What journalist wouldn’t want to interview Pope Francis? Few people are more intriguing than the spiritual leader of the world’s more than 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. But getting a few minutes of face time with him is no easy task.
A journalist who wants to interview Francis can go about it in two ways. First, he can try to maneuver through the Vatican’s diplomatic labyrinth (which is not my forte), or he can try to convince one of Francis’ close friends to grant access to him (though, of course, that requires knowing someone in the pontiff’s inner circle).
Like his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II, Francis seldom grants face-to-face interviews. And it’s easy to understand why: Popes don’t have to deal with earthly matters — they are cozily sheltered by the myth of papal infallibility. That’s a shame, since this isolation has allowed past popes to hide troubling facts and hurt many Catholics (more on that in a moment).
To his credit, Pope Francis speaks out more than his predecessors — recently, for example, in his climate change encyclical. Still, landing an interview with the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio would be a journalistic miracle — vanishingly rare, and startling if it happens.
So while I cover the pope’s visit to Mexico this week for Univision and Fusion, my prospects for an interview remain slim. Just in case, though, I have a list of questions for him.
If I were to get a few minutes with Francis, I’d first hope that he would speak freely to me — and not keep silent on certain topics as he did on his trip to Cuba last year. It was disappointing to watch political dissidents face arrest while Francis said nothing.
I’d begin my interview by asking about the Catholic church’s sex abuse scandals. For years, Vatican officials protected the Mexican-born priest Marcial Maciel, the late founder of the Legionnaires of Christ and a predator who sexually assaulted several minors in Mexico. And I would ask Francis why a culture of impunity and complicity remains within the church, in Mexico and elsewhere.
In 2014, Francis declared that he was compelled “to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage (some priests) have caused by sexually abusing children.” According to an investigation by the author Jorge Llistosella, more than 9,000 sexual abuse cases have been reported within the Catholic church in the last half-century. And thousands more have not been reported.
All too often, when priests are accused of crimes, the Vatican doesn’t bring them to justice. No, the church transfers these priests to other parishes, or quarantines them in a life of prayer and penance. Then, later, when the accusations are made public, the Vatican just asks for forgiveness.
As evidence, take the case of Luis Fernando Figari, the founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae society in Peru. In his book, “Half Monks, Half Soldiers,” the investigative journalist Pedro Salinas interviewed three men who alleged that Figari sexually abused them when they were boys — accusations that Figari has denied. (My interview with Salinas can be seen here:)
Figari quit his post as head of the Catholic society in 2010 and now lives in Rome, where he reportedly leads a contemplative life. To Salinas, the Figari case and its outcome are similar to Maciel’s. Perhaps the most outrageous factor is the Vatican’s complicity in shielding both men. Alberto Athie, a former Catholic priest, told me some time ago that he reported Maciel to the Holy See in 1999, but nobody paid attention. Why did church leaders side with the sexual offenders rather than with the victims?
The truth is that Maciel’s case exposed a sad reality: It’s almost impossible for a priest who has committed such crimes to end up in prison in Mexico. Meanwhile, Pope Francis canonized John Paul II, even though he protected pedophile priests like Maciel — a deep insult to victims of sexual abuse.
Francis could change all this by ordering his cardinals and bishops to turn over the names of priests accused of sexual assault to the authorities, along with information gathered from the church’s internal investigations. But I doubt that he will.
I also doubt that Francis will ever grant me an interview — especially if he reads this column. But you never know. As the faithful say: God works in mysterious ways.
(P.S. I also hope that during his trip to Mexico the pope finds time to meet with the victims of pedophile priests; the parents of the 43 missing college students from Ayotzinapa; and the journalists who were fired after investigating a possible conflict of interest related to Mexican first lady Angélica Rivera’s purchase of a home from a government contractor. Is that asking too much?)
By Jorge Ramos Avalos.
(February 17, 2016)
Image by: AIESEC – Wikipedia