Pope Francis and some of the America Magazine staff at Casa Santa Marta Pope Francis and some of the America Magazine staff at Casa Santa Marta  (Antonello Nusca)

Pope: Polarization is not Catholic, dialogue is the only way

Pope Francis grants an exclusive interview to the Catholic ‘"America Magazine" in which he answers a vast range of questions, including topics regarding the US, Church issues, social issues, the war in Ukraine, the Vatican’s relations with China, and his pontificate.

By Vatican News staff reporter

On Monday the US Catholic 'America Magazine' published a wide-ranging interview with Pope Francis, marking the first time that the Pope has agreed to an interview with the editors of an American journal.

The interview was held on November 22 at his Vatican residence at Santa Marta and was conducted in Spanish by five representatives of the American Jesuit magazine including its outgoing editor in chief, Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., and Fr. Sam Sawyer, S.J., the incoming editor in chief. Questions ranged from polarization in the U.S. Church, racism, Church teaching on the ordination of women, the Pope's stance on social issues, the war in Ukraine, the Vatican’s relations with China and his pontificate.

I am happy because I feel God at my side

Fr. Malone introduced the interview by asking Pope Francis what makes him so peaceful and happy in his ministry. The Pope answered that being with people has always given him great joy, and that what makes him feel happy is having the assurance that “God is at his side”. “Throughout my life – he said - He has always guided me on His path, sometimes in difficult moments, but there is always the assurance that one does not walk alone”.

Polarization is not Catholic

Pope Francis was then asked by Fr. Sawyer about the growing polarization of political life in the United States and even in the U.S. Catholic Church itself.

The Holy Father warned against the dangers of ideological partisanship in society, but especially within the Church, noting that U.S. society too has some “ideological Catholic groups”. “Polarization is not Catholic“, he stressed. “A Catholic cannot think either-or ( aut-aut) and reduce everything to polarization. The essence of what is Catholic is both-and (et-et)”. He recalled that Jesus went beyond the divisions among the Jews of the time between the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the  Essenes and the Zealots. proposing the Beatitudes, "which are also something different". 

“[ The more polarization there is, the more one loses the Catholic spirit and falls into a sectarian spirit.]”

Bishops and Bishops’ Conferences

Pope Francis was also asked about the growing distance between the Bishops’ Conference and the Catholic faithful in the U.S. on faith and morals. In this regard he emphasized the crucial role of individual bishops, rather than the collective bodies of bishops,  and of their pastoral relation with their flock, noting that Bishops’ Conferences are organizations “meant to assist and unite, a symbol of unity. “Jesus – he said - did not create bishops’ conferences. Jesus created bishops”

“The grace of Jesus Christ is in the relationship between the bishop and his people, his diocese.”

Abortion should not be politicized

Another sensitive issue discussed during the interview was that of abortion, which has been particularly divisive also in the Catholic Church in the U.S..  

Asked if the bishops should prioritize abortion in relation to other social justice issues, Pope Francis again insisted on the sacramental dimension of this delicate issue which, he stressed, “must not be politicized", and on the pastoral role of each bishop, which “cannot be delegated to the bishops’ conference”.   

“[ The problem arises when this reality of killing a human being is transformed into a political question, or when a pastor of the Church uses political categories. (…) The sacramental part of the pastoral ministry is in the relationship between the pastor and the people of God, between the bishop and his people.]”

Child abuse is a monstruosity

Pope Francis was then asked about the ongoing abuse crisis in the Church and about concerns over the Vatican's transparency policies in light of new recent cases involving bishops. In this regard, the Pope noted that “since the Church made the decision not to cover up [any more] cases”, progress has been made against the “monstruosity” of child abuse.

He mentioned, in particular, the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church he convened in the Vatican from  21-24 February 2019,  and the creation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors headed by Cardinal Sean O'Malley. 

He recalled that “the leader in taking these decisions was Benedict XVI”, and that this crime “is a ‘new’ problem in its manifestation, but eternal in that it has always existed” in all spheres of society, starting from the family. A point he had already pointed out during the 2019 Vatican Summit on child abuse.

“When honest people see how the Church is taking responsibility for this monstruosity, they understand that the Church is one thing while the abusers who are being punished by the Church are another.”

Pope Francis, therefore, reiterated that the Church is determined “to go forward in taking responsibility for its own sin”, with “seriousness and shame”, and “with equal transparency”.


Everyone knows my stance on the war in Ukraine

The Holy Father was then asked about his position on the war in Ukraine, and specifically on why he is seemingly unwilling to directly criticize Russia, the aggressor.

He explained that: "Sometimes I try not to specify so as not to offend and rather condemn in general, although it is well known whom I am condemning. It is not necessary that I put a name and surname."

“When I speak about Ukraine, I speak of people who are martyred. If you have a martyred people, you have someone who martyrs them. When I speak about Ukraine, I speak about the cruelty because I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in. (…) Certainly, the one who invades is the Russian state. This is very clear.”

He then recalled his personal efforts to end the conflict and to support Ukraine: from his visit to the Russian embassy in Rome on the second day of the war, on February 25, his two phone calls to Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky, his interventions to free prisoners of war on both sides, and also his desire to visit both Kyiv and Moscow . He insisted that naming explicitly Putin “is not necessary”.

“Everyone knows my stance, with Putin or without Putin, without naming him.”

Pope Francis further recalled that he has sent two Cardinals several times to Ukraine and also Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations, to bring the Holy See’s solidarity and humanitarian relief to the Ukrainian people.

He also mentioned the recent commemoration by the Holy See of the Holodomor, the genocide that Stalin committed against the Ukrainians in  1932-33 which, he said, "is an historical antecedent of the [present] conflict".

The Pope insisted that the position of the Holy See "is to seek peace and to seek understanding” and is “is always willing to mediate”.

Racism is an intolerable sin against God

Pope Francis then spoke about the issue of racism, which some Catholics in the U.S. don’t feel as a priority, but that causes many Black Catholics to feel neglected by the Church.

Asked what he would say to Black Catholics to encourage them, the Pope said he would tell them that he is “close to the suffering they are experiencing, which is racial suffering and in this [in this situation], those who should in some way be close to them are the local bishops."

“I would say to African American Catholics that the Pope is aware of their suffering, that he loves them very much, and that they should resist and not walk away. Racism is an intolerable sin against God. The Church, the pastors and lay people must continue fighting to eradicate it and for a more just world.”

He also took the opportunity to say that he also loves “very much the Indigenous peoples of the United States”, and the many Latinos living in the country

The Church is female

Another issue discussed during the interview was women’s priestly ordination.

The Pope explained that it is a theological question that concerns the ministerial dimension of the life of the Church, "that of the Petrine Church".  However, he said, the  Church "is more than a ministry".  "Apart from the Petrine principle there is another principle that is still more important, that is the Marian principle, which is the principle of femininity in the Church, of the woman in the Church, where the Church sees a mirror of herself because she is a woman and a spouse".

The Pope also mentioned a third way: the administrative way.  “I believe we have to give more space to women”, he said, noting that even in the Roman Curia the Church has progressed in giving more responsibilities to women.

“The fact that a woman does not enter into the ministerial life is not a deprivation. Your place is that which is much more important and which we have yet to develop, the catechesis about women in the way of the Marian principle.”

Criticism of market capitalism drawn from the Gospel

Pope Francis was then asked about his frequent criticisms of market capitalism, for which some call him a Marxist. “I try to follow the Gospel”, the Pope replied. “I am much enlightened by the Beatitudes, but above all by the standard by which we will be judged,” he said,  recalling the Gospel of Matthew 25. ‘I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was in prison, and you visited me. I was sick and you cared for me'.  “Is Jesus a communist, then?” he asked, remarking that the problem that is behind this… "is the socio-political reduction of the Gospel message.”

Dialoguing with China despite slow progress

Finally, Pope Francis was asked about the Vatican’s relations with Communist China, with reference to the 2018 Provisional Agreement
between the Holy See and the and Beijing  on the appointment of Bishops
which was  recently renewed, and about his alleged silence on human rights in the People’s Republic of China.

On this point, Pope Francis said:  “It is not a matter of speaking or silence”, but rather if “to dialogue or not to dialogue”.

“With China, I have opted for the way of dialogue” even “if it is slow”, he explained,  citing the late Cardinal Agostino Casaroli's Ostpolitik diplomacy during the Cold War  as a “model”.

He also reiterated that Chinese people deserve his respect, because they are people of great wisdom.

“Dialogue is the way of the best diplomacy. With China I have opted for the way of dialogue. It is slow, it has its failures, it has its successes, but I cannot find another way. And I want to underline this: The Chinese people are a people of great wisdom and deserve my respect and my admiration.”

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28 November 2022, 14:18