VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Gay marriage was never on the agenda at the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family and the subject “did not cross our minds,” Pope Francis said in a new headline-grabbing interview.
Keeping to a format that has become a favourite for this pope, Francis used a high-profile interview to shed light on his thinking, and Vatican policies, on a number of hot-button social issues.
In an interview published Sunday (Dec. 7), Francis told the Argentine daily, La Nacion, that the Catholic Church must help parents support their gay children. At the same time, he maintained that allowing, condoning or even adapting to same-sex marriage was still not on the church’s agenda.
This was one of several controversial issues he broached in the interview with papal biographer Elisabetta Pique:
“Nobody mentioned homosexual marriage at the synod; it did not cross our minds,” he said. “What we did talk about was 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.”
“The synod addressed the family and homosexuals in relation to their families. ... 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.”
Divorce, remarriage and communion
Francis stressed that the challenge for the Catholic Church is making sure that Catholics who have been divorced and remarried without getting an annulment feel they are included, despite continuing debate over barring such couples from communion.
“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?” the pope said. “This was a pastoral concern: Will we allow them to go to Communion? Communion alone is no solution. The solution is integration.”
In a separate recent interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allegemeine, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also stressed that divorcees should “not be excluded from the life of the church” and suggested they could be godfathers or godmothers at baptisms.
Cardinal Burke’s demotion
Sunday’s interview was the first time that Francis has spoken publicly about his decision to remove the conservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke from his position as head of the Vatican’s highest appeals court and appoint him patron of the Order of the Knights of Malta. Widely seen as a demotion, the move removed one of Francis’ main opponents from the Vatican.
After the synod, Burke raised eyebrows around the church, saying in an interview that the church under Francis was like a “ship without a rudder.”
“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 the head of a Vatican department.
“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 traveling and would surely be busy there. It is therefore not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod.”
Francis also played down Burke’s “ship without a rudder” broadside: “Those expressions strike me as odd,” the pope said. “I am not aware of anybody using them. The media quote them. However, until I can ask the people involved ‘Have you said this?’ I will have brotherly doubts.”
Divisions in the church
After signaling a softer approach to LGBT issues in the church, Catholic bishops ended the synod by celebrating the “love of a man and a woman” but ignored hot-button issues like homosexuality and cohabitation. Language about “welcoming homosexual persons” was not part of the final report approved by the bishops.
Francis, however, is not concerned.
“Certain resistance has surfaced; I think it´s a good sign when things are discussed openly and not secretly if people don’t agree,” he said. “It’s good to discuss things openly; it’s healthy.”
For his part, Benedict denied reports that he had tried to meddle in the synod. “A total absurdity,” he said. Benedict said he had “excellent relations” with the current pope, and said “I try to stay as quiet as possible. It is clear who the true pope is.”
Health and retirement
Francis has not ruled out the possibility of following in Benedict’s footsteps and retiring from the papacy if he can no longer handle the demands of the job. As his 78th birthday approaches on Dec. 17, he conceded that he’s no longer a young man.
“I do have some aches and pains, and at my age ailments don’t go unnoticed. But I am in God’s hands; up to now I have been able to work steadily.”
In his interview, Benedict told the German daily he was “too weak and tired” to deal with the challenges and internal backbiting at the Vatican that ultimately led to his shocking resignation in February 2013.