Civiltà Cattolica’s Interview With the Pope

June 20, 2022

On May 19, 2022, Pope Francis gave an interview to the directors of the European journals of the Society of Jesus, gathered in audience at the Private Library of the Apostolic Palace. There were, in addition to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa and 10 journalists.

The Pope responded to his interlocutors. The interview was published in English by Civiltà Cattolica. Some answers are worth pondering.

A first question focused on “the meaning and mission of the journals of the Society of Jesus.” The Pope insisted that communication should above all not be confined to “ideas,” but that it should be rooted in experience. He repeatedly said that “reality is greater than ideas.”

Wording that is not really clear. Finally, the Pope wants to say that we must always discuss reality and not confine ourselves to a battle of ideas. This is perhaps to forget that it is ideas that lead the world.

The Pope insisted on this point: “reality is discerned [i.e., it must be the object of a judgment of intelligence]. Discernment is the charism of the Society. In my opinion, it is the first charism of the Society.” Of course, Saint Ignatius insisted a lot, especially in his Spiritual Exercises, on the discernment of spirits. But today, the charism seems almost extinct among the Jesuits.

The next question was about Ukraine. The Pope took many precautions in communicating his thoughts. He reported what a head of state had said to him a few months before the start of the conflict: “They [NATO] are barking at the gates of Russia. They do not understand that the Russians are imperialists and will allow no foreign power to approach them.” He then praised the wisdom of judgment.

He also noted that it should not be said that everything is black on one side and white on the other. He even suggested that the war may have been provoked. He also deplored the resumption of the arms trade.

He finally affirmed that the Third World War had begun, a “piece by piece,” recalling the many points of the globe which are currently at war, open or hidden. He insisted that in one century there had been three world wars. The answer to this question is very long, and shows Francis' concern.

A third question focused on “signs of spiritual renewal” in the Church. The first line of the answer is clear: “It is very difficult to see spiritual renewal using old-fashioned criteria. We need to renew our way of seeing reality, of evaluating it.”

The Pope continues: “In the European Church, I see more renewal in the spontaneous things that emerging: movements, groups, new bishops who remember that there is a Council behind them. Because the Council that some pastors remember best is the Council of Trent. What I am saying is not nonsense.”

Then we witness a new charge against traditionalism: “'Restorationism has come to gag the Council. The number of groups of ‘restorers’ – for example, in the United States there are many – is significant.”

There follows a long apology on Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Superior General of the Jesuits between 1965 and 1981, very progressive, who was appreciated by Paul VI, but much less by John Paul II. He adds that he wants “to make people understand what the post-conciliar period was like. This is happening again, especially with the traditionalists. That is why it is important to save these figures who defended the Council and fidelity to the pope.”

The fifth question focused on the German Synodal Path. Whoever asks the question is admiring the work that is done there.

Francis showers him a little: “I said to the president of the German Episcopal Conference, Msgr. Bätzing: ‘In Germany there is a very good Evangelical Church. We don't need two.’ The problem arises when the synodal way comes from the intellectual, theological elites, and is much influenced by external pressures. There are some dioceses where the synodal journey is made with the faithful, with the people, slowly.”

Finally, the Pope also defended his attitude towards the diocese of Cologne and Cardinal Rainer Woelki, blaming the external pressure which makes a current decision impossible. Which in itself may seem fair, but which did not always benefit the accused, if we remember the fate of Bishop Michel Aupetit.

Francis seems more and more embittered against all the “traditional” tendencies and the conservatives who appear to him to be hindering the application of the Council, and whom he accuses of all the evils in this area. It is a way of transferring the post-conciliar disaster onto scapegoats to avoid having to ask the real questions about this unprecedented crisis.