Pope talks criticisms, populism in latest interview with German weekly

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When facing
criticism, a sense of humor and the grace to remain at peace are always the
best response, Pope Francis said in an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper.

In the interview, published March
8 online and in print March 9, the pope laughed and said the Roman dialect featured in posters
that were plastered around the Rome city center criticizing him “was

The poster, featuring a
stern-faced picture of the pope, said: “Ah Francis, you’ve taken over
congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the
Franciscans of the Immaculate, ignored cardinals … but where is your mercy?”

“There is this prayer — which
is attributed to (St.) Thomas More — that I pray every day: ‘Lord, give me a
sense of humor!’ The Lord preserves my peace and gives me a great sense of
humor,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican Radio released a brief summary
with selected quotes from the nearly 6,000-word interview, in which the pope
discussed several issues and events.

Among the areas of discussion was
his relationship with Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, current patron of the Order of
Malta, who is often viewed as one of Pope Francis’ most vocal critics.

The pope denied rumors that
Cardinal Burke was sent to Guam as a form of “exile” to be the
presiding judge in a church trial investigating allegations of sexual abuse
leveled against Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana.

Instead, he was chosen, the pope
said, because the former head of the Vatican’s highest court is “an
excellent jurist” and the allegations were “terrible incidents.”
He said he was grateful for the cardinal’s service to address “a serious
abuse case.”

“I do not regard Cardinal
Burke as an adversary,” the pope said.

The pope was asked about the
recent change of leadership at the Knights of Malta, in which Fra Matthew Festing, the
former grand master, resigned at the pope’s request, after the order’s forced
ouster of its grand chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager.

While Cardinal Burke remained the
order’s patron, the pope appointed Archbishop Angelo Becciu as his special delegate and sole
spokesman to the Knights of Malta.

“The problem with the Order
of Malta was more that (Cardinal Burke) was unable to deal with it,” he
said. “I have not removed his title of patron. He is still the patron of
the Order of Malta.”

The pope suggested it was a question
of “clearing things up a bit in the order, and that is why I sent a delegate
with a different charism than (Cardinal) Burke.”

Pope Francis has been outspoken
in his criticism against populist rhetoric that views refugees escaping war,
violence and poverty as “unworthy of our attention, a rival or someone to
be bent to our will.”

When asked by Die Zeit about the
rise of populism — particularly from those on the right of the political
spectrum — the pope said he uses the word “populism” in the sense
defined in Latin America as way “to use the people” to gain power.

Recalling Germany’s history, the
pope said Adolf Hitler rose to power promising to return Germany to its former
glory after a serious economic crisis.

“He convinced the people that
he could. Populism always needs a messiah and a justification: ‘We preserve the
identity of the people!'” the pope said.

“Great politicians,”
such as Germany’s first post-war chancellor, Konrad Adenauer and former French Prime Minister Robert Schuman, envisioned
a Europe united in brotherhood, and that “had nothing to do with populism,”
he said.

“These men had the gift of
serving their country without placing themselves in the center, and this made
them great leaders. They did not have to be a messiah. Populism is evil and
ends badly, as the past century has shown,” Pope Francis said.

Other topics the pope touched on
in the interview included the shortage of priests and the possibility of female

“The call for priests
represents a problem, an enormous problem,” especially in Germany and
Switzerland, he said.

“The problem is the lack of vocations.
And the church must solve this problem,” the pope said.

He expressed the view that an
increase in prayer and outreach to youth could change the situation.

“The Lord has told us: Pray!
That is what’s lacking: prayer. And also lacking is the work with young people
who are seeking direction. Service to others is missing” and low birth
rates are also a factor, said the pope. “Working with young people is
difficult, but it is essential, because youth long for it.”

He added that youths are the ones
who lose most in many modern societies because of a lack of employment.

Asked whether the vow of celibacy
could be optional for the priesthood, but not for higher offices like bishop or
cardinal, the pope said, making clerical celibacy optional “is not the

When asked about ordaining married
men of proven virtue, known in Latin as “viri probati,” Pope Francis
replied that was a topic, like others, theologians needed to study more in

“Then we must determine what
tasks they could undertake, for example in remote communities,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke about the
commission studying women deacons and the exact roles they played in early
church history. The commission is an ongoing project, he said, dedicated to
open dialogue.

“It was about exploring the
subject, and not to open a door” on automatic approval, Pope Francis said
of the commission.

“This is the task of theology
— it must research to get to the foundation of things, always. That also goes
for the study of the sacred Scriptures. … What does that mean today? Truth is
to have no fear. That is what historical truth and scientific truth tell us: Do
not be afraid! That makes us free.”

Pope Francis also discussed his
personal faith experiences and beliefs about God’s mercy, saying that an
individual’s faith grows throughout a lifetime.

“Faith is a gift. It will
give itself,” said the pope, adding that faith is to be prayed for.

He said he does not like to be
idealized by others, saying that idealizing a person leads to aggression.

“I am a sinner and I am
fallible,” he said. “When I am idealized, I feel attacked.”

He said that he views himself as a
normal person trying to do his best.

He also added that he does not
become angry at people who disagree with his opinions and believes that diverse
opinions are good for the world.

“Since I was elected pope, I
have never lost my peace. I can understand if some people do not like my own
way of going about things, and that is completely normal,” said Pope

“Everyone may have their own
opinion. That is legitimate and humane and enriching,” he said.

In response to a question, Pope
Francis said he is not able to visit Germany this year for the 500th
anniversary of the Reformation, despite an invitation from Chancellor Angela

“The appointment calendar is
very full this year,” he told Die Zeit.

Asked whether he would visit
Russia, China, India or other countries perhaps this year, Pope Francis
replied: “To Russia I cannot travel, because then I would also have to
travel to Ukraine.

Even more important would be a
trip to South Sudan, but I don’t believe that is possible. Also, a trip to the
Congo was planned, but that will also not work with (President Joseph) Kabila. So,
remaining on the program are India, Bangladesh and Colombia, one day for Fatima
in Portugal, and as far as I know, a trip to Egypt is being studied. Sounds like
a full calendar, right?”

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Contributing to this story were
Zita Fletcher in Germany and Carol Glatz in Rome.

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