International News

Pope Says Ukraine, Russia Trip not Currently Possible Due to Knee Pain

Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 31, 2022. (Photo: Catholic News Service)

By Elise Ann Allen

ROME (Crux) — In a new interview, Pope Francis laid to rest rumors that a papal visit to Kyiv could happen before his visit to Kazakhstan next week, saying he has been forbidden by doctors from traveling before that due to his ongoing knee troubles.

Speaking to CNN Portugal, Pope Francisc said he has spoken to both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that dialogue is key.

“They both visited me here. Not now, before (the war). And I always believe that [with] dialoguing, we always go forward,” he said.

Asked whether he still intends to visit Kyiv, Pope Francis said a papal visit to the Ukrainian capital is “up in the air.”

“Now I can’t go because after the trip to Canada, the recovery of my knee suffered a little, and the doctor said that I can’t travel until Kazakhstan,” Pope Francis said, saying he is “in communication by phone, and I do what I can, and I ask all the people to do what they can.”

“Everyone can do something. And I accompany [with] my pain and my prayer all that I can,” he said, noting that he has sent several cardinals to Ukraine as well as British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, “so my presence there is strong.”

Pope Francis spoke to journalist Maria Joao Avillez in an interview conducted at the Vatican Aug. 11 and broadcast in separate parts on Sept. 4 and 5.

In the wide-ranging conversation, Pope Francis touched on next year’s global World Youth Day gathering in Lisbon, the clerical sexual abuse crisis, the role of women in the Church, the liturgy, and the ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality, among other things.

For the past few months, Portugal has been reeling from its own clerical sexual abuse scandals.

In January, an official inquiry into the abuse was launched, and as of July, the commission charged with the investigation said it had so far collected around 350 testimonies and expected many more to come.

Pope Francis said that “abuse from men and women of the Church, the abuse of authority, the abuse of power and sexual abuse, is a monstrosity, because the man or woman of the Church, whether a priest, a religious, or a lay person, is called to serve, to create unity, to grow, and abuse is always destructive.” He quoted a group of experts from Brazil he recently met with to discuss the issue, noting that abuse by members of the Church is at just 3% percent, whereas the number of abuses that took place inside the family setting is 42-46%, and the percentage of abuse in sports is also higher.

Because of this, he said arguments that blame priestly celibacy for clerical abuse are wrong, and that abuse inside of the church “is simply the monstrosity of a man or woman of the church who is psychologically ill or evil and uses their position for their personal satisfaction. It’s diabolical.”

He doubled down on a “zero tolerance” stance on clerical abuse, saying he is the one responsible for ensuring that it doesn’t happen anymore, and “one very key thing is zero tolerance. Zero.”

“A priest cannot remain a priest if he is an abuser. He cannot act (as a priest) because he is sick or a criminal. If he is a priest, he is there to lead men to God and not to destroy men in the name of God. Zero tolerance and we cannot stop on that,” he said.

Pope Francis also touched briefly on the liturgy and his decision to restrict the Traditional Latin Mass, saying there is a crisis “of poor liturgical formation” in the Church, and “the lack of mercy in the celebration of the Mass” is one cause of this.

This lack of mercy “causes scandal,” he said, saying, “a Church that does not celebrate the liturgy well is a Church that does not know how to praise God, that does not know how to live deeply. For me, it is important to discipline the liturgy well.”

He also spoke at length of the role of women in the Church, and specifically his decision to name three women to the commission that appoints bishops.

“The baptized are men and women and the Church is feminine…the Church is a woman, it is female, not male. She is a woman; she is the bride of Christ. And in the normal administration of the Church there were no women. Now there are the dicastery secretaries; the vice-governor of the Vatican is a woman. And why not put women to appoint bishops as well?” he said.

Putting women in places of leadership and authority is not “a feminist trend,” he said, but is rather “an act of justice that was culturally neglected.”

“Do you want to do something for the Church? Become a nun. No. She can be a lay woman. A lay woman who is working,” he said, saying lay people were always able to work in the Vatican, and more have been appointed in recent years, so “it is slowly being implemented.”

Pope Francis noted that for the past two years, the Vatican’s Council for the Economy — composed of six cardinals and six lay people — has had a majority of women for its lay members, and that since their appointment, “it started to work better.”

“Women know how to manage without anything else. And the woman has a different way of carrying out things than we (men), because she reasons differently. It’s another kind of conflict resolution, problem-solving,” he said.

Pope Francis also spoke about his ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality, which will culminate with a global gathering of bishops and auditors in Rome next year, as well as controversy around certain aspects of the process.

Some people, he said, think of synodality as being “like a parliament, that each one says what they think.”

However, this is not a synod, he said, insisting that “there is no synod without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Who is the main character of the synod? The Holy Spirit. And how do you do that? Each one saying what he feels, what he thinks and then together seeking harmony, again the word, of the Holy Spirit.”

“In the synod there is the diversity in what each one is saying, but it is the spirit that makes the harmony. If the Holy Spirit is not there, it is a parliament,” he said.

When it comes to controversy over the synod, Pope Francis said, “you have to let the processes finish, because the Holy Spirit is giving us ways to mature the Church.”

“Some go forward running and others go backwards. And the good shepherd, the one who is as a shepherd, the bishop has to know how to move in the midst of the people of God,” he said, saying bishops must be at the front, middle, and back of their flocks, so they can accompany each of its members.

“That is why I say that a pastor always has to be universal. Respect to the holy faithful people of God,” he said. “Clericalism, which is a perversion, takes away this universality from the pastor and makes him the pastor of a sector or a pastoral modality.”