By: John L. Allen Jr., Editor, June 26, 2016
In a wide-ranging news conference on Sunday, Pope Francis said Christians should apologize anytime “there are people we could have defended and we didn’t,” insisted that “there’s only one pope” despite recent talk of an expanded papacy, and denied that creating a commission necessarily “opens the door” to women deacons.
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE – Pope Francis on Sunday essentially backed a cardinal’s suggestion that Christians owe LGBT persons an apology for past mistreatment or neglect, but suggested apologies are probably in order to other constituencies as well, including the poor, exploited women and divorced families.Francis was speaking in response to a question that linked the call for an LGBT apology to the recent massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
The pontiff said gay persons must not be discriminated against, conceding that there are “some traditions and cultures that have a different mentality,” and said apologies are in order whenever there are “people we could have defended and we didn’t.”
The suggestion for a mea culpa came from German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who in a recent speech in Ireland said that both Church and society have treated gay persons poorly and that the Church should say it’s sorry.
On other matters, Pope Francis said on Sunday:
- Despite a senior Vatican official’s recent suggestion that retired Pope Benedict XVI might be part of an “expanded papacy,” in fact “there’s only one pope,” while praising his predecessor’s “courage” and “intelligence.”
- On the recent Brexit result, while not directly criticizing the U.K.’s decision to withdraw from the EU, Francis did insist that “brotherhood is better than being enemies or distant” and that “bridges are better than walls.”
- The pope denied that his recent agreement to create a study commission on women deacons means the Church has “opened the door” to the idea, and said that more important than the “functions” women hold is the Church’s determination to hear their voice.
- He said that he felt that he used the term “genocide” to describe massacres of Armenians by Turks in 1915 because it’s the term widely used in Argentina, and since he’s used it before, it would be “very strange” not to have done so in Armenia.
Francis made the remarks during a roughly hour-long news conference on the plane flying back to Rome Sunday after a June 24-26 trip to Armenia.
During the trip, Francis earned strong applause from Armenians and swift blowback from Turkish officials for using the word “genocide” to describe the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, in what they claim was a deliberate campaign and Turkey sees as the fallout of a broader war.
“In Argentina, when you speak of the extermination of the Armenians, you say genocide,” Francis said. “I came to Rome with this word.”
The pontiff insisted, however, that he doesn’t use it with “offensive intent” but rather “objectively.”
The idea of an expanded papacy came from German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the personal aide of Benedict XVI, who recently suggested that the papal ministry now includes both an “active” and a “contemplative” dimension in Francis and Benedict.
Insisting “there is only one pope,” Francis said that Benedict had promised to be obedient to his successor and “he’s done it.”
Laughing, Francis then said he’s heard, without being absolutely sure if it’s true, that some people have gone to Benedict to try to complain about his own leadership, “and in great Bavarian style, he kicked them out!”
Noting that he plans to take part in a small event on June 28 marking the 65thanniversary of Benedict’s ordination as a priest, Francis called him a “man of prayer,” “courageous” and “intelligent.”
On Brexit, Francis had spoken briefly about the results at the outset of his Armenia trip on Friday, saying only that they reflected the “will of the people” and represented a call to “great responsibility” to work for both the good of the U.K. and the coexistence of European peoples.
On Sunday Francis went further, making a distinction between the sort of decolonization that occurred in Latin America and Africa earlier in the century and secessionist movements in Europe today, such as those in Catalonia and Scotland, suggesting that the latter risks becoming a kind of “Balkanization.”
While saying he doesn’t know “what the reasons are for which the U.K. wanted to make this choice,” he said that in general he believes “bridges are better than walls.”
Francis also said the outcome represents a challenge to the EU to become “more creative and flexible,” including by allowing greater independence to its individual members, and also overcoming problems such as widespread youth unemployment.
On women deacons, Francis expressed surprise at the magnitude of the reaction to his decision to create a commission to study the question after a recent meeting with the superiors of women’s religious orders from around the world.
“The next day, it was as if the Church had opened the door to women deacons, but that’s not true,” he said, saying its primary role will be to ascertain the role of female deacons in the early Church.
“I believe this theme has been studied a lot, and it won’t be difficult to shed light,” the pope said.
More important, Francis said, is making sure the voices of women are heard in the decision-making process.
“Women think in a different way than us men, and you can’t make a good or correct decision without hearing women,” he said.
The pontiff said he’s committed to trying to boost the role of women theologians in the Vatican, but that effort is presently on hold awaiting the absorption of the Pontifical Council for the Laity into a new, larger department dedicated to laity, the family and life.
On Marx’s suggestion of an apology to gays, Francis offered a slightly revised version of his famous sound-bite from July 2013: “If a person who has that condition [being gay] has good will and is seeking God, who are we to judge?”
Francis said there are plenty of other groups out there who probably also deserve an apology – while also insisting on a distinction between the Church, “which is holy,” and individual Christians, “who are sinners.”
“[The Church] shouldn’t just apologize to a gay person whom it has offended,” he said.
“It should ask forgiveness also from the poor, from exploited women, from children exploited as laborers. It has to ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons … Christians should ask forgiveness for not having accompanied so many persons, many families.”
“All of us are saints, because we all have the Holy Spirit inside us, but we’re all also sinners,” the pope said, saying that even more than saying “sorry,” people need to recover a sense of their need for forgiveness.