By CINDY WOODEN, Catholic News Service | Published August 1, 2013
ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM BRAZIL (CNS)—Pope Francis said he was responding to the clear wishes of the College of Cardinals when he set up commissions to study the Vatican bank, Vatican financial and administrative procedures and the reform of the Roman Curia.
The pope also said he knows people have spoken about some kind of “gay lobby” at the Vatican protecting certain priests by threatening to blackmail others. The pope said the “lobbying” is what is worrisome.
Pope Francis held his first news conference July 28, shortly after the Alitalia flight taking him back to Rome departed from Rio de Janeiro. He answered questions from 21 journalists over a period of 80 minutes. The questions were not submitted in advance and no topics were ruled out of bounds. They included the role of women in the church and the pastoral care of the divorced.
Asked about the Vatican bank, Pope Francis said he does not know what will become of the Institute for the Works of Religion, which is the formal name of the scandal-plagued bank. He has appointed an outside commission and is involved in discussions about how to organize it, “how to restore it, reformulate it.”
But he also told journalists traveling with him that “transparency and honesty” were essential at the Vatican bank and that while moral failures by clergy caused scandal and pain, people also needed to recognize that sometimes the media and the public go searching for scandal.
Referring to the institute by its Italian initials, IOR, the pope said, some have suggested it should become a real bank, others say it should be a “charitable fund, others say it should be closed. I don’t know. I have confidence in the work of the people at IOR, who are working a lot, and in the commission,” studying the bank and its role in the universal mission of the church.
“Whatever it ends up being—whether a bank or a charitable fund—transparency and honesty are essential,” he said.
As for the wider reform of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis said everything he has done so far flows from the concerns and suggestions raised by the College of Cardinals during the meetings they held before the conclave that elected Pope Francis in March.
The cardinals, he said, expressed “what they wanted of the new pope—they wanted a lot of things”—but a key part of it was that the Vatican central offices be more efficient and more clearly at the service of the universal church.
“There are saints who work in the Curia—cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters, laity; I’ve met them,” he said, they include those who work full time, then do volunteer work, feed the poor, help out in parishes on weekends.
The media only writes about the sinners and the scandals, he said, but that’s normal, because “a tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows.”
Addressing the issue of the gay lobby, Pope Francis said it was important to “distinguish between a person who is gay and someone who makes a gay lobby,” he said. “A gay lobby isn’t good.”
“A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—well, who am I to judge him?” the pope said. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation—we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.”
The so-called “VatiLeaks” scandal, which disrupted the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate, was another issue reporters brought up. The scandal involved the leaking of private correspondence—including to and from the pope. Pope Benedict’s butler was tried, convicted and jailed for giving papers to a journalist, but a commission of three cardinals also conducted a wider investigation into how information is used and shared at the Vatican.
All the information collected by the cardinals was given to Pope Francis when he met Pope Benedict at Castel Gandolfo shortly after being elected.
Pope Francis told reporters the large box shown on a table in photos of his meeting with the retired pope contained transcripts of all the interviews conducted during the investigation. The envelope on top of the box contained the summary, a summary Pope Benedict knew almost by heart and explained to Pope Francis, he said.
“It didn’t frighten me, but it’s a big problem,” Pope Francis said.
On the possibility of the Catholic Church ordaining women priests, Pope Francis said, “the church has spoken and said, ‘no,’” and the form in which Blessed John Paul II declared that was “a definitive formula.” Blessed John Paul said that because Jesus chose only men as his disciples, the church was not able to ordain women.
However, Pope Francis said, the Catholic Church still has far to go in developing a real theology that explains the importance of women in the church and how it would be impossible for the church to live up to its role as mother and bride without the contribution of women.
“It is not enough to have altar girls, women readers or women as the president of Caritas,” he said. “Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” just like “Mary is more important than the apostles.”
Asked about any possibility that the Catholic Church would begin to allow Catholics who have been divorced and remarried only civilly to receive the sacraments, Pope Francis said he wanted to make it clear that divorced Catholics can receive the sacraments. The problems begin when they marry a second time without having their first union annulled.
He said the annulment process needs to be reformed and streamlined, but even more importantly the Catholic Church needs to get serious about developing a comprehensive pastoral program for the family, and that was one topic he planned to discuss Oct. 1-3 with the commission of eight cardinals he named to advise him on the reform of the Roman Curia and other important matters.
The late Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, his predecessor as archbishop of Buenos Aires, used to say that he thought half the Catholic marriages in the world could be annulled because people marry “without maturity, without understanding it was for one’s entire life or because it seemed socially necessary,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also mentioned the practice of the Orthodox churches that allow a second marriage—what he called “a second chance”—in some cases, giving the impression that the Catholic practice could undergo modification.
Asked about why he speaks so frequently about God’s mercy, he said, “I think this is a time for mercy,” particularly a time when the church must go out of its way to be merciful given the “not-so-beautiful witness of some priests” and “the problem of clericalism, for example, which have left so many wounds, so many wounded. The church, which is mother, must go and heal those wounds.”
“If the Lord never tires of forgiving us, we have no other choice but to do the same,” he said. Pope Francis told the reporters that in the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, when the young man returned after squandering his inheritance, “his father didn’t sit him down and say, ‘How did you spend the money?’ but he threw a party.”
And, the pope said, the father “didn’t just wait for his son, he went out to look for him.”