Papal Surprises at 20,000 Feet

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his return flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis addresses journalists on his return flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis said that he doesn’t give interviews.

But that all changed on the plane ride back from World Youth Day where for nearly 90 minutes the pope stood and didn’t dodge a question from anybody.

You can read John Allen’s summary of the impromptu press conference here.

Pope Francis mentioned the following with regard to the gay lobby that supposedly exists within the Vatican and that reportedly he acknowledged exists:

When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.

The question was sparked not merely by the “gay lobby” but also accusations made against his handpicked prelate for the Vatican bank, Italian Monsignor Battista Ricca. There were alleged improprieties in his past, presumably around the issue of a homosexual affair, which were unfounded.

The pope also said:

I’d like to add that many times we seem to seek out the sins of somebody’s youth and publish them. We’re not talking about crimes, which are something else. The abuse of minors, for instance, is a crime. But one can sin and then convert, and the Lord both forgives and forgets. We don’t have the right to refuse to forget … it’s dangerous. The theology of sin is important. St. Peter committed one of the greatest sins, denying Christ, and yet they made him pope! Think about that.

So presumably there may have been something in Ricca’s past that Pope Francis is apt to forget about because he has been forgiven of his sin and it’s no longer an issue. The pope simply wants to move on.

There were two other interesting comments from the plane about women in the Church and the pope being a Jesuit.

For those hoping that Pope Francis might consider ordaining women to the priesthood, it was interesting to hear that he considers John Paul II to have had the final word on that, meaning that the Church deems the ordination of women “an impossibility” — to say this more directly, that canon law does not allow the pope to change this. However, the interesting note Pope Francis added was that the Church needs to develop a “truly deep theology of women.” Which means that he wants to get beyond “can they be altar boys, can they be lectors” and arrive at a more holistic way of thinking about women and how they relate to the Church.

Lastly, the pope is a Jesuit and claims that he still “feels and thinks like a Jesuit.” He noted, “Jesuits have a vow to obey the pope, but if the pope is a Jesuit, maybe he should have a vow to obey the superior general.” An interesting thought that the pope should be held accountable to someone other than himself. For certain, this was a “half-joke” and would set off alarms amongst more traditional Catholics who fear that the Jesuit order is now running the Church, but looking at it from a more humble position we can see Francis saying that the pope also needs someone to check in with from time to time.

A final note: It would be interesting to know what Pope Francis talks to his own spiritual director about (in general). And what the spiritual director to a pope must feel like when he/she has the responsibility to hold what the pope says to him or her in confidence. It would be an interesting place to be as a lay person who was a spiritual director and perhaps an even bigger responsibility for a priest who served in this capacity. Perhaps a good question for a future papal plane ride?