“For mental health reasons, I do not read the websites of this so-called “resistance”. I know who they are, I know the groups, but I do not read them, simply for my mental health… Some resistances come from people who believe they have the true doctrine and accuse you of being heretical. When I find no spiritual goodness in these people, for what they say or write, I simply pray for them”. These are some of the words that Pope Francis addressed to the Jesuits during the talk behind closed doors on 16 January last in Santiago de Chile. The conversation, anticipated by Corriere della Sera on Thursday, February 15,2018 was transcribed by Father Antonio Spadaro, and will be published in the next issue of La Civiltà Cattolica.
To the question on the “joys and sorrows” of the pontificate, Pope Bergoglio answered, “This pontificate is a rather quiet period. From the moment I realized what was going to happen in the Conclave – an instant surprise for me – I felt a great peace. And until today that peace has not left me. It is a gift from the Lord, for which I am grateful. I really hope that He will not take it away from me. The things that do not take peace away from me, but sadden me, are gossip. I don’t like gossip, it upsets and saddens me. It often happens in “closed worlds”. When it happens in a context of priests or religious men and women, I wonder: But how is this possible? You, who have left everything, you, who have decided not to have a woman beside you, you, who have not married, you have no children… you want to end up like a blabbing bachelor? Oh, my God, what a sad life!”
Then Bergoglio spoke of the attitude with which he faces the resistances. “Before a difficulty I never call it a “resistance”, because it would mean giving up discerning, which is what I want to do instead. It is easy to speak about “resistance” and not to realize that in that contrast there can also be a grain of truth. This also helps me to relativize many things that, at first glance, seem like “resistances”, but in reality, it is a reaction that arises from a misunderstanding…
However, when I do realize that there is real resistance, of course, I am sorry. Some people tell me that it is normal for there to be resistance when someone wants to make changes. The famous “it has always been so” reigns everywhere, it is a great temptation that we all experienced. The resistances after Vatican II, still present today, have this meaning: to relativize, to water down the Council. I am even more sorry when someone enlists in a resistance campaign. Unfortunately, I see this too. I cannot deny that there is some resistance. I see them and know them.
There are doctrinal resistances. But for my mental health, I do not read the websites of this so-called “resistances”. I know who they are, I know the groups, but I do not read them simply for my mental health. They tell me when there is something very serious, so that I am informed about it. It is regrettable, but we need to move forward. When I perceive resistance, I try to talk, when dialogue is possible; but some resistance comes from people who believe they have the true doctrine and accuse you of being heretical. When I find no spiritual goodness in these people, for what they say or write, I simply pray for them. I feel sorry, but I will not dwell on this feeling for my mental health.
On Amoris laetitia, the exhortation dedicated to marriage and the family, the Pope said, “I believe that one of the things the Church needs most today – and this is very clear in Amoris laetitia’s pastoral perspectives and objectives – is discernment. We are used to “you can or cannot”. I, too, have received during my formation this way of thinking “so far we can, so far we cannot. I don’t know if you remember that Colombian Jesuit who came to teach us morals at the Collegio Massimo; when he talked about the sixth commandment, one dared to ask the question: “Can fiancées kiss each other? If they could kiss each other! Do you understand? And he said, “Yes, they can! There is no problem!They just need to put a handkerchief between them. This is a mindset of “doing theology” in general. A mindset based on limits. And we bear the consequences of this”.
Francis then answered a question on the decline in Jesuit vocations. Considering the decreasing number of young people and strengths, we may enter into institutional desolation. But No, you cannot afford this. Desolation pulls you down under, it’s a rotten blanket thrown at you to see how you will manage and that leads you to bitterness, disillusionment. I wonder whether Xavier, faced with the failure of seeing China but not being able to enter it, was desolate. No, I believe that he turned to the Lord, and said, “You do not want it so bye, it’s okay”. He chose to follow the path he was offered, and in that case, it was death!.. But okay! Like Xavier at the gates of China, look forward to…. God knows!”
Francis was therefore asked to spend a word about sexual scandals and child abuse, a subject that is very much felt today also in Chile. “It is the greatest desolation that the Church is suffering. This leads us to shame, but we must also remember that shame is also a very Ignatian grace. So let us take it as grace and feel deeply shameful. We must love a Church with plagues. Many plagues…. Let me tell you a fact. On 24 March, in Argentina, we celebrate Remembrance Day of the military coup, of the dictatorship, the desaparecidos, and Plaza de Mayo gets filled. In one of those 24 March, while I was about to cross the road, there was a couple with a two or three-year-old child, and the child was running ahead of them. Then his Dad told him: “Come, come, come here…. Be careful of pedophiles! “How shameful I felt!” What a shame! “What shame! They didn’t realize that I was the archbishop, I was a priest and — what shame!” Sometimes they pull out some “consolation prizes”, and someone even says, “Look at the statistics…. the… I don’t know… 70% of pedophiles are within the family, acquaintances. Then in the gyms, the swimming pools. The percentage of pedophiles who are Catholic priests does not reach 2%, it is 1.6%. It’s not so much….”. But it’s terrible even if it were only one of our brothers! Because God anointed him to sanctify children and adults, and he has destroyed them. It’s horrible! You must listen to what an abuse victim feels!
On Fridays – sometimes this is known and sometimes it is not known – I usually meet some of them. “The process they go through is very tough,” the Pope said “They are left annihilated. Annihilated!”. For the Church, it is “a great humiliation”. It shows not only our fragility but also, let us be clear, our level of hypocrisy” And added “It is notable how the phenomenon of abuse has touched some newer, prosperous Congregations. There, abuse is always the result of a mentality tied to power, which must be healed in its malicious roots. There are three levels of abuse that come together: abuse of authority, sexual abuse, and economic messes. Money is always in the middle: the devil enters through the wallet”.
About future prospects for the Church, Francis finally said, “Take back the Second Vatican Council, the Lumen Gentium. While speaking to the Chilean bishops, I exhorted them to “declericalize”. Evangelization is made by the Church as the people of God. The Lord is asking us to be a “Church which goes forth” a camp hospital… A poor Church for the poor! The poor are not a theoretical formula of the Communist Party, they are the center of the Gospel! It is on this line that I feel the Spirit is taking us. There are strong resistances, but for me the fact that they are born is a sign that we are going down the right road. Otherwise, the devil would not rush to resist”.
In La Civiltà Cattolica it is also stated that Chilean Jesuits provincial superior of the in the “Hurtado Center” in Santiago, Fr. Cristián del Campo presented two of those present at the private meeting, fathers Carlos and José Aldunate, (blood brothers), respectively 101 and 100 years old. Pope Francis said he was “happy to see Father Carlos! He was my spiritual director in 1960, in my juniorate. José was the novice teacher, then he became provincial. Carlos was a janitor and he was the king of common sense! He was able to give spiritual advice with great common sense. I remember that once I went to him because I was very angry with a person. I wanted to confront him and reproach him. He told me, “Calm down! Do you really want to fall out with him right away? Try other ways….”. I have never forgotten this advice, and I thank him now for it”.
The Pontiff then spoke of the theme of women: “I had a singular experience as bishop of a diocese: a certain topic had to be dealt with, and a consultation had begun – obviously only between priests and bishops – and we had made a reflection that led us to questions on which we had to make a decision. However, the same thing, which was dealt with in a joint meeting of men and women, has led to much richer, much more practicable and much more fruitful conclusions.
It is a simple experience of mine that comes to my mind now, but that makes me reflect. The woman must give the Church all the richness that von Balthasar called “the Marian dimension”. Without this dimension, the Church remains lame or must use crutches, and then she limps.