In a wide-ranging interview in which he spoke about the ongoing migrant crisis in the United States, Pope Francis also touched on issues such as female ordination, the ongoing Vatican talks with China and the clerical sexual abuse scandals in Chile.
The conversation between Pope Francis and a journalist from British news agency Reuters took place on Sunday afternoon, and sections of it were published on Wednesday. Reuters also provided a transcript of portions of the interview to Vatican journalists.
“I don’t like talking about this now, but I must say this,” Francis told journalist Philip Pullela. “Go to the statistics. The great majority of the abuses take place in the family environment and in the neighborhoods, the neighbors, the families, then in the gym, the pools, the schools and also in the Church, but some can say the [priests] are few, but even if it was only one [priest] it’d be tragic because that priest has the duty to take that person to God and has destroyed the path to God.”
The pope also said that in the past, a priest was transferred from one place to another because there was no “consciousness” of the seriousness of the crisis, but “the Church has woken up.”
Speaking about the Chile situation, he said he received the information, studied it, and acted accordingly with the help of others.
The crisis in the Chilean church first gained global attention in 2015, when the pope appointed Bishop Juan Barros to the southern diocese of Osorno, which caused uproar both among the local faithful and with the victims of Father Fernando Karadima, condemned in 2011 by the Vatican to a life of penitence and prayer.
“The Karadima problem is a very complex problem because the Chilean elite is mixed with the sociopolitical situation,” he said. “I had the Barros case studied and there didn’t seem to be anything consistent in the information they had in the Vatican.”
However, he said, he returned “restless” from his January trip to Chile, thinking “there is more than propaganda or some anti-clericalist position.” Hence, he decided to send to envoys to the Latin American country in February, who came back with a 2,300-page report.
Every Chilean bishop presented their resignation, and the pope has accepted three so far, that of Barros, and two more bishops who are over 75 years of age but who have “very grave problems in their diocese.”
Francis says it’s necessary to continue studying the Chile situation, but that “certainly, it’s a work of the spirt of evil.”
Asked about how he responds to a woman who “really feel the strong desire to become a priest,” Francis said that there’s a temptation to turn the discussion on the role of women in the Church into “they must do this, they must become that.”
“No, the dimension of women goes beyond a role,” he said. “It’s a much bigger thing.”
Quoting German theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, he said that the Church can be conceived with two principles: The Petrine principle, that is masculine, and the Marian principle, that is feminine. “There’s no Church without women.”
“Yes, we must give them a role, but this is not enough. With sacred orders, you can’t do anything because dogmatically it doesn’t go – and John Paul II was clear and closed the door, and I won’t turn on this. It was a serious thing, not capricious.”
“But we mustn’t reduce the presence of the women to their role,” he insisted. “No, it’s a thing that man can’t do. Man cannot be the bride of Christ. It’s the woman, the Church, the bride of Christ.”
Francis also said that there needs to “be more” women in positions of responsibility in the Curia because there are now only a few. And to include some of them, such as Spaniard Paloma Garcia Ovejero, he acknowledged that he had to “fight.”
“In this matter it’s important to move forth according their qualities,” he said.
“I have no problem with naming a woman as head of a dicastery, as long as the dicastery doesn’t have jurisdiction. The one for clergy does, so it has to be a bishop,” Francis told Reuters, adding that there are many that don’t, such as “that for the economy,” presumably referring to the Secretariat for the Economy, that currently has its chief, Australian Cardinal George Pell, on a leave of absence as he stands trials for historic charges of sexual abuse in Melbourne.
“We’re late, it’s true, but we must move forward,” he said.
When it comes to the women being lay or religious sisters, he said that it was indistinct, what matters is that they’re women because they have a “another vision.”
He also said that there are those who claim having more women in the Vatican would increase the amount of gossip, he said this was not true because men are also “talkers.”
Speaking about the Roman curia, he said that there are many “diseases” in it, and that much needs to be done to reform it. However, he also said that there are “many, many, many” saints working for the government of the Church, too.
Reuters also asked the pope about the ongoing conversations between the Vatican and the People’s Republic of China, one of the few countries with which the Holy See doesn’t have diplomatic relations. In addition, there are “two” Churches, one that swears loyalty to the Vatican and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association, though the situation is very complex on the ground, with the two entities at times overlapping.
On this issue, the pope said that the conversation “continues,” but that the rapport with China goes through “three different roads:” The official one, “that is good and has managed to do good things;” one that is “everybody with everyone,” that are “peripheral” channels that show good will from the part of all involved.
The last one – which Francis described as the “most important” – is cultural dialogue, with priests working in Chinese universities and other initiatives, including an art show that was on display both in the Vatican and in China.
“Dialogue is a risk, but I prefer risk rather than the certain defeat that comes with not holding dialogue,” he said.
“As for the timing, some people say it’s ‘Chinese time.’ I say it’s God’s time. Let’s move forward serenely.”