In Mexican TV interview, Francis reviews pontificate, says to expect brief papacy

Rome — Pope Francis has marked the second anniversary of his election as the leader of the Roman Catholic church by saying he has a feeling that his pontificate will be a short one, lasting perhaps about four or five years.

Speaking in a lengthy television interview with the Mexican program Noticieros Televisa, the pontiff has also reviewed some of the highlights of his papacy so far -- including the continuing Synod of Bishops that is touching tough questions like allowing divorced and remarried persons to take communion.

But responding to a question from journalist Valentina Alazraki about remarks he has made several times that he expects to have a short time as pope, Francis gave a very personal and direct answer.

"I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief," said the pope. "Four or five years. I do not know, or two, three. Well, two have already passed."

"It's like a little vague feeling," he continued. "But I have the feeling that the Lord puts me [here] for a brief thing and not more."

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The pope's answer regarding the length of his time as leader of the Catholic church is only one part of the interview, which Alazraki conducted with the pontiff in the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican hotel where Francis has lived since his election as pope March 13, 2013.

Although Noticieros Televisa has yet to post a full transcript of the interview, the Spanish-language section of Vatican Radio has made one available. The broadcaster, which helped Alazraki handle the technical details of the interview, has also posted an English-language summary of its contents.

Continuing on the theme of a possible future end to his pontificate, Alazraki asks Francis about the idea that popes might resign from now on when they reach age 80. The pontiff responds that he does not want to put a specific age on when pontiffs might choose to resign.

"I believe that the Papacy has something of, of last instance," says Francis. "It is a special grace."

"I am not of the idea of putting an age on it, but I am of the idea of what Benedict did." he continues.

During the interview, Francis also talks at length about what happened two years ago during the conclave when he was elected as pope.

Saying he came to Rome with only a small suitcase because he expected to be able to return to Buenos Aires for Holy Week that year, Francis says that he was already even preparing his homily for Palm Sunday as he was expecting the conclave to be "very short."

Joking that some gambling houses had put his prospects at being elected pontiff at 42nd or 46th place out of the rest of the cardinals, Francis says that on the first night of voting in the conclave he only received a few votes from as a sort of "deposit" or "token."

"And then something happened, I do not know," the pope continues, speaking about the next day of votes. The cardinals at lunch, he says, "asked me about my health, those things."

"And when we came back in the afternoon, the cake was cooked," says Francis. "In two votes, it was all over. Even for me it was a surprise."

"And next, I do not know what happened," he continues. "They made me stand up. They asked me if I agreed. I said yes. I do not know if they made me swear on something, I forget."

Speaking about his introduction as pope to the crowds in St. Peter's Square that night -- when he asked for a moment of silent prayer from them that the Lord bless him -- Francis says, "I felt deeply that a minister needs the blessing of God, but also that of his people."

"I did not dare to say that that the people bless me," says Francis. "I simply said: 'Pray that God may bless me through you.' But it came out spontaneously, also my prayer for Benedict."

Asked then if he likes being pope, Francis replies: "I do not dislike it!"

The only thing he really misses, says the pope, is the ability "to go out to a pizzeria and eat a pizza." Clarifying that statement, he says that in Buenos Aires he was free to roam the streets, particularly to visit parishes.

Touching on his plan to reform the Vatican bureaucracy, Francis says that he believes the church's central command "is the last court that remains in Europe."

"Other courts have democratized, even the most classic," he states. "There is something at the pontifical court that maintains much a tradition, a little atavistic."

"This has to change," says Francis. The Vatican, he says, should be a "working group, at the service of the church. At the service of bishops."

Asked about the Synod of Bishops, which is to meet for the second time in two years in October on the issue of family life, the pope says that the synod is a thing that was called for by God.

"In the end, I realized it was the Lord who wanted it [the synod]," says Francis. "Because the family is in crisis. Perhaps not the most traditional crisis, that of infidelity ... but more of a base-level crisis."

"Or maybe there is a familial crisis within the family and from that point of view I believe what the Lord wants is that we face it," he continues.

Identifying different parts of facing that crisis, the pope names: Marriage preparation, "accompanying" those who live together before marriage and those who have failed in a first marriage and have a new union, and that many who are get married are not prepared to do so.

Addressing criticisms that discussion of last year's synod were not published in full, Francis says he would be fine with the talks or texts of the synod being published but does not want them to indicate what bishops were saying what things.

"A synod, without freedom, is not a synod," says the pope. "The synod is a protected space where the Holy Spirit can work. For that, the people have to be free."

"Let it be known, what was said, I have no problem," he continues. "But not who said it. So that you feel free to say what you want."

The pope is also asked in the interview about clergy sexual abuse, particularly given the history of the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel Degollado, in Mexico.

Francis responds that he did not know much about that religious order because they did not have many members in Buenos Aires.

Addressing the question of sexual abuse of minors more broadly, the pope says: "One priest alone, that abuses a minor, is sufficient to move all the structures of the church to confront the problem."

"Why?" he asks. "Because the priest has the obligation to make this boy, this girl, grow -- in holiness, in the encounter with Jesus. And what it does is destroy the encounter with Jesus."

Francis then repeats: "Even if there is only one priest it is sufficient to be ashamed and to do what needs to be done."

"In this we must go forward, not returning one step back," says the pope.

Alazraki and the pope held the interview sitting beneath a framed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the famous Mexican apparition of Mary. Francis said he appreciates that image because the Virgin of Guadalupe is a "source of cultural unity, [a] door to holiness, amid so much sin and injustice and exploitation and so much death."

Asked first about his plans to visit the United States, Francis says he wanted to enter the U.S. through the Mexican border but could not imagine visiting Mexico without going to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The pontiff also says he did not want to rush a trip through the country, but to give it its own weeklong visit in the future.

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

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