The papacy has a long history of speaking its mind and saying things which do not meet with much favour. It can defend itself. it does not need me to argue its case. It could pay for a better defence.
There was a bit of a media storm over what Pope Francis is reported to have said in his interview. I give the whole transcript of the interview below and offer no commentary. All I will offer is that there is more than the famous quote that has bounced about social media. As that comment came in a context of a series of questions I provide the full exchange leading up to the controversial comments. There were questions before the one where I have begin but these were specifically about global warming and about the Pope’s forthcoming Encyclical on that subject.
Before the transcript I want to leave you with these words as they pretty much summarise my own thoughts. They were first published on 11th April ,1963:
….Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood. Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and -within the limits of the moral order and the common good – to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events. He has the natural right to share in the benefits of culture, and hence to receive a good general education, and a technical or professional training consistent with the degree of educational development in his own country. Furthermore, a system must be devised for affording gifted members of society the opportunity of engaging in more advanced studies, with a view to their occupying, as far as possible, positions of responsibility in society in keeping with their natural talent and acquired skill. Also among man’s rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public.
Transcript of an impromptu interview given by Pope Francis between Sri Lanka and Philippines:
Juan Vicente Boo (ABC): Holy Father, first of all I must say that for someone who is tired, you look well. I want to ask you on behalf of the Spanish group, about the history of Sri Lanka and contemporary history. During the years of the war in Sri Lanka, there were over 300 suicide attacks, by men, women and young boys and girls. Now we are seeing suicide attacks on the part of young men and women and even children. What do you think of this method of waging war?
Pope Francis: Maybe I am being disrespectful, but I feel that behind every suicide attack there is something unbalanced, a lack of human equilibrium. I am not sure if it is mental, but it is human. Something that is wrong with that person, who does not have true equilibrium regarding the meaning of his own life and that of others. He fights, he gives his life, but he does not give it well. Many people who work – for example missionaries – give their lives, but to build. Here life is given to self-destruct and to destroy. There is something not right, no? I advised on a thesis on Japanese kamikaze pilots written by an Alitalia pilot. I checked the part about methodology, but it is not understandable. This is not something that happens only in the East. There are investigations going on right now on a proposal which arrived during the Second World War in Italy, a proposal to the fascists in Italy. There is no proof, but there is an investigation, there is something there which is very connected to totalitarian systems, it is very linked. The totalitarian system kills, if not life then possibilities, kills the future, many things. This problem is not over, and it is not only a problem in the East. It is important. I cannot really say anything else. The use of children: children are exploited for many things. They are exploited for work, as slaves, also sexually abused. Some years ago, with some members of the Argentine senate, we wanted to run a campaign in the most important hotels, to publicly say that children must not be exploited to serve tourists, but we could not do it. There are hidden resistences. I don’t know whether these things are faced or not, it was a preventive measure; then, other things: when I was in Germany and saw newspapers, I read about tourism in southeast Asia, and there was sex tourism, and there were children … children are exploited, the slave work of children is terrible, they are exploited for this, too. I can’t say more.
Ignazio Ingrao (Panorama): Holiness, there is much worry in the world for your safety. According to Israeli and American security services, The Vatican may be even a target of Islamic terrorists. On fundamentalist web sites the Muslim flag has been depicted flying from St. Peter’s. There are worries for your security when you go abroad.. We know that you don’t want to lose contact with the people. At this point, is it necessary to change something in your behaviour, in your plans? Is there also fear for the security of faithful who take part to your celebrations. Are you worried about this? And more in general, what is the best way to respond to this threat of fundamentalist Muslims?
Pope Francis: ”The best way to respond is always meekness — being meek, humble. Like bread, no? Without being aggressive – I feel this way. There are some who do not understand this. And I am concerned for the faithful, truly. I have spoken with Vatican security about this: here on flight there is (the chief of Vatican police) Mr. Giani who is charged with solving this, he is updated about this problem. This concerns me, no? It concerns me enough. I have fear, but I you know I have a defect, a good dose of unawareness. I am unaware of these things.
Some times I ask myself: what if it happened to me? I have said to the Lord, ‘I only want to ask you one grace. Don’t let me come to harm, because I am not courageous in the face of pain, I am very, very fearful’ … But they can take security measures that are prudent, but secure. Then, we will see.
Christoph (Germany): Holy Father, good morning. Could you tell us about your time at the Buddhist temple yesterday, which was a big surprise? Which was your motivation for such a spontaneous visit? And then, are you inspired by this religion? We know that Christian missionaries had the conviction until the 20th century that Buddhism was a fake and a religion of the devil. The third (question), what could be the relevance of Buddhism for the future of Asia?
Pope Francis: How was the visit and why did I go? The head of this Buddhist temple was able to get himself invited by the government to go to the airport and there – he is a very good friend of Cardinal Ranjith – he greeted me and asked me to visit the temple, also he told Ranjith to take me there. And then speaking with the cardinal – there was a bit of time because when I arrived I had to cancel the meeting with the bishops because I wasn’t feeling well, I was tired from the 29 kilometers of greeting people. I was worn out. And there wasn’t time; and yesterday returning from Madhu there was the possibility, and we called and went. In that temple, there are the relics of some disciples of Buddha, of two of them. They are very important to them, and these relics were in England and they were able to have them given back. This is how: he came to visit me at the airport, and I went to visit him at his home.
Yesterday, I saw something that I would have never imagined in Madhu. They weren’t all Catholics, not even the majority. There were Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and all of them go there to pray and they say that they receive graces. There is in the people, who never err, something that unites them; and if they are so naturally united so as to go together and pray in a church, which is Christian but it is more than Christian because everyone wants it. How could I not go to the temple of the Buddhists to greet them, no? And this testimony yesterday in Madhu was very important. It makes us understand the sense of inter-religiosity that is lived in Sri Lanka. Respect among them. There are fundamentalist groups, but they are not with the people. They are ideological elites, but they are not with the people.
Then, (the question) that they will go to Hell. But people said the same of Protestants, when I was a child. At that time, 70 years ago, all of the Protestants were going to Hell, all of them – that’s what we were told. But then, I remember the first experience I had of ecumenism. And I told this the other day to the heads of the Salvation Army. I was 4 or 5 years old but I remember and I can still see it. I remember I was walking down the street with my grandma hand-in-hand and on the other sidewalk, two women from the Salvation Army were coming down the street with those big hats on that they used to wear with the ribbon. It was a special thing, but now they don’t wear them anymore. But, I asked my grandma, but tell me are they sisters? And she told me this: “No, they are Protestants but they are good people. That was the first time that I heard someone speak well of someone from another religion, of Protestants. At that time, in catechesis they told us that everyone was going to Hell. But I think that the Church has grown so much in its awareness, in respect – as I told them in the religious meeting there in Colombo – in values – when we read what the Second Vatican Council says to us about the values in the other religions. The respect of the Church has grown a lot in this respect, no? And, yes, there are dark times in the history of the Church. We need to say so without embarrassment because also we are on a path of continuous conversion always from sin to grace. And, this inter-religiosity as brothers always respecting each other is a grace.
Sebastien Maynard (La Croix): Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?
Pope Francis: Thanks for the question, that is smart, it is good. I think that both are fundamental human rights, religious liberty and liberty of expression. You can’t … Let’s think, are you French? Let’s go to Paris. Let’s speak clearly. You cannot hide a truth. Everyone has the right to practice their religion, their own religion without offending, freely. And that’s what we do, what we all want to do.
Secondly, you cannot offend or make war, kill in the name of your religion, in the name of God. What has happened now astonishes us. But always, let’s think to our history, how many religious wars we have had. Think of St Bartholomew’s night (when Catholics massacred Huguenots during the French wars of religion in 1572, editors note). How can we understand this? Also we were sinners in this. But you cannot kill in the name of God, this is an aberration. Killing in the name of God is an aberration against God. I think this is the main thing with freedom of religion. You can practice with freedom without offending but without imposing or killing.
The freedom of expression… Every one of us has not just the freedom, the right, but also the obligation to say what he thinks to help build the common good. The obligation. If we think of a congressman, a senator, if he doesn’t say what he thinks is the true path, he doesn’t collaborate in the common good. We have the obligation to freely have this liberty, but without offending. It’s true that you cannot react violently. But, if Dr. Gasbarri, my great friend, says something against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot make fun of the faith. Pope Benedict, in a speech, I don’t remember which, he spoke of this post-positivist mentality, of the post-positivist metaphysics that brought people to believe that religions or religious expressions are a type of lower culture: that they are tolerated but that there’s not much to them, that they are in not part of an enlightened culture. And this is a lecacy of the Enlightenment. So many people speak against others’ religions. They make fun of them. Let’s say they “giocatalizzano” (make a playng out of) the religion of others. But they are provoking, and what can happen is what I said about Dr. Gasbarri if he says something about my mother. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity; I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person. And this is a limit. I’ve used this example of the limit to say that in the freedom of expression there are limits, like the example I gave of my mother. I don’t know if I was able to respond to the question. Thanks.
I offer none – he speaks for himself and he should be heard for what he said and not was he was reported to have said. As for the piece in italics above – that is from a document called Pacem In Terris - it is written by one Angelo Roncalli – AKA Pope John XXIII. He was in his last weeks and it was composed during the final stages of his intestinal cancer.
Final thoughts serve all of us as last testaments and these are not ignoble thoughts to have harvested from a life’s time…