Francis talks synod, demotion of Cardinal Burke in latest interview

by Joshua J. McElwee

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A new wide-ranging interview with Pope Francis was released Sunday, in which the pontiff talks frankly about October's controversial Synod of Bishops, the demotion of U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, and the upcoming reform of the Vatican bureaucracy.

The new interview, published in several parts by the Argentine daily La Nacion, also finds the pontiff revealing new personal details about himself and how he sees his papal ministry.

Saying that before his election as pope in March 2013 he was in the process of retiring, Francis even says in the interview that he was thinking about using his retirement to hear confessions at churches in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"When I came here [to Rome] I had to start all over again, all this was new," says the pope. "From the start I said to myself: 'Jorge, don´t change, just keep on being yourself, because to change at your age would be to make a fool of yourself.' "

Francis' baptismal name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

"That's why I´ve always kept on doing what I used to do in Buenos Aires," he continues in the interview. "Perhaps even making my old mistakes. But I prefer it like this, to be myself."

"The thing is that I am who I am even where protocols are concerned, just as I was myself in Buenos Aires," states Francis. "You can see why 'not changing' suited me so well."

Sunday's interview was conducted by Elisabetta Piqué, a Rome-based Argentine journalist who has also authored a biography of Francis titled Francis: Life and Revolution.

La Nacion has divided the interview into several parts: On the Vatican bureaucracy, on the Synod of bishops, on the church in Argentina, and on reports about Francis' decision to place a new person in command of the Swiss Guards.

Regarding the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, Francis says in the interview that it is unlikely that the reforms will be finished before 2015.

"You know, reforming the Curia will take a long time, this is the most complex part," he says. "We're tackling it little by little."

Francis also says that while he prefers that the head of Vatican offices remain cardinals, he would like the number two officials at the offices to not always be bishops.

"The head of a dicastery such as the Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith, the liturgical dicastery or the new dicastery encompassing Laymen, Family and Justice and Peace will always be a cardinal," says the pope. "This is best because dicasteries are very close to the Pope."

"But dicastery secretaries do not necessarily have to be bishops because a problem we have is when we have to change a bishop-secretary, where do we send him?" he states. "We need to find a dioceses, but sometimes they are not fit for one, they´re good at the other job."

Asked about U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who Francis recently moved from his former position as the head of the Vatican's highest court to a position with the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta, Francis says he and Burke spoke about making the change together before the October Synod of Bishops.

On that issue, the pope states:

One day Cardinal Burke asked me what he would be doing as he had still not been confirmed in his position, in the legal sector, but rather had been confirmed donec alitur provideatur.

And I answered, "Give me some time because we are thinking of a legal restructuring....

I told him nothing had been done about it yet and that it was being considered. After that the issue of the Order of Malta cropped up and we needed a smart American who would know how to get around and I thought of him for that position.

I suggested this to him long before the synod. I said to him "This will take place after the synod because I want you to participate in the synod as dicastery Head." As the chaplain of Malta he wouldn´t have been able to be present.

He thanked me in very good terms and accepted my offer, I even think he liked it. Because he is a man that gets around a lot, he does a lot of travelling and would surely be busy there. It is therefore not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod.

Asked about the synod itself, Francis says that the bishops at the synod did not talk specifically about same-sex marriage, but how to accompany gay people.

Francis states:

Nobody mentioned homosexual marriage at the synod; it did not cross our minds. What we did talk about was of how a family with a homosexual child, whether a son or a daughter, goes about educating that child, how the family bears up, how to help that family to deal with that somewhat unusual situation.

That is to say, the synod addressed the family and the homosexual persons in relation to their families, because we come across this reality all the time in the confessional: a father and a mother whose son or daughter is in that situation. This happened to me several times in Buenos Aires.

We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter. That´s what the synod addressed. That´s why someone mentioned positive factors in the first draft. But this was just a draft.

The pope also said the synod wanted to pose the question of what happens to Catholic who are divorced and remarried, who he said are sometimes treated as if they were excommunicated.

Francis states:

In the case of divorcees who have remarried, we posed the question, what do we do with them? What door can we allow them to open? This was a pastoral concern: will we allow them to go to Communion?

Communion alone is no solution. The solution is integration. They have not been excommunicated, true. But they cannot be godfathers to any child being baptized, mass readings are not for divorcees, they cannot give communion, they cannot teach Sunday school, there are about seven things that they cannot do, I have the list over there. Come on! If I disclose any of this it will seem that they have been excommunicated in fact!

Thus, let us open the doors a bit more. Why cant they be godfathers and godmothers? "No, no, no, what testimony will they be giving their godson?" The testimony of a man and a woman saying "my dear, I made a mistake, I was wrong here, but I believe our Lord loves me, I want to follow God, I was not defeated by sin, I want to move on."

Anything more Christian than that? And what if one of the political crooks among us, corrupt people, ate chosen to be somebody´s godfather. If they are properly wedded by the Church, would we accept them? What kind of testimony will they give to their godson? A testimony of corruption?

Things need to change, our standards need to change.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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