where you decide the future of your Church, of the Church. Under the “supervision” of the Morenita, Our Lady of Guadalupe. What does this Marian devotion mean to you?

Here you’ve touched on a theme that’s very close to me. How do you define the historical moment of Mexico, when she visits Mexico, and the heritage she left behind? Speaking to St Juan Diego, there in the Nican Mopohua, she says the word, “Madre” two times. “I am the Mother of God through whom one lives.” And later, when he is a little bit fearful, she says, “What are you afraid of? Am I not here — I who am your mother?” In other words, she is a mother.

Afterwards, we called her Queen, the little Queen, just as Juan Diego did. The Empress of America. But she defines herself as a mother. At a moment when America was being reborn. And she is the mother who brings the Good News to us in Mexico. She is a mother who is expecting a child. And during that tragic moment of the “conquista” — because there was a bit of everything there — she brings salvation. She shows that she is bringing a child. But how does she show it? In what way does she show it, aside from being pregnant? She appears “mestiza” — of mixed race. It is all a prophecy, our American mixing of the races. A prophecy of our culture. That’s why she transcends Mexico; she goes far beyond it and represents the unity of all the American people. She is the mother. America is not an orphan. It has a mother. A mother who brings us to Jesus. In other words, the salvation that is Christ comes through a woman, and she wanted to demonstrate this through her mixed race, which she brought to Mexico in a special way. And she chooses to appear to a son of that culture. She doesn’t pick a Spanish boy, or a colonizer, or a vain lady. No. A simple, humble married man.

So, for me, she is a mother. She is the mother of mixed race. And I would dare to say something else. She is the beginning of something that we don’t talk about much in America, which is the trigger mechanism of holiness. In other words, in the colonization of American, in the conquest of America, there was a lot of sin.

There was a lot of sinning. But there were also a lot of saints. Yes, we have those saints: St Rose of Lima, we recall; the “negrito” St Martin of Porres…. Now when I go to the United States I am going to canonize the holy man who evangelized California, Junipero Serra, who, before going on the mission to California, went to her, to ask for her blessing. In a way, she opened up this current of holiness. There are many Mexican saints, American saints. For me, she is all that I have said: the mother, the source of cultural unity, the gateway to holiness. In the middle of so much sin and so much injustice, and so much exploitation and death, she is the mother, no? So, this is what I feel when I see her.

You said that you would have liked to enter the United States through the Mexican border. You are the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina. What would be your presence on that border mean to signify?

There are people not only from Mexico, but also from Central America, from Guatemala, who cross the whole of Mexico, seek a better future. Nowadays, immigration is the product of a lack of well-being in the etymological sense of the word - the fruit of hunger, or seeking new frontiers. The same thing happens in Africa, with all this crossing of the Mediterranean by people who come from countries that are experiencing difficult times, because of hunger, because of wars. But it is evident that immigration today is closely linked to hunger, to unemployment, to this tyranny of an economic system centered on the god of money and not the person.

And then people get discarded. Then a country — it may in the Americas, it may be in Africa, wherever — creates an economic situation, imposed, of course, that discards people, who go elsewhere to look for work, or food, or well being. Immigration now — the problem of immigration in the world — is very painful. There are quite a few borders of immigration.

I am happy that Europe is revising its immigration policy. Italy has been very generous, and I want to say so. The mayor of Lampedusa put everything on the line, up to the point of transforming that island from a land of tourism to a land of hospitality. Which means not earning money, no? These are heroic deeds. But now, thanks be to God, I see that Europe is rethinking the situation.

But returning to immigration over there, in that area … it is also a region with a lot of problems with drug trafficking. They tell me that the United States — I don’t want to throw around statistics which, later on, will create a diplomatic problem for me — but, they tell me and I saw it in a magazine: I think that the Unites States is among the largest consumers of drugs in the world, and the border through which the drugs enter is mainly the Mexican border. So, they suffer there too. Morelia, all of that area, is a region of great suffering, where the drug trafficking organizations don’t go around like little girls. That is to say, they know how to carry out their business of death. They are messengers of death, whether through the drugs themselves or by getting rid of those who are opposed to drugs. The 43 students are, in some sense, pleading — I don’t say for vengeance — for justice, and to be remembered.

And that’s why — I am addressing here what may be a point of curiosity — I made the archbishop of Morelia a cardinal: because he’s in the frying pan. He’s a man who’s in a very hot situation. And he bears witness as a Christian man, as a great priest. But we can talk about the cardinals later. I just mention this in passing.

As the first Latin American pope, do you feel within yourself a greater responsibility to be the voice of millions of people who find themselves in the situation of having to leave their countries, to cross borders and walls, whether it’s in America, Asia, Europe, wherever?

Yes, to be the voice, but not in a programmatic way. It comes to me naturally. From the very fact of our Latin American life experience. And from my immigrant blood. My dad, with my grandparents, went to Argentina. They had a good past here, but for political reasons — my grandmother was deeply involved in the emerging Catholic Action, and although they never made her take the castor oil, but that was… then they decided to look for new pastures. Moreover, the brothers of my grandfather already had a good business there in Entre Rios, but they arrived in ’29, and in ’32 the crisis left them in the street. Without anything. And a priest lent them 2,000 pesos, with which they bought a grocery store, and my father, who was an accountant, did the deliveries with a basket. Those people earned a living; they remade their life. And they struggled to support the family. That tells me a lot. I drank this in at home.

That’s where you got the sensibility that you have…

I think so. Yes. Plus, in Argentina, I’ve seen difficult situations. Poverty, marginalization, even drug addiction, which are the things that move me. But it comes to me naturally, not from some ideology. That’s why, sometimes, I am a bit careless and my tongue runs away from me, but it doesn’t matter….

You referred to the 43 students of Iguala. It was a very difficult moment for Mexico, a great grief for our country. Even now, I recall that the cardinal of Morelia, Monsignor Suárez Inda, was here. He said that when there is a difficult situation we are all culpable; in some way, we are all responsible. The Church doesn’t give technical political solutions, but I think it would be necessary to send a message of encouragement so that Mexico, with the resources that the people have, the values that the people have, can go forward, have hope, think about peace and a better future.

This isn’t the first time that Mexico has passed through difficult times. This is where I go back to the question of sanctity. What I mean is, Mexico went through moments of religious persecution, which produced martyrs. I think that the devil punishes Mexico in a nasty way. For this reason: I believe that the devil can’t forgive Mexico, because she has showed her Son there. That’s my interpretation. In other words, Mexico is privileged by martyrdom, for having recognized and defended its mother. You know this very well. You meet Mexicans of all sorts: Catholics, non-Catholics, atheists. But all of them “guadalupanos” — devotees of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Everybody considers themselves her children. Children of the woman who brought the Savior, the one who destroyed the devil. So this is connected to the theme of holiness too. I believe that the devil is making Mexico pay an historical price. That’s why all these things happen. You can see that, in history, points of serious conflict have always flared up.

Who is to blame? The government? That’s the easy answer, the most superficial solution. Governments are always at fault. So, yes, the government. In some sense, we all share the blame or, at least, for not having taken the suffering to heart. There are people who are doing fine, and perhaps the death of these kids didn’t affect them; it bounced right off them: “Well, it didn’t hurt me. Thank God it didn’t affect me.” But the most of the Mexican people have a sense of fellowship. It’s one of the virtues that you have. And I think that everyone has to pitch in to resolve this in some way.

I know that it is very difficult to denounce a drug dealer. Because you’re risking your life. It’s a kind of martyrdom, right? It’s hard, but I believe that all of us in such situations — whether we’re talking about Mexico or not — have to do our part. It’s infantile to cast the blame on just one sector, one person, or one group.

Pope Francis, you sent a private email to a friend in Argentina expressing your concern for the growing diffusion of drug trafficking in your country. And you used the expression “Let’s try to avoid mexicanization.” That expression has, let us say, wounded some sensibilities. The Mexican government thought that it was a stigmatization of our nation, a failure to recognize the efforts it is making or trying to make. The truth is… what happened there? What were you trying to say?

Yes. The young fellow. This guy is a leader, a man who has worked for social justice and works a lot. My friend comes from the political left, from Trotskyism: he comes from that world. He is a man who encountered Jesus and works for social justice and tells me about it. He told me about how they have managed to discover some drug trafficking networks and how they are struggling and that they had also closed down a chain of houses of prostitution. He works a lot in the field of enslavement — sweat shops with immigrants where they get them the passport and then they have them as slaves, prostitution, drug addiction, etc.

And so he tells me, well, this: “we don’t want to arrive at the mexicanization of Argentina.” That’s how he put it, no? Evidently, it is an expression — allow me to use the word — “technical.” It doesn’t have anything to do with the dignity of Mexico. Just as, when we speak of “balkanization,” nobody — not the Serbs, not the Macedonians, not the Croations — gets angry. One speaks of “balkanizing” something, and it’s used in a technical sense, and the means of communication have used it many times, no?

“Colombization” is used, for example.

Yes, that is also used. So I answered: I am praying, I am accompanying them, and let’s hope that we don’t arrive at the mexicanization, technically. It created a dust-up, but most people, judging from the statistics that reached me from polls that some journalists did there… ninety percent of the Mexican people were not offended by that. Which made me happy. It would have been a great sorrow for me if it had been interpreted in that way, no? The government, after having asked about it, accepted the explanations — which were true, no? — with complete and total peace. In short, they didn’t close the doors of Mexico on me. I am going to go to Mexico.

You are known for calling people on the phone, writing personal letters. Have you ever thought about telling the recipients to keep the correspondence private?

I usually do that, normally. But some times people don’t… they can’t keep it in. A friend of mine once wrote to me begging my pardon. He swore up and down that he would never make it public again...

Is he still your friend?

Yes. Moreover, he did it as a way of saying “even the pope is fighting against drugs.” It’s true that the fact of touching on such a delicate topic can have consequences for me. But I have to say that, at times, I have felt that I was being used by the politics of the country: Argentinian politicians who sought a meeting…

Yes, I understand your question, and I want to answer openly, even though it might cause me some personal trouble in my own country. But I am simply saying what happened. Of course, the Argentinians, when they saw an Argentinian pope, forgot all about those who were against an Argentinian pope. And we Argentinians are not humble. We’re very conceited. You know how an Argentinian commits suicide?

No.

No? He climbs up on his ego and throws himself off.

I’d heard many jokes, but not that one.

We are very… we are the champions of the world. And then there’s the champion soccer team, San Lorenzo.

Well, I suspect that San Lorenzo is the champion because of you. It was too easy for them.

And we get puffed up. We are not humble. We easily get puffed up: the Argentinian lack of moderation, proper to our way of being, a bit ostentatious, taken with ourselves… we are the best in America, that type of thing, isn’t that right? I know that many people, most of them without intending it, some intentionally, make use of coming here or a letter of mine or a telephone call. There are people I call who never open their mouths. I’ve called, and they never said anything about it. Sick people. Or I’ve sent a letter, and they never published it. Others did. But, if I feel I ought to do something, I do it and run the risk. What can you do?

Back to Mexico. Is there anything that concerns you about Mexico? For example, sects. This is not just a problem in Mexico. How can these people be recovered? Why did they leave the Church and join sects?

One thing is that… the evangelical movements, I mean, afterwards I will distinguish between sects and those that are not sects. Let’s talk about the whole evangelical movement, whether they are sects or not. What they offer, in general, is “proximity,” closeness. You go to the worship meeting one day, and the following Sunday, they wait for you at the door and they know your name and they greet you. You are a person.

We Catholics — often because there are so many of us or, above all, because of a big defect that we have in Latin America, which is clericalism — maintain our distance. Clericalism in Latin American was one of the biggest obstacles to the growth of the laity. The laity in Latin America only grew in the area of popular piety. Because there the lay person is free, and that lay person is creative and good, and he has his processions, his devotions. But in terms of organization, the lay person did not grow sufficiently, and he didn’t grow partly because of this clericalism that creates distances.

So, returning to the question, one of the things that are encouraged and created in the evangelical movements is closeness. “Hello, pal, how are you?” Then there’s a distinction to be made between good, honest evangelical movements and a sectarian movement. For example, there are some religious offerings that are not Christian. They aren’t Christian, and the evangelicals won’t have anything to do with them. And they… And there are sects, some of which come from the theology of prosperity: “If you come, everything will go well for you.” I remember one in Buenos Aires. I didn’t go myself, but I asked some friends to go see what was going on. It was a penitential service. So, there was a fervent spontaneous discourse, a fervent homily on sin and how God forgives… really well done. Then they say, “So, now, everybody think about your sins, and those of you who did this” — they were going through the commandments — “ask for forgiveness and, in order to have it, you have to give a donation of a certain amount.” I’m simplifying, no? It’s clear that the evangelicals reject all that. The serious evangelicals, no?

Then there’s this phenomenon of using religion as a kind of business. Like in the case where you take a little course somewhere, and then you open up a house of worship. But I would make distinctions and not lump everyone together. There are groups who call themselves “evangelicals” and they are not even Christians, and — just as we do — many evangelicals recognizeit. I spoke about this once with a great friend of mine. I spoke about it at length with a great Lutheran friend of mine, a professor in the Lutheran department of theology. He was Swedish, Pastor Anders Root — he died three years ago, after having returned to Sweden — with whom I shared the Chair of Spiritual Theology.

I invited him when I was teaching in a Catholic department of Spiritual Theology. We talked a lot. We are great friends. And he wrote an habilitation thesis. Not a doctorate, but rather a habilitation thesis. He did it on a movement that called itself “evangelical”, but which is not really Christian, and he demonstrates why it isn’t Christian. I know that, in this matter, with the evangelicals — not only with the historical churches, but also with the evangelical movements — we are in agreement: there are some sects that are not even Christian and others that are — to use a phrase — just a piece of junk.

In addition, I’d like to also make a distinction about a an equivocal word: Pentacostalism. There are Pentacostals who more or less resemble these groups which aren’t really Christian, and there are Pentacostals who work with us and we have meetings together with the movement of the Catholic Renewal in the Spirit. The whole business is very… one must go case by case or know how to distinguish. We can’t throw everyone into the same bag.

OK, I’m getting back to the question. Why? Why do they give people that sense of closeness, after the announcing of the word. At times our homilies… a Roman priest told me that he went to visit his parents who live in a town near Rome. His father told him one day: “Hey, you know I’m happy because my friends and I have found a church where they say Mass without a homily.” There are homilies that are a disaster. Yes. I don’t know if it’s the majority, but they don’t reach the heart. They are classes of theology or long, abstract things. That’s why, in Evangelii gaudium, I dedicated so much time to the homily. Well, in general, the evangelical pastors have a closeness, and they reach the heart, and they prepare the homily well. I think that, in this matter, we have to change.

Obviously, the Protestant concept of the homily is much stronger than the Catholic one. In the beginning, for Luther, the homily was practically a sacrament. For us it was, well, a dissertation or a catechesis, and it was reduced to catechesis. Thanks be to God, we Catholics have now found the theology of preaching, where the homily has a role, almost like a sacramental. God puts something in there. It’s something very serious, no?

So, evidently… distance, clericalism, boring homilies. The others offer closeness — “work!” “get a move on it!” — an integration with one’s work, the Word of God aflame. And the people take off. It’s a phenomenon that takes place not with the more serious evangelical churches or ecclesiastical communities, but with those that are a bit weak or that aren’t Christian… and with some that remain in the middle. And so the people leave home and afterwards they don’t come back. It’s a very Latin American problem.

In Argentina, we worked together a lot with the pastors. In Buenos Aires, I got together with a group of pastors who were friends, and we prayed together and we organized three spiritual retreats for pastors and priests together. They lasted several days. And Catholic priest and a pastor came and preached.

One time, Bishop Gretsch of Australia preached — he’s passed away now — and twice Fr Cantalamessa preached on the Catholic side. And on the other side, prestigious pastors preached too. And there we are — pastors, women pastors, priests — praying together, making our spiritual retreat. We did it three times. It was a great help for those of us who are more or less in the more serious line. And we had three encounters between Catholics and evangelicals in the Luna Park, which has a capacity of a little over seven thousand people. All day long. In three different years.

And we also invited some pastors from abroad, and some priests from abroad. Cantalamessa came once. And that helped those of us who were more serious to work together. So, you see, the word “sect” gets diluted. I’ve spent time on this out of justice, so as not to commit an injustice. We have evangelical brothers who do good work.

Pope Francis, we have the good fortune that this interview coincides with the second anniversary of your election. Can you tell us about that momentous event?

It was very simple. I came with a little suitcase, because I made the calculation and figured that the new papacy would never begin during Holy Week. So I can come with all tranquillity and plan to be in Buenos Aires for Palm Sunday. I left the homily for Palm Sunday prepared on my desk, and I came with what was necessary for those days, even though I thought that it could be a very short conclave. In any case, I prepared myself as much as possible just in case it were long, so I had the return ticket. I could change it or leave earlier. But I had it just in case. Moreover, I wasn’t on any list of “papabili” or possible popes, thanks be to God. But it never even crossed my mind. In this matter, I want to be sincere, to avoid any stories and all that. With the odds-makers in London, I was, I think, number 42 or 46. An acquaintance of mine, out of kindheartedness, bet on me. He made a killing!

But I must remind you that it was a Mexican nun who had a great intuition. Because the Saturday before the election, you ate in the house of your friend, Card. Lozano Barragán, and Mother Estela said to you:“Your Eminence, if they make you pope, invite us there for a meal.”

Mother Estela did say that to me. I took it as a joke. And then, the conclave began. The journalists said that I was, at most, a kingmaker… an elector, a great elector, who would indicate who to vote for. The first vote began, Tuesday evening. The second was Wednesday morning, and the third was Wednesday before lunch. The phenomenon of the voting in these groups — always, not just in the conclave — is interesting. There are already some strong candidates. But many people don’t know who to vote for. So they pick six or seven — which are place-holding votes. So I place my vote with you for now, and then when I see who is pulling ahead, I give it to him. They are like “provisional” votes. It’s typical in the voting of large groups. So, yes, I had some votes, but “provisional” votes.

Is it true that in the previous conclave you had some 40 votes? Can we say that?

No.

That’s what they say.

Yes, well, so they say.

Some cardinal said so.

Well, let’s leave that to the cardinal. Even though I could say so, because I now have the authority to say it. But it’s better to leave it at what the cardinal said. But really, nothing. Until noon on that day, nothing.

And then something happened. I don’t know what. At lunch, I saw some strange signs. They asked me about my health, these things that… and by the time we got back in the afternoon, the cake had already been baked. With two votes, it was all over. It was a surprise for me too.

What happened to me? In the first vote of the afternoon, when I already saw that this might be irreversible, I had at my side — and I want to tell this out of friendship — Cardinal Hummes, who is, in my mind, one of the greats. At his age, he is the Delegate of the Episcopal Conference for Amazonia. And he goes in there, and he goes around in a boat and visits the churches. I had him at my side, and already in the middle of the first vote of the afternoon — there were two; there was a second — when the situation was clear, he leaned over and said to me, “Don’t worry, this is how the Holy Spirit works.” I thought it was funny.

Afterwards, in the second vote, when they reached the two-thirds, there’s always applause. In all the conclaves, they applaud. Then there’s the counting. And then he gave me a kiss and said, “Don’t forget about the poor.” And that got me thinking and prompted the choice of the name later. During the voting, I prayed the Rosary. I usually prayed the three daily Rosaries. I was full of peace. I would even say obliviousness.

The same thing happened when the choice was made, and for me that was a sign that God wanted this: the peace. Even now, I still haven’t lost it. But it is something inside, like a gift. And later, what I did, I don’t know. They made me stand up. They asked if I accepted. I said yes. I don’t know if they made me swear something. I don’t recall.

I was at peace. I went and changed my cassock. And I came out and went first to greet Cardinal Días, who was there in a wheelchair. And then I greeted the cardinals. Then I asked the Vicar of Rome and Cardinal Hummes, as my friend, to accompany me — something that was not foreseen in the protocol.

That’s when your problems with protocol began, I think.

What did I know? I put there…

That was the first of many.

And we went to pray in the Pauline Chapel, while Cardinal Tauran announced the name. Then I went out, and I didn’t know what I was going to say. And, well, you all are witnesses to the rest. I had a profound sense that a minister needs the blessing of God, but also that of his people. I didn’t dare tell the people to bless me. I just said, “People, pray that God, through your prayers, may bless me.” But it all came very spontaneously. The same goes for praying for Benedict. I didn’t prepare anything. It just came by itself.

And do you like being pope?

I don’t dislike it!

Because one might have imagined that you wouldn’t like being pope.

No, no. Once the thing is decided, you just do it.

What is it that you like and dislike most about being pope? Or do you like everything?

Yes, the only thing that I would enjoy is being able to go out one day, without anyone recognizing me, and go eat a pizza in a pizzeria.

That would be great!

I say that by way of example. In Buenos Aires, I was often out walking in the street. I came and went through the parishes. And naturally, changing one’s habits… I find it a little difficult, but no — I don’t know — things settle down, one gets accustomed. One finds other ways of passing through the streets: the telephone, the…

And the fact that you don’t like the Vatican much isn’t any secret. You didn’t like to come. And now that you have been inside for two years, how do you feel?

No. It wasn't just the Vatican. This is something I need to clarify. I believe that my greatest penance are trips. I don’t like to travel. I’m very attached to my habitat. It’s a neurosis. Once I read a very beautiful book called “Rejoice in Being Neurotic. One has to discover which neurosis one has, feed it mate every day, treat it well, so that it doesn’t do you any harm.

And one of my — it seems to me — neuroses, or my way of being, is to be very attached to my habitat. I don’t like any type of trip. And I came to Rome and I didn’t like it, because there’s an environment of rumor-mongering. That’s why I would come and I would leave immediately. If Benedict took the chair of Peter at noon, by the evening I was already up in the plane. And now I don’t dislike it. There are very good people here. The fact of living here helps me a great deal.

Do you like being here in the Domus Sanctae Martae?

Yes. It’s simply because there are people here. Alone there, I couldn’t take it. Not because it’s luxurious, as some say. It’s not luxurious. The papal apartment is not luxurious. It is big. But I wouldn’t have been able to put up with the isolation. To come here, to eat in the dining room, with all the people, having the Mass four days a week with people who come from outside, from the parishes… it gives me a bit of spiritual comfort. I like it a lot.

You don’t feel alone?

No, no, no. Seriously, not at all.

Pope Francis, there’s something that worries us a bit. Why do we have the sensation that you, on one hand, seem to be in a hurry in your way of acting, and on the other, seem to see your pontificate as being a brief one.

I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief. Four or five years. I don’t know, maybe two or three. Well, two have already gone by. It’s a rather vague sensation. Maybe I’m wrong. Here we may be dealing with the psychology of someone who bets and believes that he is going to lose so that he won’t be disappointed later. And if he wins, he’s happy. I don’t know what it is. But I have the sensation that the Lord has placed me here for something brief, no more…. But it’s a feeling. That’s why I always leave the possibility open.

And you have also told us that you would follow the example of Pope Benedict...

Well, there were some cardinals in the pre-conclave, in the General Congregations, who addressed the theological issue. Very interesting, very profound, no? I believe that what Pope Benedict did was to open a door. Seventy years ago, there were no bishops emeritus. And today we have 1,400. We reached the conclusion that a man, after he’s hit 75, around that time, cannot carry the weight of a particular church. As a general rule. I believe that what Benedict did, with great courage, was to open the door for popes emeritus

We shouldn't think of Benedict as an exception, but rather as an institution. He might be the only one for a long time, and he might not. But he represents an institutional door that has been opened. Today, a pope emeritus shouldn't be seen as out of the ordinary. He opened the door, so that this could exist..

Could one envision popes retiring like bishops, once they reach 80?

One could imagine it, but the idea of setting an age limit does not appeal to me, because I believe that the papacy has an element of being the final authority. It is a special grace. For some theologians, the papacy is a sacrament. It’s a sacrament. The Germans are very creative with these kinds of things. I don’t believe that, but what I want to say is that there’s something special. So, saying “OK, this fellow is 80 years old,” creates the sensation of the ending of a pontificate which would not be good. Too predictable, no?

I’m not in favor of setting an age, but I am in favor of what Benedict did. I saw him the other day at the Consistory. He was happy. Respected by all. I go to visit him. Sometimes I speak with him on the phone. As I’ve said, it’s like having your wise grandfather in the house. You can ask him for advice. Loyal to the death. The thing about Benedict — I don’t know if you remember it — is that, when we said goodbye to him, in the Clementine Hall, he said: “Among you is my successor. I promise him loyalty, fidelity and obedience.” And he keeps his word. A man of God.

A very personal question: Encountering another pope dressed in white... did it really feel normal?

No, no, no, no. It was the 23rd of March, in Castel Gandolfo, and there I felt as though my dad were carrying me and teaching me and making me take a seat. He was the host in the truest, most human sense of the word.

And to the Curia. We get the idea that what you would really like to do is to change much more than the structures: to change, rather, the mentality, to change the heart.

That’s the word.

How can it be done.

Every change begins with the heart. The conversion of the heart. That’s why, for example, we’ve had the closed spiritual exercises for two years now. Those of us from the Curia, the prefects and secretaries of the dicasteries, about eighty of us, go there and we’re cut off from the world, praying. And we listen to the preacher. It’s a conversion of the heart, right? And — someone may challenge me on this — but it’s also a conversion in one’s way of life.

I think that this is the last court that remains in Europe. All the other courts have been democratized, even the most classic ones. There is something about the Papal Court, which retains much of tradition, that is a bit atavistic. I don’t say that in a pejorative sense, but as a culture. And this has to change. It has to let go of what is still courtly and become a working group in the service of the Church. At the service of the bishops. Obviously, this means a personal conversion.

You know better than I that here inside there were problems. When they published the documents of “Vatileaks,” and there was the conviction of the pope’s butler. These are not minor matters. People talk about grave moral problems. We still have one prisoner for economic issues and one for a little moral scandal too. These things are known. It is public. To clean all this up a bit: conversion. Starting with the pope, who is the first who needs to be converted. To keep changing according to what God is asking of him. I try to do it. But I don’t always succeed. But…

You have emphasized symbols: where you live, what you wear, the car you ride in, carrying your own briefcase. It seems almost like you are living a daily reminder that there can be another way of living.

Yes. It’s not entirely intentional. For example, when, after the election, I was going downstairs, there was an elevator with several cardinals in it. And someone said, “No, you have to go alone in that other elevator.” No, I’m going with them. And when we got downstairs, there was a car waiting, one that was used on these occasions. And I said, “No, I’m going in the bus with them.” These things come naturally for me. It’s not that I am making a deliberate effort…

I try to be myself, as it pleases me. And sometimes I exaggerate in some matter that might offend someone. I don’t know. I have to watch myself here. But the symbols, the way of carrying oneself, the car… The Mercedes is there. I can’t go around in a Mercedes or a BMW. Now there’s this Focus or whatever it’s called, which is what I use, which is a compact, more or less within the means of a bank employee. That would be appropriate, no? I believe in simplicity.

What you said in your Christmas address to the Curia — is the Curia really so sick?

I want to explain that. There were 15 diseases. Later, in the last consistory, a cardinal added one more, the sixteenth, which was very, very good. He was very sharp. I liked it.

Can we know which one it was?

Yes. The one about those who don’t have the courage to criticize someone face to face. If one is not in agreement with the pope, go tell him so. It’s beautiful, no? That courage isn’t there. The context for what I said was this: we are at the end of the year; let us make an examination of conscience. And, in my judgment, the temptations or sicknesses — I use them as synonyms — most common in the Curia are these.

And there occurred to me, for example, one to which no one paid attention, and for me it is the main one: the forgetting of one’s first love. In other words, when someone is transformed into a good employee and forgets that he has a mission to be identified with Jesus Christ, who is the first love. Yes, I went over the temptations that I had, as Archbishop, because they crop up in clerical circles, or the ones I have seen in others, which they might have.

I called them temptations or illnesses. At the end, a mischievous cardinal approached me — a bit younger than me, but not much — and said to me: “Listen, your Holiness. What do I have to do now? Go to confession or go to the pharmacy?” It was an examination of conscience, and I wanted to make it graphic. Perhaps it wasn’t received well. The style wasn’t very traditional for an end-of-the-year message, but, at the end of the year, we ought to make an examination of conscience. I said it clearly. Twice, I said that it’s necessary to go to confession. Because I want everybody here to go to confession. And we do, no?

I think that, in this regard, they are faithful. But real confessions, specific. Let us ask forgiveness from Jesus for the things that we have done wrong or because we have offended others or because we have been unjust. It was an examination of conscience in which I used these synonymous terms: temptation or sickness. But it’s not as though the Curia is collapsing from all these complications or diseases.

Is there resistence in the Curia?

Let the stuff out, no? There are always different points of view. They are licit. What I want is for them to emerge and be said. It’s the 16th disease, right? Let things be said face to face. Have the courage not to be quiet, to speak up.

Ever since I was a bishop, never never never — I say this before God — never have I punished someone for telling me things to my face. Those are the collaborators I want.

And do you have them?

They exist. I have found them here.

Are there many?

Quite a few. Enough, I would say. And there are others who do not dare, who are afraid. But you have to give them time. I am betting on the goodness of people. They all have much more good than bad inside.

You constantly speak against the god of money. People say that Pope Francis is a Marxist, that Pope Francis is on the left. You have clarified this by saying that you follow the Gospel. Are the poor the only good people? Are the rich just the bad guys?

I come from a family that, after the crash of ’32, remade itself. Middle class, well-off. So this has nothing to do with resentment. I didn’t live through ’32. But one must clarify several things. First of all, we have to get used to not identifying ourselves within worn-out hermeneutics. Nowadays, left and right is a simplification that has no meaning. Fifty years ago, it made sense. Today, no.

Or “Marxist”… What is a Marxist today? Because Marxism has such a variety of expressions that… The problem of hermeneutics in the interpretation of the facts about a public person is, for me, very important. That is to say, one must always interpret an historical fact, whether large or small, with the hermeneutic of the time. If not, we fall into simplifications and errors.

I have known rich people, and I am promoting the cause of beatification of a rich Argentinian businessman, Enrique Shaw, who was rich, but holy. A person can have money. God gives it to him so that he administers it well. Not with paternalism, but rather by helping the needy to grow.

What I always attack is the sense of security in wealth. Don’t put your trust there. In the Gospel, on this point, Jesus is radical: the man who had granaries and was going to put up another, but the next day he was going to die. It’s very clear, isn’t it? Don’t put your hope there. The injustice of riches. For example, when a just wage is not paid. It is a mortal sin. It’s taking advantage of another person’s poverty. Or when the housemaid is paid in cash, because, after all, she’s just a serving girl. But why? Not because the lady of the house or the husband is rich, but because of this attitude. Money is always a treacherous thing. The devil enters through one’s pocket. Always.

St Ignatius said that there were three steps. The first is wealth. The devil puts money in your pocket. The second is vanity, and the third is pride. And from there you go to all the other sins. When you reach this level of pride, you are capable of anything. We have seen it with dictators and tyrants who take advantage of others, exploiting them. Nowadays there’s human trafficking, which is carried out by people with a lot of money. These are the ones I am attacking. The money that enslaves others and doesn’t let them grow. It serves only to make oneself fat, as in yesterday’s Gospel, about the one who lives ignoring the existence of poverty.

One thing that scandalizes me, that scandalized me in Buenos Aires, is the new area of Puerto Madero. It’s lovely, all land filled in from the river, with these enormous buildings on one side, 36 restaurants. If you go to dinner there, it costs an arm and a leg. Because they make you pay…. And then there are the poor neighborhoods. These are things that… the waste of money. This is from the social point of view. And my denunciations from the social point of view are always regarding this.

But what makes me most indignant are unjust wages. Because, in that case, one gets rich at the cost of the dignity that is not given to another person. [It should be work that gives you dignity. But here you’re using work to take away dignity because you don’t pay the person’s pension. And with an easy conscience.] I would say that not paying a just wage, not paying someone’s pension, not paying the tip or bonus, is a sin. It is a sin. And whether a rich man does it, or a middle-class person does it, or a poor man does it, it is a sin. This is what we have to say. The devil gets into our life by putting money in our pocket.

It’s not just me saying this. I am repeating it. The Fathers of the Church called money the devil’s dung. The manure of the devil. Why? Because they saw something there that spoils things, that gets them dirty, that leads you down a bad path. That’s the first step, St Ignatius said, for self-sufficiency, vanity and pride. Well, that’s a kind of sociological vision. Is one a communist for thinking this way?

No, then there’s the next step. Poor people are at the center of the Gospel. When Jesus presents himself, he uses the words of Isaiah: I was sent to bring good news to the poor. Poor people have a wealth that those of us who have great security — and I include myself among the “rich”, because I lack nothing, and I have to be careful not to take advantage of this, so as not to sin — do not have. The honest poor person has a wisdom, the dignity of work, of caring for his children [cuidar a la creía as we say in Argentina]. It’s something very beautiful, very beautiful. With dignity.

And in Evangelii nuntiandi — number 46 or 48, I can’t remember — Paul VI said that the poor are more capable of understanding certain Christian virtues. They are more prepared. They are much more prepared. And poverty is at the center of the Gospel. The flag of poverty is evangelical. The Marxists stole it because we didn’t use it. We had it in the museum, and they came and stole it, and they used it.

But let’s go to the late 1800s and the Italian crisis. In the north of Italy, there were a ton of saints who worked with the poor. Don Bosco first among them. They looked for ways to foster progress. Social progress. It’s not just a question of giving out money. It’s fostering progress. That’s where the importance of education comes in, and the path of work.

If this seems exaggerated to someone, perhaps it’s because of my sins, because I use strong words and I am not good and pastoral enough to reach these people’s hearts. But they are children of God. I would simply have to ask them to convert, but asking them with a father’s heart and not beating them up. It’s true. Yes.

Pope Francis, a top priority has been the synod on the family, with all the expectations it has stirred up regarding couples who are suffering, the divorced and remarried, homosexuals.

I think there are exaggerated expectations. I wasn’t the one who wanted the synod on the family. It was the Lord who wanted it. It was His thing. When Archbishop Eterović, who was the secretary, brought me the three topics that received the most votes, he told me that the one that received most votes was this: what Jesus Christ offers man today. So, OK, let’s do it. That was the title of the synod. We continued talking about the organization of the synod, and I said to him: “Let’s do something. Let’s say: what Jesus Christ offers man today and the family today.” And so it remained that way, with the family at the end. When we went to the first meeting of the post-synodal council, it started being talking about with this title, and then “what Jesus Christ offers to the family,” and today’s man was left out a bit. And in the end, he says, “No, because this synod on the family...” . And this same dynamic was transforming the title. And I didn’t say a word.

In the end, I realized that it was the Lord who wanted this. And really wanted it, because the family is in crisis. Perhaps not the most traditional crisis — that of infidelity — or as they call it in Mexico, the “little home” and the “big home.” No, a deeper crisis. It’s apparent that young people don’t want to marry, or that they cohabitate. And they don’t do it to protest anything, but rather they express their things this way.

There is a crisis within the family, and from this point of view I believe that what the Lord wants is for us to face that: preparation for marriage, accompaniment of those who are living together, accompaniment of those who marry and build a family well, accompaniment of those who have failed in their family and have formed a new union. Preparation for the sacrament of matrimony. Not everyone is prepared. How many marriages are merely social arrangements. They are null. For lack of faith.

Benedict already made this very clear about the lack of faith, of awareness of what is being done. Are these grave problems?

The family is in crisis. How do we integrate into the life of the Church the families, the “replays,” those in a second union that sometimes turns out really well…. That the other was a failure. How to reintegrate? What the Church wants is for you to integrate yourself into the life of the Church.

But there are those who say, “No, I want to receive Communion, and that’s it.” A rosette. An honor. No. Reintegrate yourself. There are seven things that those who are in a second union can’t do according to the current legislation. I don’t remember all of them, but one is that they can’t be godparents for Baptism. Why? What kind of witness are they going to bear to their godchild? The witness of saying, “Look, dear. In my life, I have made mistakes, and now I am in this situation. I am Catholic. These are the principles. I do this and I accompany you.” True witness. But if a mafioso comes along, a criminal, someone who’s killed people… but since he’s married in the Church, he can be a godparent. There are these contradictions. And they can’t teach catechism. Why not? Why not? If they believe, even though they are in a situation that’s falling apart, called irregular, and they recognize it and accept it, and they know what the Church thinks about these things, it is no impediment. When we talk about integrating it means dealing with all this, and then accompanying interior processes.

You asked about my giving people liberty. A synod without freedom is no synod. It’s a conference. A synod, on the other hand, is a protected place, in which the Holy Spirit can work. And for that to happen, the people have to be free. That’s why I am opposed to publishing the things that each one says with their names. No. It’s better not to know who said it. I have no problem with knowing what was said, but not who said it. So that one feels free to say what one wants.

Then we have a very serious problem, which is the ideological colonization of the family. That’s why I talked about it in the Philippines, because it is a very serious problem. The Africans complain a lot about this, and it happens in Latin America as well. And it happened to me once. I once witnessed a case with a minister of education, in which one receives certain credits, yes, but… the teaching of “gender theory.” It’s something that is breaking down the family. That’s why I think that, out of the synod, there will emerge some very clear, very brief points that will help this whole family crisis, which is enormous.

Pope Francis, another important issue in these two years has been the abuse of minors. In Mexico, the case of Marcial Maciel made tidal waves.

What I know… I never had contact with the Legionaries of Christ. Because they weren’t in Buenos Aires, and the first parish was given to them by my predecessor, in the Parish Santa Maria of Bethany, when it was left by the religious, the Picpus (the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts), and it was given to them. There were three of them. In other words, in Buenos Aires, there were just three religious. I didn’t know them. I heard people talk about them.

When I came to attend — not the course, because there was no course for new bishops — the meeting of lay movements, I lodged, or rather the course took place in one of their buildings, in a university, no? That’s the other contact that I had. I didn’t know them.

When I found out about the big scandal, I was very sad. I was scandalized. How could a person reach such a point? Obviously, he was a very sick person, because, in addition to the abuse, I think that there were two or three women in the mix, children, with one or another — I don’t know — but there was something there. And a lot of money. We’re getting back to the same theme, about how corruption starts in one’s pockets. But I think that we are talking about someone who was sick. Very sick.

Here, when people took notice of the matter, they began to take strong action. At the time, Cardinal Ratzinger pushed the matter forward, and the pope, John Paul II, gave him the green light to follow through. He gave the green light, and when they made Cardinal Ratzinger pope, he acted, because the process was already ready. But, I want to make clear that the then-Cardinal Ratzinger and St John Paul II were aware of it and said: forward. One, with the investigation. The other, by giving the green light.

Second: was there a cover up? One can presume that there was, even though in justice one should always assume innocence. But it would be very odd for him not to have some little patron somewhere, half-deceived, half suspecting, who didn’t know anything. I haven’t investigated this. Abuses now. Evidently, from the first interventions under the zero-tolerance policy, that’s continuing.

The commission is not for handling abuse, but rather for the protection of minors. In other words, it’s about prevention. The problem of the abuse of minors is serious. The majority of abuse takes place within families and among neighbors. I don’t want to give numbers, so as not to make mistakes. Even just one priest who abuses a minor is enough to move the whole structure of the Church and take care of the problem. Why? Because a priest has an obligation to make a child grow, in holiness, in their encounter with Jesus. And what it does is destroy the encounter with Jesus. One must listen to those who have been abused. I have listened to them here. I spent a whole morning with six of them: two Germans, two from Ireland and two from England. What interior destruction they have! The abusers are cannibals. It’s as if they had eaten these children. They destroy them. Even if there were only one priest it is enough to be ashamed and to do what has to be done.

In this matter, we have to continue in the same direction and not turn back. To destroy a young person is horrible, horrible. And I am grateful to Pope Benedict who had the courage to say it in public and to John Paul II, who had the courage to give the green light in the case of the Legionaries.

Do you want to be remembered for your language or your spontaneous, unconventional gestures? Have you ever thought: "maybe I should have bit my tongue"? Or do you prefer being spontaneous because it gives you greater proimity to the people?

I’d continue doing the same thing. I would speak as I speak, like a parish pastor. I like to speak this way. I don’t know. I have always talked like this. Always. Out there, it’s a defect. I don’t know. But I think that the people understand me. I thank you for your kindness and in you I thank the Mexican people whom I love very much.

I would like you to give us Mexicans a blessing.

I will do it.

Have you been to Mexico?

I was in Mexico twice. In 1970, I was in the old villa, the sanctuary, where I went to visit the novitiate, the house of formation, because they had named me master of novices. The second time was when John Paul II promulgated Ecclesia in America. That’s when I saw the new sanctuary.

Just twice, but in Argentina we watched a lot of Mexican movies. I remember Cantinflas… I like the music a lot. So, with great pleasure I am going to give you all a blessing and ask you all to pray for me. But before giving the blessing, let us seek the help of the Mother, who’s the one who gives us the strength to give the blessing. So I invite you to join me in praying a Hail Mary.

Hail Mary, full of grace…

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of Mexico and Mother of America, pray for us.

May the blessing of almighty God…

Thank you very much!


L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
3 April 2015, page 13

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