Author: Francesco Antonio Grana – English version by Alexander Bennett

Your Holiness, ten years ago, March 13, 2013, you were elected as pope. So what is your analysis of this decade in office?
The analysis will be done by his Lord in a moment he believes is fitting. The way in which He will do it He says so himself in chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The Church is not a business, or an NGO, and the pope is not an administrator who has been commissioned to balance the numbers at the end of the year. The Church is of the Lord! We are simply asked to humbly pay attention to His will and to put it into practice. It can seem like a simple task, but it’s not. It’s necessary to attune yourself with the Lord, not with the world.

But did you think about a governing programme when you were elected?
I often thought about a passage within a sermon by Pope Benedict XVI at the first mass of his pontificate, April 24, 2005: “In this moment it’s not necessary for me to present a governing programme.” Then he added: “My true governing programme is that which doesn’t follow my own will, to not pursue my own ideas, but to listen, alongside all of the Church, to the words and the will of the Lord and let myself be guided by Him, so that He Himself guides the Church in this hour of our history”

The general congregation, however, had asked the new Pope a pontificate of reform.
I participated in the general congregation of 2005, after the death of Pope Saint John Paul II, and of 2013, after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. They were two great moments of grace, and of growth, for all of us. Two important occasions for weighing up the state of health of the Church, particularly regarding the problems we needed to confront. Two very different situations were described. During the general congregations of 2013, all of us, myself included, made some very specific demands to who was going to be elected. Personally I was very calm. I had brought few clothes, the bare essentials, also because since Saint John Paul II had nominated me cardinal, in the consistory of 2001, I had always left in Rome both the threaded and the red cassock for when I was going to be at the Vatican, so as to avoid travelling with them. I had packed my luggage thinking that I would be returning to Buenos Aires in time for Holy Week. Instead, my return ticket was torn up by my cardinal brethren. What I have done in these ten years has really been to implement the requests of the general congregation. The Council of Cardinals, which I announced purposely just a month before my election, were given this task. A synodical job that really has to listen to the whole of the church, and when I speak of the church I don’t only mean us priests, of which we make up just 1.1 per cent, but the lay people, who are 99 per cent of the church. And it’s not me that says this, but the Vatican Ecumenical Council II in the decree on the lay apostolate, Apostolicam actuositatem. A document from 1965, but very current and that should be read in every parish.

So a pontificate of reform beginning with the Roman Curia.
It has been the most demanding task, that has engrossed most of The Council of Cardinals. A year ago, March 19, 2022, the apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia was published, Praedicate Evangelium. I entrusted it to Saint Joseph, patron of the universal church, also because on March 19, 2013 I celebrated the first mass of my pontificate in St Peter’s Square. It’s the third time that the Roman Curia has been reformed since the II Vatican: It was also done by Saint Paul VI in 1967 and Saint John Paul II in 1988. It has really been a collegiate task.

However, the suffering in these last ten years has not been lacking
I’ve never lost any sleep. At times I read about reports that were completely invented. Things are much simpler than what they appear to be from the outside. It’s good that between brethren there is the courage to say things directly to each others faces, “wearing trousers” {being a responsible man}, not encouraging the gossip that kills, that can kill anything. Also the first disciples of Jesus didn’t see everything in the same way and there were twelve of them, a small group. The church isn’t an orchestra where everyone plays the same part, but each person has their own score, and it’s exactly this that creates the harmony. We have to strive for unity which doesn’t mean uniformity. We are all brethren! We have to have the courage to believe in our own ideas, the courage to say them out loud, but then we must find ourselves around the same table.

What has made you suffer the most?
The corruption. I’m not speaking about only financial corruption, inside and outside of the Vatican, I’m talking about the corruption of the heart. The corruption is a scandal. In Naples, in 2015, I said it reeked. Yes, reeked. The corruption putrefies the soul. It is necessary to distinguish the sin from the corruption. We are all sinners, all of us! Also the pope has to confess every 15 days. But we don’t have to descend from sin into corruption. Never! In the Church, like in politics and in society in general, we have to always be aware of the serious danger of corruption. It is very difficult for someone corrupted to turn back: a bribe today and another tomorrow. For this reason the mafia are excommunicated from the Church: they have their hands contaminated with money stained with blood. They do business with weapons and drugs. They kill the young and the society. They kill the future. It’s necessary to be clear: in the Church there is no place for the mafia! The beatified Pino Puglisi and Rosario Livatino didn’t allow themselves to be compromise by making a pact with the mafia. As a result they paid with their lives.

The corruption within the Church has also manifested itself in pedophilia amongst its people.
You can credit Benedict XVI with reporting publicly on this enormous scandal when he was still cardinal. Everyone remembers his words: “How much filth there is in the church, especially among those who, in the priesthood, are supposed to belong totally to Him (Christ),” He didn’t just have the great courage to report all of this when they still weren’t talking about it much, when there still wasn’t the full awareness of this abomination, but, both as cardinal, and then as pope, he battled with all of his strength against the conspiracy of silence and the cover-up that for decades has shielded those in the church that commit this abuse. I’m following in his footsteps. Regarding this point, it’s necessary to be very clear: if in the Church even a single case of abuse is uncovered, that represents in itself a monstrosity, such a case will be treated extremely seriously.

Importantly there was the worldwide summit on pedophilia within the clergy (Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church) in February 2019 and all the reforms that came from it.
Something really struck me from that summit. I asked the presidents of the episcopal conferences of all the world to prepare themselves for the meeting by listening to the victims. Many of them told me that they had never herd directly from the victims before that point and that they found themselves crying with them: “the gift of tears”. This, I believe, was the most important and radical change of mentality in the Church to confront the abuse: to start by listening to the victims. For a pastor it’s fundamental. Benedict XVI had started to listen to the victims during his international travels. This sharing of thoughts, it needs to start here. In the Church there is no place for those who stain themselves with the sin of this abominable sin against God and against man. However, pedophilia is also a crime that has to be punished through justice. Covering up the abuse is a routine practice. Consider that 40 per cent of cases of abuse happen within the family and in the local community and all of this is covered up. A habit that the Church had until the Boston scandal in 2002. At that moment, the Church realised that it couldn’t cover up anymore the pedophilia by its priests. However, in the family, and in the world of sport, pedophilia still exists. Another point that I would like to highlight is the problem of child pornography. Where does it happen? Who are those that have the freedom to do this without answering to authority? It’s a horrible thing because child pornography involves children in the making of the videos.

What do you wish for the future?
Peace. Peace in war torn Ukraine and in all the other countries that are suffering from the horrors of war that is always a loss for everyone, for everyone. The war is cruel and absurd. It is a business that doesn’t understand crises, not even during the pandemic: the weapons factory. To strive for peace means not investing in these “factories of death”. It makes me suffer to think that if we didn’t make weapons for a year, all the hunger in the world would end because the weapons and arms industry is the biggest on the planet. December 8, last year, in the Piazza di Spagna, Rome, I cried thinking about what the Ukrainians are going through. A year has already passed since the war started in Ukraine. In February I was in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in South Sudan, and I saw the horrors of conflict in those two countries where people were being mutilated. Something that made me suffer a lot is the globalisation of indifference, the turning a blind eye and saying: “Why should I care? It doesn’t interest me! It’s not my problem!” When they asked Senator for Life, Lilliana Segre, holocaust survivor, which word to write on platform 21 at Milan station, where the trains departed for the nazi concentration camps, she didn’t hesitate, saying: “Indifference”. Nobody had thought about that word. It makes you reflect because that massacre of millions of people occurred through the indifference and cowardliness of many who preferred to look the other way and say: “Why should I care?”
Recently, I read a quote from the senator reminding us that you don’t go to Auschwitz for an outing but you pay homage so as not to forget about the holocaust. This struck me hard because it is really this that I felt in my heart when I went to Auschwitz in 2016, and I didn’t want to make a speech in the same way that my two predecessors had. I wanted to pray alone in silence.

What do you wish for the church?
The Church needs to venture out into the world, it needs to be among the people. Take for example Don Tonino Bello, a great Apulian bishop who walked amongst his people and fought with all his strength for peace. A man not recognised during his time because he was too far ahead. Now we appreciate who he was. A prophet! He is already venerable and on his way to beatification. Recently, they used in a song his celebrated quote: “We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.” No-one can save themselves alone. We saw this also with the pandemic. I dream of a Church without clericalism. So said the cardinal Henri-Marie de Lubac in his famous piece Mèditation sur l’Èglise where, to mention what is the worst thing that could happen to the Church, he wrote that spiritual worldliness, that translates as the clericalism of a priest, “would be infinitely more disastrous than any simple moral worldliness”. Clericalism is the worst thing that can happen to the church, worse still than the periods in which the pope was corrupt. A priest, a bishop or a cardinal who becomes ill through clericalism does a lot of damage to the Church. It’s a contagious disease. Even worse are the clericalised lay people: they are a nuisance in the Church. Lay people should be lay people.

And, in the end, what do you wish for your future?
That the Lord is merciful with me. Being the pope is not an easy job. Nobody has studied before doing this. However the Lord knows this. It happened also with Saint Peter. He was quietly fishing and one day Jesus chose him because he was becoming a “fisher of men”. However, also Peter fell. He denied knowing the very person who he had seen day and night with the Lord, who had eaten with Him, who he had heard preach and who he had seen perform miracles: “I don’t know that man!” How is that possible? But Jesus, after the resurrection, chose him again. That is the mercy of the Lord towards us. Also towards the pope. “‘Servus inutilis sum’. I’m a useless servant”, as wrote Saint Paul VI in his “Thoughts on Death”. A beautifully written piece that above all invites priests to read and meditate.

Thank you Your Holiness
Thanks to you and your colleagues for the work that you do. I would like to say something to the readers of Don’t ever lose hope! Even if bad things happen, even if you have had a bad experience with someone from the Church, don’t let it condition you. The Lord is always waiting for you with open arms. I hope you succeed in experiencing it within your lives like I have within mine many times. The Lord has always been beside me, above all in the darkest moments. He is always there. Don’t ever forget that! He takes us gently into his arms and he picks us up when we fall. The important thing, in fact, is not to not fall, but not to stay fallen. The Lord forgives us always. The pope loves you and is praying for you. Whoever is praying, I ask them to pray for me. To those that don’t pray, at least send me good vibes, I need them. Thank you!

Twitter: @FrancescoGrana (English version by Alexander Bennett)

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