In yet another surprise move, Pope Francis granted a private – and frank – interview with professed atheist and La Repubblica founder Eugenio Scalfari. You may recall that the Pope wrote a letter to Scalfari this summer in response to several questions he’d posed in various articles run in the paper. La Repubblica is one of Italy’s leading newspapers.
Pope Francis made the phone call and arranged the interview himself, which took place on September 24 in Domus Sancta Marthae (St. Martha’s House), the guest house in which the Holy Father has chosen to live in lieu of the papal apartments.
You can read the full text of the interview for yourself, but here I’d like to touch on three points that especially strike me.
1. Pope Francis’ gentile savvy. The Holy Father addresses Scalfari with great warmth and welcome, recognizing his views (atheistic) and respecting them. At the same time, the Pope matter-of-factly stands his ground for Christianity. The two even joked about converting one another.
When the conversation turned to mysticism, Scalfari asked Pope Francis is he felt touched by grace, to which he responded, “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.”
“Without faith? A non-believer?” Scalfari shot back.
“Grace regards the soul,” Pope Francis answered.
“I do not believe in the soul,” Scarfari insisted.
“You do not believe in it but you have one,” Pope Francis responded.
I love that. Truth is Truth. Period.
2. Pope Francis is open and realistic about the role of the Holy See and the Church’s priests, pastors, and bishops.
“You know what I think about this? Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy,” Pope Francis said.
Scalfari then asked him whether he was alluding to the curia. The Holy Father’s response blew me away.
“No, there are sometimes courtiers in the curia, but the curia as a whole is another thing. It is what in an army is called the quartermaster’s office, it manages the services that serve the Holy See. But it has one defect: it is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I’ll do everything I can to change it. The Church is or should go back to being a community of God’s people, and priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God. The Church is this, a word not surprisingly different from the Holy See, which has its own function, important but at the service of the Church. I would not have been able to have complete faith in God and in his Son if I had not been trained in the Church, and if I had not had the good fortune of being in Argentina, in a community without which I would not have become aware myself and my faith, ” the Pope responded.
Pope Francis doesn’t hide that there have been (and still are) some clergy who haven’t exercised their position and authority with prudence and humility, and he makes it clear that he’s not willing to allow that to be the norm.
3. The Pope wants the Church to go back to being a community of God’s people. I realize that he has said this before – many times, in fact. What I find striking is that he never wavers in that resolve. For all of the efforts of secular media to twist and warp the Holy Father’s words in addresses and interviews, this message always comes forward, and Pope Francis never cowers from proclaiming it. The Church is a community of God’s people and Pope Francis feels called to do all he can to protect it’s authenticity and integrity.
The Pope’s interview with Scalfari ended with an embrace. For me, that not only shows the loving big-heartedness of our Holy Father, but it is also symbolic. He embraced the atheist-journalist in spite of their differing world and religious views. Perhaps we should do the same – embrace those who differ from us in faith and opinion and in love and charity, lead them to our Lord.