Speaking to journalists on the return flight from Slovakia, Pope Francis talks about his dialogue with Hungarian authorities, anti-Semitism, and vaccines, as well as Holy Communion for politicians who approve abortion laws.
“Abortion is murder”, the Church cannot change its position, but “every time the bishops have not confronted the problem as pastors, they have taken sides politically.” These were Pope Francis’ words during a conversation with journalists on the papal flight from Bratislava to Rome, at the conclusion of his trip to Budapest and Slovakia.
Istávan Károly Kuzmányi (Magyar Kurír): Holy Father, thank you for your visit to Budapest where you quoted the venerable Cardinal Mindszenty who said, “If there are one million Hungarians praying, I am not afraid of the future…” So, here is my question: Why did you decide, after 21 years, to participate as Pope in the Eucharistic Congress beginning with this event? How do you view Christianity in Europe, and what do you think we can do, we Hungarians, about this? Thank you.
Pope Francis: Well, thank you, thank you very much. At the beginning it was not well understood: “But you are coming only for the ceremony, and you aren’t going to visit us Hungarians? And some people thought badly. No: I explained that a visit had already been planned — it was in mind — to Slovakia and the other began after. But I promised your President whom I met — this is the third time I have met him — I promised to see whether it will be possible to come back next year or the following one because the Hungarians have so many values. I was struck by the sense of ecumenism, for example that you have, but with a deep, deep, deep profundity. This is what hit me. In general, Europe – I always say this – must reassume the dreams of the founding fathers of the European Union. The European Union is not a gathering to get things done, there is a spirit behind the EU that Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi, these great men: go back there. Because there’s the danger to be just a management office, the European Union, and that is not good. It must move precisely toward mysticism, in search of Europe’s roots and bring it forward. And I think all the countries must move forward. It is true that there are some interests, perhaps not European ones, that attempt to use the European Union for ideological colonization, and this is not good. No: the European Union must be independent in and of itself, and all the countries on the same level, inspired by the dream of its Great Founders. This is my idea. And you Hungarians: I was with you last year [editor: 2 years ago] in Transylvania, that Mass in Hungarian was beautiful.
Bohumil Petrik (Dennik Standard): Vaccination has divided Christians, even in Slovakia. You say that it is an act of love to get vaccinated. So, when someone is not vaccinated, what would you call that? Because some believers even, feel discriminated against. There are different approaches in different Dioceses on this issue. Even prior to your visit only those who were vaccinated could come to the papal events, then it changed and even those with a negative covid test could attend. How do we reconcile on this issue?
Pope Francis: This is important, no? It is a bit strange, no? Because humanity has a friendly history with vaccines: we as children, even the measles, the other one for polio… all children were vaccinated and no said “mu”, no? This one has come. Perhaps it has come because of the virulence and the uncertainty, not only regarding the pandemic, but also due to the diversity of vaccines, and also the reputation of some vaccines that they are not suitable or that they are little more than distilled water. This has created fear in people. Then, there are others who say they are dangerous because with the vaccine the virus inside, and a lot of argumentation that have created this division. Even in the College of Cardinals, there are some anti-vaxxers, and one of them, poor man, was hospitalized with the virus. But, life is ironic. Yes, I can’t explain it well: some say it’s because of the difference of where the vaccines come from that there has not been sufficient testing and they are afraid. But things need to be clear, clarify and speak sincerely about this. In the Vatican, everyone has been vaccinated except a small group under study to know how to help them.
Daniel Verdú Palay (El Pais): Good afternoon, Your Holiness. How are you? On Sunday morning you met with the president [editor: prime minister], Viktor Mihály Orbán. It has been noticed and it can be understood some of your differences on themes such as migrants, Europe, nationalism. We wanted to ask you and know how the meeting went, whether you touched the topic of migrants that has returned to be very important with the Afghanistan crisis, and what you think about the laws on homosexuals that he has enacted. We are asking you also because we think that you asked him not to let Christian Hungary die. But listening to your discourses these past days, it would seem that at times there are policies that kill Christian values…
Pope Francis: Good. I received him, because the President came to me, he had the courtesy. this kindness, he came. It is the third time I have met him — he came with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Minister, there were three of them But the President spoke. The first topic — that was dominant — was ecology. Truly, hats off to you Hungarians for the ecological conscience you have. Impressive. He explained how they purify the rivers, things that I did not know! This was the main thing. Then I asked about the average age, because I am concerned about the demographic winter. In Italy, if I am not mistaken, the average age is 47, and I think in Spain it is even worse. Many villages are empty or with a dozen elderly people. It is a serious concern. How can it be resolved? Here, the president explained to me — still the president — explained to me the law they have to help young couples marry and have children. It is interesting. It is a law…I do not know if…it is somewhat similar to the French, but more developed. Because of this, the French do not have the tragedy that Spain has or we have…. They explained this to me, and they added something technical, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Minister about what this law is about. And then, what other things did they speak about? On immigration, nothing, no, it did not come up. Then we returned to ecology, and yes, the family, in the sense of what I had asked, you can see that there are so many young people, so many children. But even In Slovakia: I was surprised, there are so many children and many young couples, and this is a promise. Now the challenge is to find jobs, so that they don’t go abroad after, because if there are no jobs, they go abroad looking for work. But these were the things… But, the president spoke all the time, and both ministers added some precise data. There was a good atmosphere. The meeting lasted long enough, about 35-40 minutes I think.
Gerard O’Connell (America Magazine): First, we are all happy that the surgery had a wonderful effect, you are rejuvenated!
Pope Francis: They told me that someone wanted to have the operation, I don’t know who it was… But it wasn’t cosmetic, eh!
O’Connell: Holy Father, you have often said we are all sinners, and that the Eucharist is not a reward for the perfect but a medicine and food for the weak. As you know, in the USA, particularly after the last elections, but even since 2004, there has been a discussion among the bishops about giving communion to politicians who have supported laws in favour of abortion and the woman’s right to choose. And as you know, there are bishops who want to deny communion to the president and others who hold office. There are other bishops who are opposed, there are other bishops who say, “you do not need to use the Eucharist as a weapon”. My question, Holy Father: What do you think about all this, and what do you advise the bishops? Then, a second question: You, as bishop, in all these years, have you publicly refused the Eucharist to anyone like this?
Pope Francis: No, I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone, to anyone. I don’t know if anyone in that condition came, but I never, never refused the Eucharist. As a priest, that is. Never. I have never been aware of having a person like the one you describe in front of me, that is true. Simply, the only time I ever had a bit…an interesting thing, was when I went to celebrate Mass in a rest home and we were in the living room, and I said: “Raise your hand if you want to receive communion”. Everyone, the old men, the old women, everyone wanted communion, and when I gave communion to one woman, she took me by the hand and said to me: “Thank you, Father, thank you: I’m Jewish”. I said: “No, the one that I gave to you is Jewish, too…” The only strange thing, but the woman received communion first, she said it after.
No. Communion is not a prize for the perfect, no? Let’s think of Port Royal (des Champs), of the issue with Angélique Arnaud, Jansenism: those who are perfect can receive communion. Communion is a gift, a present; the presence of Jesus in his Church and in the community. This is the theology. Then, those who are not in the community cannot receive communion, like this Jewish woman, but the Lord wanted to reward her without my knowledge. Why? Because they are out of the community – ex-comunitate – excommunicated they are called. It is a harsh term, but it means that they are not in the community, either because they do not belong to it, they are not baptised or have drifted away for some reason.
Second, the problem of abortion. Abortion is more than a problem. Abortion is homicide. Abortion…without being ambiguous: whoever has an abortion kills. Take any book on embryology for medical students in medical school. The third week after conception, from the third week, often before the mamma is aware of it, all the organs are already there, even the DNA… Isn’t that a person? It is a human life, period. And this human life must be respected. This principle is so clear, and to those who cannot understand, I would ask two questions: is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem? Scientifically, it is a human life. The second question: is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? I said this publicly to Jordi Évole when he did it, I said it the other day to COPE, I wanted to repeat it… and that’s enough. Don’t ask strange questions. Scientifically it is a human life. Books teach this. I ask: is it right to throw it out to solve a problem? That is why the Church is so hard on this issue, because it’s a little like if she were to accept it, if she accepts this, it would be like accepting daily murder. A Head of State was telling me that the decline in population began by them, there is an age gap, because in those years there was such a strong law on abortion that they did six million abortions, it is calculated, and this left a sharp drop in the society of that country.
Now let’s get to that person who is not in the community, who cannot receive communion because they are outside the community, and this is not a punishment. No, the person is outside. Communion is uniting yourself to the community. But the problem is not the theological problem — that is simple — the problem it is the pastoral problem: how do we bishops deal with this principle pastorally. And if we look at the history of the Church we will see that every time the bishops have dealt with a problem not as pastors, they have taken a political stance on a political problem. Think of St Bartholomew’s Night: “Oh, heretics, yes. But it’s a serious heresy…let’s cut all their throats….” No: it is a political matter. Let’s think of Joan of Arc, about that vision, let’s think of the witch-hunt…. Let’s think of the Campo de’ Fiori, of Savonarola, of all those people. When the Church defends a principle in an unpastoral manner, it acts on a political level. And this has always been the case, just look at history. What must the pastor do? Be a pastor. Be a pastor and don’t go around condemning, not condemning…. But is he a pastor for the excommunicated too? Yes, he is a pastor and must be a pastor with him, to be a pastors with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion and tenderness. The entire Bible says so. Closeness is already there in Deuteronomy where he says to Israel: “Tell me what people has its gods as close as I am to you?” Closeness, compassion. The Lord has compassion on us as we read in Ezekiel, in Hosea. Tenderness was there already in the beginning. It is enough to look in the Gospels and the things of Jesus. A pastor who does not know how to act with God’s style, is slipping and does many things that are not pastoral. For me, I do not want to specify, since you spoke of the United States, because I do not know the details well of the United States, I will give the principle. You could say to me: “But, if you are close, tender and compassionate with a person, would you give the person communion?” This is a hypothesis. Be a pastor, and the pastor knows what he must do at all times, but as a pastor. But if he goes out of the pastoral dimension of the Church, he immediately becomes a politician: You see this in all the accusations, in all the non-pastoral condemnations the Church makes… With this principle, I think a pastor should be able to move about well. The principles are taken from theology. Pastoral ministry is theology and the Holy Spirit who is leading you to act with the style of. God. I dare say up to here. If you say: can you give or not give? This is casuistry, what the theologians say. Do you remember the storm that was whipped up with Amoris Laetitia when it came out with the chapter on the accompaniment of separated couples, divorced? Heresy, heresy! Thanks be to God there was Cardinal Schönborn there who is a great theologian, and he clarified things. But always this condemnation, condemnation. An ex-communication is enough, please let’s not make more ex-communications. The poor people, they are children of God and they want and need our pastoral closeness. Then the pastor resolves things as the Spirit tells him.
Stefano Maria Paci (Sky Tg 24): Good afternoon, Holy Father. Knowing you, I think you will consider this message I am about to give you as a type of gift. Knowing that I would be traveling with you, she asked me to give this to you. It was sent to me yesterday evening by Edith Bruck, the Jewish writer, deported to Auschwitz at 13 years old, winner of the Strega Giovani Prize. And you, completely out of the normal, went to her home in the center of Rome to meet her. It is a long message signed, “Your Sister Edith,” in which she thanks you for your repeated appeals and deeds against anti-Semitism on this trip. the first words are: “Dear Pope Francis, your words about anti-semitism not having been eradicated today are more relevant than ever, not only in the countries you are visiting, but in all of Europe”.
Pope Francis: This is true. Anti-Semitism is fashionable, it is resurging. It is an ugly, ugly, ugly thing….
SMP: And a question about the family: You spoke about it with the Hungarian authorities, you repeated it yesterday in your meeting with young people. And a resolution came from Strasbourg, the news arrived precisely yesterday from the European Parliament that is inviting Member States to recognize same-sex marriage and related parental relationships. Holy Father, what is your thought about this?
I have spoken clearly about this, no? Marriage is a sacrament. Matrimony is a sacrament. The Church has no power to change the sacraments as the Lord has instituted them. There are laws that try to help the situations of many people who have a different sexual orientation. And this is important, that people be helped…but without imposing things that, but its nature, don’t go in the Church. But if they want to bear life together, a homosexual couple, the States have the possibility, civilly, to support them, to give them an assurance regarding inheritance, healthcare, but… The French have a law regarding this, not only for homosexuals, but for all people who want to associate themselves together. But marriage as a sacrament is clear, it is clear. But that there be civil laws that… three widows, for example, who want to join together by law to have health services, to have a bit of inheritance among them, they do these things. This is the French PACS [editor: civil solidarity pact] this law, I don’t know it well… it has nothing to do with homosexual couples; that homosexual couples use it, can use it, but matrimony as a sacrament is between man and woman. Sometimes, as I was saying, confusion is created. Yes, we must…everyone is equal, respect everyone: The Lord is good and will save everyone. Don’t say this out loud [laughs], but the Lord desires that everyone be saved, but please, don’t make the Church deny her truth. Many, many people with a homosexual orientation approach the sacrament of penance to seek counsel from priests and the Church helps them move forward in their own lives, but the sacrament of marriage is something else.
Then the Pope added:
And thanks to all of you! Do you want to know something beautiful about one of you — I leave this as a fioretto before taking my leave. It is said that this journalist is available 24 hours a day for work and that she always lets others go first, she behind, and that she always gives the floor to others and remains silent. How beautiful to say this about a journalist, and this is what Manuel Beltran says about our Eva Fernandez. Thank you!
This is a working translation of the Italian transcript.
With thanks to Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.