By PAUL LIKOUDIS
Pope Francis has given another interview, this time with Vatican Insider’s Andrea Tornielli, published December 14 in La Stampa, in which he deflects many of the criticisms made of him for allegedly charting the Church on a course away from that of his Predecessors.
Most notably, he denied he was a Marxist — as U.S. radio personality Rush Limbaugh famously charged, though he did admit that he had Marxists among his friends.
During the course of the hour and a half interview, the Pope also spoke about relations with other Christian denominations and an “ecumenism of blood” which unites all Christians, regardless of their denomination who are subject to persecution.
Among the questions and answers were these:
“What does Christmas say to people today?” asked Tornielli.
Pope Francis responded:
“It speaks of tenderness and hope. When God meets us He tells us two things. The first thing He says is: Have hope. God always opens doors, He never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us.
“The second thing He says is: Don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold Church that loses its sense of direction and is held back by ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: Go forward, I am a Father who caresses you.
“I become fearful when Christians lose hope and the ability to embrace and extend a loving caress to others. Maybe this is why, looking toward the future, I often speak about children and the elderly, about the most defenseless, that is. Throughout my life as a priest, going to the parish, I have always sought to transmit this tenderness, particularly to children and the elderly. It does me good and it makes me think of the tenderness God has toward us. . . .
“The message announced to us in the Gospels is a message of joy. The evangelists described a joyful event to us. They do not discuss about the unjust world and how God could be born into such a world. All this is the fruit of our own contemplations: the poor, the child that is born into a precarious situation.
“The [first] Christmas was not a condemnation of social injustice and poverty; it was an announcement of joy. Everything else is conclusions that we draw. Some are correct, others are less so, and others still are ideologized. Christmas is joy, religious joy, God’s joy, an inner joy of light and peace.
“When you are unable or in a human situation that does not allow you to comprehend this joy, then one experiences this feast with a worldly joyfulness. But there is a difference between profound joy and worldly joyfulness.”
Tornielli then suggested: “This is your first Christmas in a world marked by conflict and war. . . .”
Pope Francis responded: “God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. If He gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it. All of us from the holiest of saints to the greatest of sinners; from the purest to the most corrupt among us. Even a corrupt person has this ability: Poor him, it’s probably a bit rusty but he has it.
“Christmas in this time of conflicts is a call from God who gives us this gift. Do we want to receive Him or do we prefer other gifts? In a world afflicted by war, this Christmas makes me think of God’s patience. The Bible clearly shows that God’s main virtue is that He is love. He waits for us; He never tires of waiting for us. He gives us the gift and then waits for us. This happens in the life of each and every one of us. There are those who ignore Him. But God is patient and the peace and serenity of Christmas Eve is a reflection of God’s patience toward us.”
After expressing his wish to go to the Holy Land to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit there, and reflecting on why God allows so much suffering in the world, Tornielli then asked the Pope: “What does it feel like to be called a ‘Marxist’?”
Pope Francis answered: “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
Tornielli followed up with: “The most striking part of the exhortation [Evangelii Gaudium] was where it refers to an economy that ‘kills’.”
“There is nothing in the exhortation that cannot be found in the social doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the ‘trickle-down theories’ which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger [and] nothing ever comes out for the poor.
“This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.”
The Church And Politics
Tornielli also asked the Pontiff about speculation that he was in favor of easing restrictions on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
“In the apostolic exhortation you called for prudent and bold pastoral choices regarding the sacraments. What were you referring to?,” Tornielli asked.
“When I speak of prudence I do not think of it in terms of an attitude that paralyzes but as the virtue of a leader. Prudence is a virtue of government. So is boldness. One must govern with boldness and prudence. I spoke about Baptism and Communion as spiritual food that helps one to go on; it is to be considered a remedy not a prize.
“Some immediately thought about the sacraments for remarried divorcees, but I did not refer to any specific cases; I simply wanted to point out a principle. We must try to facilitate people’s faith, rather than control it. Last year in Argentina I condemned the attitude of some priests who did not baptize the children of unmarried mothers. This is a sick mentality.”
“And what about remarried divorcees?” Tornielli asked.
“The exclusion of divorced people who contract a second marriage from Communion is not a sanction. It is important to remember this. But I didn’t talk about this in the exhortation.”
Another question Tornielli asked concerned “the right relationship between the Church and politics.”
“The relationship needs to be parallel and convergent at the same time. Parallel because each of us has his or her own path to take and his or her different tasks. Convergent only in helping others. When relationships converge first, without the people, or without taking the people into account, that is when the bond with political power is formed, leading the Church to rot: business, compromises. The relationship needs to proceed in a parallel way, each with its own method, tasks, and vocation, converging only in the common good.
“Politics is noble; it is one of the highest forms of charity, as Paul VI used to say. We sully it when we mix it with business. The relationship between the Church and political power can also be corrupted if common good is not the only converging point.”