The publication of a lengthy interview between an atheist Italian journalist and Pope Francis has caused yet another stir among believers and non-believers.
Catholic Culture is reporting that the interview, conducted by Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of the left-leaning Repubblica, was published on the same day that the Pope began consulting with the newly formed Council of Cardinals about possible Vatican reforms. The interview was had after Pope Francis responded to an editorial by Scalfari, first in writing and then by phone call.
Scalfari admits: “I was still stunned when I heard the voice of His Holiness on the other end of a the line saying, ‘Hello, this is Pope Francis’.”
When he expressed his surprise, the pope asked: “Why so surprised? You wrote me a letter asking to meet me in person. I had the same wish, so I’m calling to fix an appointment. Let me look at my diary: I can’t do Wednesday, nor Monday, would Tuesday suit you?”
It did. They agree on a time and Scalfari ends the call by asking: “Can I embrace you by phone?”
“Of course,” the pope says. “A hug from me too. Then we will do it in person, goodbye.”
The interview took place last week in the Pope’s apartment in the Casa Sanctae Marthae.
In the very beginning of the interview, Scalfari, a professed non-believer, admitted that he was concerned that the Pope might try to convert him.
“Proselytism is solemn nonsense,” the Pope said. “It makes no sense.” He goes on to explain that it is not proselytizing, it is love. “It is love of others, as our Lord preached. . . . Love for one’s neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good.”
He added: “I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.”
The pope also disclosed what he sees as the greatest problems facing the Church today.
“The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old… You tell me: can you live crashed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”
Francis was also very glib when speaking about the need for change in the Church and complained about the “Vatican-centric” view prevailing in Rome.
“Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy,” he said.
When asked if the “court” is the Curia, Francis explained himself more clearly.
“No, there are sometimes courtiers in the Curia, but the curia as a whole is another thing. It is what in an army is called the quartermaster’s office, it manages the services that serve the Holy See. But it has one defect: it is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I’ll do everything I can to change it.”
Later in the interview, he described a mystical experience he had just before accepting his election as pope.
“Before I accepted [his papal election] I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square. My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go away and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance.”
During the interview, he also spoke about conscience, calling it autonomous and saying everyone must obey his conscience.
“Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place,” the pope said.
He is being misinterpreted as meaning that a person can follow their own conscience even though it may have been formed improperly. Francis did not get into those specifics during the interview, but what he said is in keeping with what the Catechism which teaches “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience” (No. 1800).
Popular Catholic blogger Father John Zuhlsdorf defended the pope against those who say he was too glib during the interview and might mislead people.
“Could Francis be faulted for not talking about defective conscience or lack of formation of conscience? I suppose. But the Church teaches that people cannot be coerced in matters of conscience. This is a natural right as well.”
After reading the interview, Father Zuhlsdorf reassures the public that abortion is still murder; gay marriage is still no marriage; and we’re going to “jaw-jaw” with non-believers.
The interview with Scalfari was a success none the less with the journalist admitting afterward: “If the Church becomes like him and becomes what he wants it to be, it will be an epochal change.”
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