Pope Francis surprised many of the journalists and members of the international news media travelling with him to and from Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day by holding a wide-ranging in-flight press conference of the kind that he originally said that he would not be inclined to have. The Holy Father answered many questions that had been on the mind of journalists, some of whom still seem determined to report what the Pope says inaccurately in the press.
When asked why he didn’t talk about abortion and same-sex “marriage” in Brazil, a fact that some in the press have harped on, Francis said “the Church has already addressed these issues and its position is clear. I needed to sound positive on my trip to Brazil.” The Holy Father was asked why he’s been talking lately about the way that bishops act and behave, and whether it is right to actively seek the episcopal office, he said it shouldn’t be sought, but that a man should be joyful in the role. “Being a bishop is great,” Francis said, “but when one tries to become one, that’s a problem and it’s not such a nice thing. There is always the risk a bishop might consider himself superior to others; he might feel a bit like a prince. But the work a bishop does is wonderful: he has the task of leading faithful, being among them and behind them. I was happy as Bishop of Buenos Aires. I was very happy. I am also happy now I am Pope. When the Lord places you somewhere and you agree to do something he has asked you to do, you are happy.”
On the question of future travels, the Pope said that the Holy Land and other parts of Asia could be on his travel itinerary soon. “Patriarch Bartholomew has invited me to Jerusalem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras there. I have had invitations from the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority,” the Pope pointed out, “I do need to visit Asia, as Benedict XVI didn’t get a chance to.”
It has been reported that Pope Francis made recent comments that he felt as though he was in a cage. “If only you knew how many times I wanted to take a walk through the streets of Rome! I used to love it. I was a ‘street priest,’” the Holy Father said, “but the Vatican police are really good with me; they have given me a bit more freedom.”
The role of women in the Church is a constant issue of debate for some, and Pope Francis said that it is important to remember that the first and most important apostle of the Lord was a woman. “A Church without women is like an Apostolic College without Mary,” Francis said. “The role of women mirrors that of the Virgin Mary. And the Virgin Mary if the most important out of all the apostles. The Church is female because she is a wife and mother. The Church cannot be understood without the women that serve it.” On the matter of ordaining women, as some might do contrary to Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Holy Father was very clear. “The Church has spoken out on the ordination of women and has decided against it. John Paul II gave a definitive answer to this so that door is closed,” declared Francis. “But let us remember that Mary is more important than the bishop apostles, so women in the Church are more important than bishops and priests.”
Francis said that he frequently relies on the advice of his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whom he said was like having “a wise grandfather’ living near him. I care deeply about Benedict XVI, he is a man of God, a humble man, a man who prays. I was so happy when he was elected Pope and then he decided to resign…I think he is quite something. Now he is living in the Vatican, some have been asking: isn’t he in you way? Isn’t he a hindrance? No, for me it’s like having a wise grandfather living with me. In a family, the grandfather is respected and listened to. Benedict XVI doesn’t meddle. For me it’s like having a grandfather around; he is a father figure to me. If I have any problems I can go and talk to him, just as I did with the serious Vatileaks issue.”
Note: This column is the first of two parts on the papal press conference.