By Christopher Wells
Pope warned against “somewhat inflated” expectations for the February Meeting on the Protection of Minors, saying, “The problem of abuse will continue,” precisely because it is “a human problem” that occurs everywhere. However, “by resolving the problem in the Church, we will help to resolve it in society and in families.”
A 'catechesis' for bishops
The Pope explained that the idea for the meeting had come about because of a realization that many bishops did not know how to respond to the situation. “We felt the responsibility of giving a ‘catechesis’ on this problem to the bishops’ conferences”, he explained. He then outlined the main goals of the February meeting, including raising awareness of the depth of the tragedy, and establishing protocols for bishops to address cases of abuse.
Mercy for the child in the womb
The Holy Father tackled a number of other controversial topics during the press conference. One reporter asked how opposition to abortion “respected the suffering of women in this situation”, and how that corresponded to his message of mercy, Pope Francis said, “The message of mercy is for everyone, even for the human person in the womb”. He emphasized that it is “a difficult mercy”, saying that the difficulty is not in forgiving someone who has an abortion – God is always ready to forgive – but in accompanying and consoling the woman. In order to have a good understanding of the tragedy of abortion, he said, it is necessary to be in the confessional.
Why young people leave the Church
Pope Francis said the trip to Panama for World Youth Day met his expectations, although he was not able to give an overall assessment of the journey. “With this I go before the Lord to pray…” he said. Asked about why young people leave the Church, he pointed to the lack of witness on the part of Christians, notably priests and bishops, but even Popes. Apart from the pastors, he also lamented “hypocritical Christians” who alienate people from the Church. The Pope suggested that, if they are not willing to be good witnesses, such people should not call themselves Catholics, but instead say that they were raised Catholic, but are lukewarm or worldly.
Asked about married priests, Pope Francis recalled the words of St Paul VI, who said, “I would prefer to give my life before changing the law of celibacy” for priests of the Latin rite. Speaking in his own name, Pope Francis said, “Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church and I do not agree with allowing celibacy to be optional.” However, he said the question should be studied, and the possibility should be left open of changing the discipline in exceptional circumstances, in places where it is absolutely necessary.
Sex education in schools
Responding to a question on sex education, Pope Francis said he thought it was necessary, but emphasized that it must not be “soaked in ideological colonization”, and warned that some methods actually do harm. Sex education, he said, should start in the home, with the parents.
Support for people of Venezuela
Pope Francis also expressed his support for “all the people of Venezuela, because all are suffering”. “What scares me is the bloodshed,” he said. “The problem of violence terrifies me…”
The last question from reporters focused on the question of migration. Pope Francis said the problem is very complex, but emphasized the importance of “receiving” of having hearts open to receive. At the same time, he said government leaders must use prudence, ensuring that immigrants are able to integrate into the host countries. He pointed to Greece and Italy, in Europe; and Lebanon and Jordan, in the Middle East, as models of generosity. Migration is a complex issue, he said, “on which one must speak without prejudices.”
Panama: a noble nation
At the conclusion of the press conference, Pope Francis thanked reporters for their work, and left them with a final thought about Panama: “I would like to say one thing about Panama: I felt a new sentiment, this word came to me: Panama is a noble nation. I found nobility.”
“And then”, he concluded, “I would like to mention something else, which we in Europe do not see and which I saw here in Panama. I saw the parents raising their children and saying: this is my victory, this is my pride, this is my future. In the demographic winter that we are living in Europe - and in Italy it is below zero - it must make us think. What is my pride? Tourism, holidays, the villa, the dog? Or the child?”