Catholic Standard editorial 27 January 2023

In a wide ranging frank interview on  Tuesday with the international news agency, Associated Press (AP) Pope Francis was quoted by Vatican News the official communication service of the Catholic Church as responding  to  criticism he has received recently, through books or documents circulated among cardinals under pseudonyms. 

“You prefer that they don’t criticize, for the sake of your tranquility…The criticisms  are like a rash, they are a bit annoying,” Francis told AP “But I prefer that they do it because that means there’s freedom to speak…Criticism is a human right,”. What is important, he said, is that criticisms should be made “to our faces because that’s how we all grow.” Criticism is worse, the Pope said, when it is “underhand.”

The Pope noted that he had spoken with some of his critics. “Some of them have come here and yes, I have discussed things – normally, as one speaks among mature people. I did not argue with anyone, but I expressed my opinion and they expressed theirs. Otherwise, you create a dictatorship of distance, as I call it, where the emperor is there and nobody can say anything to him. No, let them have their say because the companionship, the criticism, helps us to grow and make things go well.”

“I wouldn’t relate the criticisms to Benedict, but because of the wear-and-tear of a government of 10 years,”.

He reasoned that his election was initially greeted with a sense of “surprise” about a South American pope. Then came discomfort “when they started to see my flaws and didn’t like them,” and compared anonymous criticisms to the “equivalent of a 10-year itch” of his papacy.

Pope Francis also reflected on his own pontificate, which will reach the ten-year mark on 13 March, his repeated condemnation of the  use of gun  and obsession  with weapons and war, and his insistence that homosexuality is not a crime in a world in which 68 nations mainly in Africa and the Middle east make homosexual acts punishable including 11 which impose the death penalty for private homosexual acts.

Here are a few of Francis’s quotations and extracts   from the interview:

His Health 

He said he was in good shape, that a slight bone fracture in his knee from a fall had healed without surgery and was ready to get on with his agenda. “For my age, I’m normal,” the 86-year-old pontiff said, though he revealed that diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, had “returned.” “I might die tomorrow, but it’s under control. I’m in good health,” he said with his typical wry sense of humor. He said he plans to continue for as long as he can as bishop of Rome

On Pope Benedict XVI

Francis praised Benedict as an “old-fashioned gentleman,” and said of his death: “I lost a dad.” “For me, he was a security. In the face of a doubt, I would ask for the car and go to the monastery and ask,” he said of his visits to Benedict’s retirement home for counsel. “I lost a good companion.

On norms for the retirement of a Pope

Francis said issuing such norms hadn’t even occurred to him. “I’m telling you the truth,” he said, adding that the Vatican needed more experience with papal retirements before setting out to “regularize or regulate” them.

Francis has said Benedict “opened the door” to future resignations, and that he too would consider stepping down. He repeated that if he were to resign he’d be called the bishop emeritus of Rome and would live in the residence for retired priests in the diocese of Rome. Francis said Benedict’s decision to live in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens was a “good intermediate solution,” but that future retired popes might want to do things differently.

His own near-term future

Francis emphasized his role as “bishop of Rome” as opposed to pontiff and said of his plans: “Continue being bishop, bishop of Rome in communion with all the bishops of the world.” He said he wanted to put to rest the concept of the papacy as a power player or papal “court.”

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