My Interview With Pope Francis

I was sitting at my desk when my secretary knocked on the door. I could see she was excited and breathless. “I have the Pope on the phone for you!”

“Your Holiness, this is unexpected!”

“I would like you to have a dialogue with you. However, since you are in the United States I would like this interview to take place in your mind. This is a chance for you, as one of my priests, to ask me questions.”

“Your Holiness, I am honored.” The interview began.

The room I sat in was simply furnished. There was a chair, a desk and a religious picture on the wall. I had a glass of water.

In my mind the Pope entered the room. He was dressed in white.

Holiness, allow me first of all to thank you for the honor of conducting an interview with me. I am, after all, only a convert, and one of your humble priests. My first question to you is about the importance of the New Evangelization. How shall we convince a new generation of the love of Christ and convert them to the Catholic faith?

Proselytism is solemn nonsense. It makes no sense. I recently had an interview with the Italian atheist Alfredo Sauce and I assured him that I did not want to convert him.

I see. You will forgive me as I am a convert from the Protestant tradition, and when I was in Sunday School I learned the story of Jesus  Christ calling his apostles to be fishers of men. I also recall the Lord’s words, “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Holy Father, how shall we understand the command of the Lord to his apostles if proselytism is nonsense? But then, perhaps I have misunderstood your words and there is a deeper meaning?

I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

I see. So perhaps it is not so important to convert people to the Catholic faith? What then is our mission? Simply to make the world a better place? 

“Yes, that is the purpose of our mission: to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can. Do you know what agape is?”

Yes, I know.
“It is love of others, as our Lord preached. It is not proselytizing, it is love. Love for one’s neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good.”

Perhaps the translation from Italian was faulty, but am I to understand that as a Catholic priest then, you would advise me to simply love people and make the world a better place and not seek to convert anyone?

The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood. All are brothers and all children of God. Abba, as he called the Father. I will show you the way, he said. Follow me and you will find the Father and you will all be his children and he will take delight in you.

What a beautiful thought. I am sure something is being lost in translation, but it seems theologically imprecise to speak of “the Son of God becoming incarnate in the souls of men” How does one “become incarnate” in the soul?  So the important thing is for people to have a feeling of brotherhood. I can see why non-believers are pleased with this message because it is something with which they can agree!

Please forgive me Holy Father for being obtuse and simplistic, but I am reminded of the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John’s gospel. The Lord said to Nicodemus that it was necessary for a person to be born again of water and the spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God. He went on to say that through his coming death on the cross–when he would be lifted up– all who believe in him would be saved. He then says in verse 18 that those who do not believe are already condemned. I have always understood that the default setting of all human beings is that they are condemned unless they believe in Christ, and the church therefore has the imperative from Christ himself to preach the gospel and call men and women to repentance and faith. Was this not the primary mission of Peter the Apostle, and is it not therefore your primary mission as his successor? But perhaps I have misunderstood.

God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us… our species will end but the light of God will not end and at that point it will invade all souls and it will all be in everyone.”

I believe Tielhard deChardin was a Jesuit also was he not? Holiness allow me to ask you a question concerning your earlier words, you said that Jesus said, “I will show you the way.” Perhaps it is lost in translation and I have misunderstood the Scriptures, or perhaps I am being too picky, but I believe Jesus said not that he would “show us the way” but that he IS the way. This would seem to be an existential claim which places him above all other teachers or mentors who merely claim to show the way. Have I misunderstood your teaching here? 

Agape, the love of each one of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of salvation and of the Beatitudes.

Those are beautiful sentiments, and as St Paul teaches “the greatest of these is love”. However, I have always understood that Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through him” This indicates something different than simply loving our neighbor as ourself or following the path of a wise religious teacher. There is first of all an existential encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. In your other interviews and homilies you have spoken of the importance of that primary encounter with the living Jesus Christ, so perhaps I have misunderstood what you are saying here. Surely you are not telling me as one of your priests that all I need to do is be kind and loving to others?

“there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor,Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.”

The conscience is a valuable guide, but as Chief Pastor isn’t it your responsibility to help form the consciences of your flock with clear moral teaching? 

I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.

I must continue to listen and learn from you Holiness. I understand that your recent conversation with an atheist should not be understood as definitive church teaching. It was no more than a personal conversation.

I am grateful for your interviews with atheists, but I must admit to being confused by many of your answers. What I have gathered from this most recent interview is that all people will be saved in the end, and that it is good enough for everyone to simply follow their conscience and be loving to others.

My final question is this – if you really are saying that following one’s conscience is good enough and one does not need to be converted, that belief in Jesus Christ is optional and that in the end all will be saved–then why should I continue be ing a Catholic priest? Indeed why should I continue to be a Catholic?

Transcendence remains because that light, all in everything, transcends the universe and the species it inhabits at that stage. But back to the present. We have made a step forward in our dialogue. We have observed that in society and the world in which we live selfishness has increased more than love for others, and that men of good will must work, each with his own strengths and expertise, to ensure that love for others increases until it is equal and possibly exceeds love for oneself.”

Thank you for meeting with me Holy Father. I want to continue to learn from you, but may I leave you with a simple question? As you continue to meet with atheists and unbelievers will you also take time to meet with those of your flock who find your personal views difficult to understand?

Many of us are ordinary Christians who love Jesus Christ and believe the plain words of Scripture. When we read what you are saying some of it seems to contradict the words of Jesus himself. I hope you will take time to explain them for us and help us to understand.

UPDATE: Sister Anne provides some help with what seems to be an unclear translation of some of the Italian in the latest papal interview here: Jimmy Akin analyzes the Pope’s interview here.

  • Nathan718

    Amen!

  • http://eacafe.blogspot.com/ Oo_oc_oO

    “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    and

    ” I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

    and

    “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.”

    seem to be what the pope is going for here. As faithful Catholics perhaps sometimes we underestimate the degree to which Catholic doctrine is rejected out of hand and dismissed as ridiculous, and just how basic we have to make it in order to be understood at all. As for why doesn’t the pope address us, “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” Now it may be like 10 left on the hills and 90 who’ve wandered off, but that only strengthens the case for leaving them.

    • Mara319

      A shepherd must catch the one sheep that wandered away ( must also break one of his legs) and carry him home on his shoulder. But the shepherd does not leave the gate of the sheepfold open or the other 99 will wander away.

  • A priest. Name witheld

    Thank you.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Something was lost in translation from “Il Figlio di Dio si è incarnato per infondere nell’anima degli uomini il sentimento della fratellanza”; the Pope actually said: “The Son of God was incarnate to infuse in the souls of men the feeling of fraternity.” Bewilderingly, the rest was not lost in translation.

    • susan

      funny thing is, that’s NOT why the Son of man was incarnate….”I have come not to bring peace but a sword”….’mother against daughter, father against son, etc’. He came to speak the Truth and save those who would listen and follow Him, and He knew that Truth would divide. Francis’ view seems to be in diametric opposition. Scary times we’re in.

      • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

        Proof texting? “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34ff). Sounds quite fraternal to me. But I’m sure that you know this, you’re just nit-picking.

    • Mara319

      Problem is, the Son of God was incarnate to reveal to us the Father, redeem us from our sins, and show us the way to life everlasting.
      To infuse in us “the feeling of fraternity” seem utterly shallow.

  • Dan

    Father,

    I think Pope Francis holds the view that evangelization is done primarily via love. Note that he mentions the importance of the missionary work of the Jesuits, for example. Thus, I don’t think he believes that evangelization is not necessary at all. Also, he uses the word “proselytize” not evangelize. It is possible that the pope believes that words alone cannot evangelize and are “simple nonsense.” He also calls religion without mysticism to be a mere philosophy. Thus, is is possible (and I believe probable) that the pope sees love and mysticism as necessary to evangelization and the mission of the Church.

    This would mean that to evangelize we must use actions and not just words. Of course, we’re working from a translation from Italian so this distinction between mere words and action–”evangelize” and “proselytize”– might be an invention of the translator. I believe he believes (ok, not a strong statement) that if we Catholics love our neighbors then we will inspire our neighbors to join us. I think it goes back to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words.” Here, the pope views agape as preaching the gospel.

    I also believe that the pope also thinks (ok, again not a strong statement) that if one truly follows his or here conscious then that person will find God. I also think that the pope believes that if one is kind and loving to others then that person is interacting through Jesus without necessarily knowing it. I suppose it means that if one truly loves others that they are believing in Jesus because, of course, Jesus is love.

    Overall, I think the pope holds the somewhat liberal Catholic view that we should love others and this love of others will inspire others to join the Church.

    Pope Francis is not a universalist:

    Mr. Scalfeli: “Do you feel touched by grace?”

    Pope Francis: “No one can know that. Grace is not part of consciousness, it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge nor reason. Even you, without knowing it, could be touched by grace.”

    Here the operative word is “could.” Pope Francis notes that both he and Mr. Scarfeli could be touched by grace but he does not say that they are.

    Finally, Mr. Scalfeli apparently thought that the pope was trying to convert him:

    Mr Scalfeli: “Your Holiness, you said that you have no intention of trying to convert me and I do not think you would succeed.”

    Pope Francis: “We cannot know that, but I don’t have any such intention.”

    I have trouble parsing the pope’s response. Perhaps the pope believes that the true conversion process is between God and the individual? I must believe that the pope wants Mr. Scalfeli to return to the Church. I think that the pope feels an indirect method–be loving and open and let God work on the heart and soul–is best in these cases.

    • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

      In Italian the Pope did use the word “proselytize” and never the word “evangelize” in this interview.

      And I think that the Pope said that we cannot know if he would succeed converting Scalfari, who seems too sure of himself on his fairy tale about a “great being”.

    • Elizabeth

      You say very charitably, “I must believe that the pope wants Mr. Scalfeli to return to the Church”. I say that the pope has given us 6 months worth of evidence to conclude that perhaps this pope does NOT feel the need for this man to return to the Church. It’s almost unbelievable to find that I (and countless other Catholics around the world) are having the same fears and misgivings of the man who was chosen by the Cardinals to be the Vicar of Christ.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    This time I skipped the English translation and read it in the Italian original and it still stinks.

    But call me a choirboy, if you will. This is an interview to an
    atheist from a Communist newspaper who believes in some sort of a fairy
    tale and the Pope talks to him seeking common ground and then challenges
    him on his belief. The reporter seems to have been positively
    impressed and probably others like him may be impressed too. Hopefully
    good will come out of it.

    However, I think that it’s hard and tricky to be pastoral outside an
    intimate dialog. In public it’s bound to be hard to contextualize the
    personal situations. Card. Ratzinger converted Peter Sewald in an
    interview by just stating the truth, but he was the sole converted
    journalist. We’ll see what fruits come out of being publicly pastoral.

    • steve5656546346

      The problem is that you cannot be pastoral at the level of the Pope (or a Council for that matter). Because the whole world gets the words, and what is pastoral for one is a scandal for another.

      • Elizabeth

        Lord save us from more “pastoral” approaches. Haven’t we had enough of that failed experiment these past 50 years or so?

    • Louisa

      I knew Pope Benedict (at least through his writing and seeing him here in London) and Pope Francis is no Pope Benedict. God save us.

      • Mara319

        Louisa, I know exactly what you mean.

  • Stefanie

    Thank you, Father.
    This has been a highly entertaining morning on the Good Ship Catholic. If only the Tower of Babel hadn’t fallen and we could perfectly understand each other’s words, nuances, etc. If only I knew how to read Italian — or the Italian-laced-with-Argentina phrases of our Papa. Instead, I will just do what seems best — continue praying the breviary and to prepare my week’s RCIA lessons.

  • Dave

    Regarding the Pope’s statements about proselytism, I’ve always understood proselytism as essentially saying, “Convert or else!” (sort of like what a lot of Muslims do). That’s not going to lead anybody to Christ!

    • steve5656546346

      The problem is that “evangelization” seems to be so vaguely views as to be meaningless.

    • Mara319

      The problem is that the interviewer’s question was on conversion. The Pope’s answer was on proselytism, which to his mind probably means one and the same thing.

    • Elizabeth

      Huh, I’ve never thought of proselytism in the way you just described it. Never would have occurred to me to define it that way.

      • Gail Finke

        That’s how I htink of it, as a former secularist. Proselytism to me meant pamphlets and demands and really annoying “witness” of the evangelical kind. I did not know or understand that there was any other way for a religious person to try to spread his/her faith except by (to my mind then) being obnoxious, pushy, and arrogant. So when the pope said proselytizing was not the way to go, I know that a whole lot of people were happy to hear it because that is how they think of it as well.

  • confused

    Pope Francis–“Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.”

    Here, man “conceives” what is good or evil. Conceiving what is good or evil on an individual level is Moral Relativism.

    Catholic Church in GS 16

    16. In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not
    impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to
    obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.(9) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.(10) In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor.

    Here, man “detects a law” in his conscience he must be “obedient” to. Conscience “reveals that law”, not “conceived” by each according to one’s liking.

    How do we reconcile these things that seem to be in direct opposition?

    • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

      Methinks that you’re reading too much into “has his own” as “conceives”.

      • confused

        Then “what” is being conceived, if not the conscience of the person? What else can “as he conceives them” mean? He is clearly talking about “Everyone”. I am hoping it was poorly translated.

      • confused

        Augustine, Fr. Z makes your case by exposing the faulty translation.

        http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/10/wdtprs-what-did-the-pope-really-say-1/

        • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

          I’m glad that I’m not the only one who spotted the poor translation for this interview (v. http://bit.ly/1c2DAWD ). While it’s a vastly better translation that the lousy one that the America magazine did in the other interview, I’d say that it’s just a tad less confusing in the original in Italian.

    • UAWildcatx2

      Above is what happens when you go off of the english translation of the interview. Father Z (no liberal himself) breaks down what this really means. Methinks you may have been the one to whom he was referring: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/10/wdtprs-what-did-the-pope-really-say-1/

      • Elizabeth

        Fr. Z, in my opinion, is just one more among MANY trying their level best to try to explain, somehow, what the pope surely must have meant. This is happening almost every day.

  • steve5656546346

    From the interview of the Pope reported today:

    “The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.”

    • jenny

      I think I understand this: if our youth are employed, then , they are busy working – none would go to war.
      If our old people are listen to, and not left alone – to be lonely- then we can get their wisdom.

      • Elizabeth

        Sarcasm? Sorry if I’m misunderstanding. Are you seriously defending the Pope’s view that youth unemployment and the loneliness of the elderly are the greatest tragedies in the world today?

    • givelifeachance2

      The saddest thing about the Soviet Union is the way doctors could make more money writing fake sickness excuses on the side than they could in their regular job. What does this say about the erosion of society’s attitude towards work?

  • Don Campbell

    Pope Francis’ first mistake is believing that this atheist is approaching him with goodwill for a “real” conversation about faith. He’s being played. And he’s creating all kinds of havoc with this little experiment.

    • dudeman1144

      How do you know he’s being played?

  • Gail Finke

    I haven’t read it. “God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us… our species will end but the light of God will not end and at that point it will invade all souls and it will all be in everyone.” Did he really say that???? Ummmmmm

    • Mara319

      Gail,
      Yes, he sure did. It’s right out of Teilhard de Chardin’s “Omega Point,” which idea has been condemned through a monitum by the Holy Office in 1962.

      • Gail Finke

        That’s what I was thinking…

    • Elizabeth

      Yes, he really said that.

  • Gail Finke

    Was it a direct transcription of an interview, or was it paraphrased?

    • Gail Finke

      We know the answer to that now — PARAPHRASED but presented as actual quotes.

  • Tyler Lorge

    Fr Longenecker’ IS THE ONE I AGREE 100% HERE NOT THE POPE ! JUST PRAY ON THIS AN READ AN YOULL SEE AS JESUS CHRIST SAID “KNOW THEM BY WHAT THEY SAY ” AS EVEN EVIL CAN COME IN THE NAME OF THE “LORD AN YET DECIEVE US :((( I LIKE WHAT ALL THIS GOOD PRIEST Fr Longenecker’ SAY ++++++ PRAY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST JESUS WAKE US UP ! WE ARE NOW BEING HAD BY SOME OF THE VATECAN AN I WONT JUDGE THIS POPE ! ALMIGHTY GOD WILL AMEN AN AMEN :)++++++

  • Alisha Ruiss

    I do not find this funny at all: the false humble tone here is neither charitable nor illuminating any truth; it is contemptuous in a very subtle way. It’s incredibly clear that the Holy Father thinks Jesus is central: http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=52537&wf=rsscol

    http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/without-christ-crucified-we-will-be-pitiful-organization-pope-says/

    Pope Francis is no rebel or apostate. He is not preaching a false gospel. Please stop acting as though that’s the case.

  • Chris Field

    I think it is important to note that “Abba” actually translates more closely to “Dad” or “Daddy”, than it does to the more formal “Father”.

  • JMichaela

    Father, thank you for this. You expressed entirely how I feel. I find this interview very hard. I have accepted that this is the Holy Father’s personal view, and that it is not infallible, but this interview is challenging my prior notion of what devotion to the Papacy meant because previously I would not have selected what the Popes said but assiduously read things like this. I can’t get past the cognitive dissonance. The problem is the assumption that following one’s conscience is enough (without the clarification it needs to be informed), the lack of need for conversion, the mere option for Christ and the idea that all will be saved. This is beyond what any of the Councils have ever taught. You mention Tielhard and in relation to the point that “the light of God … will invade all souls and be in everyone” at end times. This point does seem to reflect Tieldhard but not traditional beliefs in death, judgement, heaven and hell, or the Final Judgement. I am heartbroken that you ask – even rhetorically – why should I continue being a Catholic Priest / continue being Catholic? After reading this interview I am struggling with zeal in my lay vocation, and particularly in my work where I try to get people to understand life through objective philosophical lenses – a mission founded in my personal faith in Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

  • maurice

    You wrote :The Lord said to Nicodemus that it was necessary for a person to
    be born again of water and the spirit in order to enter the kingdom of
    God. He went on to say that through his coming death on the cross–when
    he would be lifted up– all who believe in him would be saved. He then
    says in verse 18 that those who do not believe are already condemned

    The way you understand Jesus statements is pure Protestantism.
    It takes more than beliefs to make a Christian,one has to

    follow in Jesus footsteps. Jesus ordered us to love each other
    as he had loved us,and that requires Faith to be able to live by it

    I think pope Francis simply opposed conversion to adherence to a set of beliefs. God is love(agape),it is true no mater if your a Christian or not

  • Christine Niles

    Pope
    Honorius wrote a series of letters (not ex cathedra) promoting
    monothelitism–a heresy. He was later condemned as a heretic at the
    Council of Constantinople. This condemnation was affirmed by Pope Leo I.
    The Catholic Encyclopedia states, “It is clear that no Catholic has the
    right to defend Pope Honorius.”

    Not every remark of the Pontiff–whoever he may be–is
    to be considered infallible or even correct–especially where those
    remarks are not in keeping with Church teaching or Tradition. The Church
    is much larger than this or that pontificate; it stretches far beyond
    the pastoral style of this or that pope. Defend the Papacy–yes. Defend
    every single off-the-cuff remark of the Holy Father, no matter how
    unsound? No.

  • Cody

    And just how helpful and charitable do you think it is, Father, to post an “interview” based on a faulty translation of a conversation that the Pope had? I am getting disgusted with those who call themselves faithful Catholics, and yet seem so incredibly quick to judge our Holy Father before even actually finding out the truth of a situation. It is almost as though they hope he says something heretical (which he has not) so that they can have something to point their fingers at, and articles like this just feed their Pharisaical frenzy. He is a different Pope than Benedict…get over it! He will have his own style, and I personally love that he is shaking things up a bit, all while teaching, beautifully and faithfully, the truths of Holy Mother Church. Listen to what he is actually saying, and learn from him. And please, please think twice before contributing to the self-righteous indignation of those who unwittingly make a hobby of finding fault with others all while patting themselves on the back for being more Catholic than the Pope.


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