Interviews on the plane | Pope touches on freedom of expression, responsible parenthood

Paul Haring | Catholic News Service


ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM MANILA, Philippines -- Pope Francis stressed that, despite Church doctrine against contraception, Catholics fail to practice "responsible parenthood" when they have too many children.

He also denounced the teaching of "gender theory" in schools, likening it to indoctrination of children by the Nazis and fascists.

The pope made his remarks Jan. 19 in an hourlong news conference with reporters accompanying him back to Rome from a weeklong trip to Asia.

Pope Francis reaffirmed his rejection of population-control programs as an example of ideological colonization and his praise of Blessed Paul VI for defending Catholic teaching against contraception, especially that openness to life is a condition of the sacrament of matrimony.

But "this does not mean a Christian must make children one after another," the pope said.

"Some people think -- excuse me for saying this -- that to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits," Pope Francis said, yet Church teaching provides for "many licit ways" to limit reproduction.

Elaborating on comments he made in Manila Jan. 16 about "ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family," the pope offered a 20-year-old example of an unnamed government official, apparently in his native Argentina, who was offered a loan to build schools for poor children on the condition she assign students a textbook on "gender theory."

Catholic leaders often use the term "gender theory" to refer to ideas that question or deny the God-given nature of sex differences and the complementarity of man and woman as the basis of the family.

Pope Francis said African bishops attending the October 2014 Synod on the Family had complained of similar restrictions on funding for projects in their countries.

Pope Francis explained his refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama in December, when the exiled Tibetan leader was in Rome for a conference of Nobel Peace Prize winners. He said Vatican protocol prevents the pope from "receiving heads of state and people at that level when they are taking part in an international meeting."

Pope Francis denied his decision was motivated by fear of the Chinese government, which considers the Dalai Lama an outlaw, and which has often arrested Chinese Catholics who oppose government control of the Church.

While addressing the weightiest topics, the pope once again displayed his disarmingly frank and informal way of speaking. During extended remarks on the evil of government corruption, he recalled being solicited for a bribe by Argentine officials.

"At that moment, I thought about what I would do: either I insult them and give them a kick where the sun doesn't shine or I play the fool," Pope Francis said. "I played the fool."


ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Commenting on recent killings by Islamist terrorists at a Paris newspaper, Pope Francis condemned killing in the name of God, but said freedom of expression should be limited by respect for religion and that mockery of faith can be expected to provoke violence.

The pope made his remarks Jan. 15 to reporters accompanying him on a flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. During the 50-minute news conference, the pope also said his encyclical on the environment likely will be published early this summer, and that he will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan missionary to North America, in the U.S. this September.

Asked by a French reporter to compare freedom of religion and freedom of expression as human rights, Pope Francis linked his answer to the Jan. 7 attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, apparently in retaliation for the newspaper's publication of cartoons mocking Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

"Let's go to Paris, let's speak clearly," the pope said. "One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one's own religion, that is, in the name of God."

The pope said freedom of expression was a "fundamental human right" like freedom of religion, but one that must be exercised "without giving offense."

He later clarified his comment, saying: "In theory, we can say what the Gospel says, that we should turn the other cheek. In theory, we can say that we have freedom of expression," he said. "But in practice, let's stop a bit, because we are human and we risk provoking others. For this reason, freedom must be accompanied by prudence. That's what I wanted to say."

Asked about his widely awaited encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis said the document had already been through three drafts by a team under Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State and the theologian of the papal household.

"Now I'll take a week out in March to look at it. At the end of March, I think it will be completed. Then it will go to be translated. I think that if the translations go well, in June or July, it could come out," the pope said.

The pope opened the news conference with an unsolicited statement about his decision to canonize St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th- and 18th-century missionary to Sri Lanka, without going through the usual process, including verification of a second miracle attributed to the saint's intercession. Pope Francis said St. Joseph was one of a series of great evangelists whom he planned to canonize without such preliminaries, in an effort to celebrate the practice of evangelization.

"Now in September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States. He was the evangelizer of the west in the United States," the pope said.

Regarding his visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis said his focus there would be on poor people: "the poor who want to get ahead, the poor who have suffered through Typhoon Haiyan and are still suffering the consequences, the poor who have faith and hope." The pope was scheduled to travel Jan.17 to Tacloban, in the central part of the country, which was especially hard hit by the typhoon in November 2013.

No votes yet