Pope Francis has responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which returned power to regulate abortion to the individual states, saying he respected the decision, but had not studied it enough to comment on it from a juridical point of view. “I tell you the truth. I don’t understand it from a technical point of view,” he explained, adding, “I have to study it because I don’t really understand [the details of] the ruling 50 years ago and now I can’t say whether it did right or wrong from a judicial point of view.” However, he said, “I respect the decisions.”
The science and
morality of abortion
The Pope went on to consider the question of abortion itself, saying, “Leaving that [the Supreme Court decision] aside, let’s go back to the issue of abortion, which is a problem.” He said it is important to look at what science has learned in the past few decades: “In this we have to be scientific, see what science tells us today. Science today and any book on embryology, the one our medical students study, tells you that 30 days after conception there is DNA and the laying out already of all the organs ....”
He asked, “Is it legitimate, is it right, to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem?” He insisted, “It’s a human life — that’s science. The moral question is whether it is right to take a human life to solve a problem. Indeed, is it right to hire a hit man to solve a problem?”.
The Holy Father also emphasized the importance of a pastoral approach to Catholic politicians who support abortion, saying, “When the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it causes a political problem. That’s all I can say.”
Rumours of impending resignation
The interview, conducted in Italian with no aides present, covered a wide variety of topics, including swirling rumours that the Pope might be planning to resign, possibly during an upcoming trip to L’Aquila. The Italian city, as Pullella notes, is associated with Pope Celestine V, who resigned in 1294; and with Benedict XVI, who is thought to have foreshadowed his own resignation when he laid his pallium on Celestine’s tomb during a visit to the city in 2009.
“All of these coincidences made some think that the same ‘liturgy’ would happen,” Pope Francis said. “But it never entered my mind. For the moment no, for the moment, no, really.” However, he said, “when the time comes that I see that I can’t do it [run the Church, because of bad health] I will do it [resign].” The Pope noted, “That was the great example of Pope Benedict. It was a very good thing for the Church. He told popes to stop in time.” He added, “He is one of the greats, Benedict.”
When asked directly when that might be, Pope Francis responded, “We don’t know. God will say.”
Pope Francis denied rumours that cancer had been found during an operation last year to remove part of his colon. “Yes, they took out 33 cm of my colon, the sigmoid colon, for diverticulitis. It went well. It took more than six hours of anaesthesia and that’s why I don’t want to have surgery here (on the knee), because anaesthesia leaves traces.”
The Pope went on to say that the operation “was fundamentally a great success.” When asked about reports that the doctors discovered cancer during the operation, the Pope replied, laughing, “They didn’t tell me about it. They didn’t tell me. They explained everything to me well — full stop. No [cancer].”
He denounced reports to the contrary, saying, “That is court gossip. The court spirit is still there in the Vatican. And if you think about it, the Vatican is the last European court of an absolute monarchy.”
The Pope’s knee
The Pope went on to give further details of the specific health issues, explaining, “It’s a ligament that became inflamed, and because I walked badly and this walking badly moved a bone, [this caused] a fracture there and that’s the problem.”
Now, he said, “I am well; I am slowly getting better, I am slowly improving and technically the calcification has already occurred, thanks to all the work done with the laser ... and magnet therapy.” Now, he said, “I have to start moving because there’s a danger of losing muscle tone if one doesn’t move. It’s getting better; it gets better.”
Health issues with his knee forced the cancellation of his trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, a trip that would have taken place this week. Pope Francis said the decision to cancel the trip caused him great suffering: “I suffered so much for not being able to do this trip, but the doctor told me not to do it because I am not able to do it yet.”
However, he said, “I will do the one to Canada because the doctor told me, ‘With 20 more days you will recover.’ But [they told me] this trip [to Africa] is a health risk. That’s why I stopped it.”
A visit to Russia?
With regard to possible future travels, Pope Francis said, “I would like to go [to Ukraine], and I wanted to go to Moscow first. We exchanged messages about this because I thought that if the president of Russia gave me a tiny window, I would go there to serve the cause of peace.”
Now, he said, “It’s possible, after I come back from Canada; it is possible that I [might] manage to go to Ukraine. The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to go to both capitals,” that is, Kyiv and Moscow.
The Pope noted that, with Russia, “there is still that very open dialogue, very cordial, very diplomatic in the positive sense of the word, but for the moment it’s OK; the door is open.”
Provisional Agreement with the
People’s Republic of China
The Pope says the Holy See’s Provisional Agreement with the People’s Republic of China “is going well” and that he hopes it can be renewed next October.
Thanks to the Provisional Agreement signed in 2018, the text of which is currently confidential, the situation of the Catholic Church in China was remedied by bringing bishops who had been installed without papal mandate back into full communion with Rome. The Agreement gives the Pope the final word on the appointment of new bishops, while providing a shared path to arrive at an agreement on episcopal nominations.
Defending the Agreement
As the transcript of the Reuters interview shows, Pope Francis has defended the Agreement and expressed appreciation for the role played by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin in reaching the accord: “The one who is handling this agreement is Cardinal Parolin, who is the best diplomat in the Holy See, a man of high diplomatic standing. And he knows how to move, he is a man of dialogue, and he dialogues with the Chinese authorities. I believe that the commission that he chairs has done everything to move forward and look for a way out. And they have found it.”
The art of the possible
Pope Francis then defended the policy of taking small steps, the “martyrdom of patience” described by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the architect of the Vatican’s policy of Ostpolitik in relations with Eastern European countries in the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. “Many people said so many things against John XXIII, against Paul VI, against Casaroli,” the Pope explained. “But diplomacy is like that. Faced with a closed situation, one must seek the possible, not the ideal, path. Diplomacy is the art of the possible and making what is possible become a reality.” He added, “The Holy See has always had these great men. But this [diplomacy] with China is being carried out by Parolin, who is great in this area.”
Hopes for renewal
Comparing the current situation to the reality before the fall of the Soviet regime in 1989, Pope Francis said that the appointment of bishops in China since 2018 is going slowly but noted there have been results. “It is going slowly, but [some bishops] have been appointed. It is going slow, as I say, ‘the Chinese way’, because the Chinese have that sense of time, that no one can rush them.”
He noted, too, that the Chinese “also have problems because it is not the same situation in every region of the country” — referring to the different attitudes of local authorities in China — and also “because it [the manner of relating to the Church] depends on the local leaders, there are different ones.”
Nonetheless, the Pope said, “the Agreement is good, and I hope it can be renewed in October.”
The Appointment of women and
The Holy Father then shared his plans to expand the role of women in the Roman Curia, announcing his intention to appoint two women to the Dicastery that assists the Pontiff in the selection of bishops and answered a question about which Dicasteries could be entrusted to a lay man or woman in the future.
“I am open should an opportunity arise. Right now, the Governorate has a deputy governor... Now, two women will be going to the Congregation of Bishops, on the commission to elect bishops. In this way, things open up a little bit.”
Pope Francis then added that in the future he sees the possibility of lay people being appointed to lead certain Vatican departments such as the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, the Dicastery for Culture and Education, or the Vatican Apostolic Library.
The Holy Father recalled that last year he appointed Sister Raffaella Petrini to the number two position in the Vatican City Governorate, making her the first woman to hold the position.
Earlier, in January 2020, the Pope had named Francesca di Giovanni as Undersecretary for the multilateral sector in the Secretariat of State’s Section for Relations with States and International Organizations, another first.
Other notable appointments by Pope Francis include Sister Nathalie Becquart, a French member of the Xavière Missionary Sisters, as Undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops; and Sister Alessandra Smerilli, of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, as Undersecretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Sister Carmen Ros Nortes serves as Undersecretary of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Several other lay women already hold high-level positions in the Vatican, including Barbara Jatta, the first female director of the Vatican Museums; Linda Ghisoni and Gabriella Gambino, both Undersecretaries in the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; and Emilce Cuda, Secretary for the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
In the Dicastery for Communication, Nataša Govekar serves as Director of the Theological-Pastoral Office of the Dicastery for Communication; while Cristiane Murray holds the position of deputy director of the Holy See Press Office.
All of the above were appointed by the current Pontiff.
Last month, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, joked that, with the promulgation of the new Constitution on the Curia, he might be the last cleric to lead that Dicastery.
See next week’s edition for more of the Holy Father’s interview with Reuters