The latest installment in Phillip Pullella’s wide-ranging interview with Pope Francis for Reuters:
When Pope Francis wanted to appoint a woman as deputy head of the Vatican press office in 2016, he quickly ran into opposition from the Catholic Church’s male-dominated hierarchy.
“I had to fight,” Francis said in a rare, two-hour interview with Reuters in his residence this month.
Asked why the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, then three years into his papacy, could not put a woman into a middle-ranking Vatican role without a fight, the pope smiled and replied: “Bosses cannot always do what they want.
“They have to convince. There is a verb, a word, that helps me very much in governing: ‘to persuade’. It is persuasion, slowly persuading, if you can manage to do it.”
Francis declined to say who had resisted his appointment of Paloma Garcia Ovejero, a 42-year-old Spanish journalist, the only woman with an executive role in the Vatican press office and one of fewer than a dozen in Vatican leadership positions.
The episode is an example of one of the battles this pope has fought to change the culture of the Vatican even incrementally, to turn it and the Church beyond its walls into a more efficient, inclusive and forgiving institution.
Now in his sixth year as pope, Francis, 81, is also still battling to put an end to recurring sex scandals, reform the Vatican’s central bureaucracy and overcome a conservative backlash to his teachings.
And then there’s this, in response to pointed criticism from a group Pullella describes as “ultra conservatives within the Church, a relatively small but vocal group”:
Asked if he felt wounded by the conservatives’ criticisms, Francis said: “No, I feel a pain and I pray for them.” It was nothing new, he added, noting that predecessors Pope John Paul and Pope Paul VI had “suffered more”.
“Anyone can publish or voice their opinion. I don’t excommunicate people. Time and the Lord will change things,” he said. “I don’t feel like judging them. I pray and I ask the Lord to settle their hearts and mine too.”