• John Thavis

Interview offers a 360-degree look at Pope Francis

In a wide-ranging interview with Jesuit publications, Pope Francis said today’s church needs to “heal wounds” by proclaiming the Gospel and moving away from the “small-minded rules” that have sometimes dominated its message.

The interview, published in the United States by America magazine, is well worth reading in its entirely. It gives a more complete picture of the Argentine pope, including his spirituality, his goals as pope and some interesting self-criticism.

Asked what the church needs most today, the pope said it was “the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.”

“I see the church as a field hospital after battle.It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else,” he said.

“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all,” he said.

Francis said his primary role as pope was “discernment” and promised that this would be done with consultation. This is not something he always did as a young Jesuit provincial, he said, and his authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led to trouble.

At the Vatican, he said, he wants to offer consistories of cardinals and synods of bishops a real chance for input, which means giving them “a less rigid form.” That’s the idea behind the “group of eight” cardinals he’s named to consult on Curia reform, he added.

“I do not want token consultations, but real consultations,” he said. In particular, he said the Synod of Bishops in its current form is not dynamic and could learn lessons in collegiality from Orthodox brethren.

As for the Roman Curia, the pope indicated that many problems and complaints brought to Rome’s attention can and should be dealt with by local bishops. “The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers,” he said. Nor should they be “institutions of censorship,” he said.

Pope Francis emphasized that the Catholic faithful, as the people of God, are “infallible in matters of belief.” He spoke of the “common sanctity” witnessed in daily life: “a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity.”

In this sense, he said, the church is “the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

The Ignatian idea of “thinking with the church” involves a dialogue between all its members, he said. “We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”

As he told reporters on his return flight from Brazil in July, the pope said the church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.”

“This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context,” he said.

“The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” he said.

Francis said the way the church teaches in the modern world is crucial to the success of evangelization, which must focus on the essentials.

“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently….We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” he said.

Asked the about importance of the Second Vatican Council, the pope said its fruits have been enormous, particularly in the area of liturgy.

He said the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to grant wider use of the Tridentine Mass was “prudent,” but added that there was a worrying risk of exploiting the old liturgy ideologically.

All this confirms what we’ve seen and heard in bits and pieces over the last six months: that this pope has a new vision of papal ministry and is unafraid to put it into practice.

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