The Pope’s Presser

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  •  July 13, 2015   

The Holy Father addresses controversial remarks on the papal plane

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PAPAL PLANE, July 13, 2015 ( - Pope Francis gave a wide-ranging interview today on the plane flight back from his eight-day, three-country tour in South America, where he made stops in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. 

After criticizing unfettered capitalism Saturday in Paraguay — condemning the fact that the wealthy worship at the feet of the "golden calf" of profit while sacrificing the poor on "the altar of money" — Pope Francis again touched on the topic on the papal plane this morning.

Asked what he thought of the criticism of his vision of the current economic system — which some have said smacks of socialism — the Holy Father admitted he was unfamiliar with the criticism.

I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I have not had the time to study these well; every criticism must be received, examined, and then dialogue must ensue. You ask me what I think. Since I have not had a discussion with those who have expressed criticisms, I do not have the right to state an opinion. 

Controversy ensued Thursday when the Holy Father accepted a blasphemous hammer and sickle crucifix given to him as a gift from leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales. The crucifix is a copy of one designed by Fr. Luis Espinal, a Jesuit liberation theologian killed by Bolivian paramilitary forces in 1980. The Holy Father's admiration for Espinal is well-known, and he made a point of stopping at the site of his execution when he arrived in Bolivia.

Conflicting reports afterwards came out claiming Pope Francis was offended by the gift and said, "This is not good," while Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi rejected the claims, stating that the Holy Father actually said, "I did not know this."

The Holy See Press Office issued a statement the next day reporting that the Pope left "two honors" given to him from the Bolivian president at the shrine of Our Lady of Copacabana, patron of Bolivia. Italian media assumed the hammer and sickle crucifix was among the gifts left. But according to journalists on the papal plane this morning, the Holy Father is keeping the crucifix.

When a journalist asked him how he felt when he received the crucifix, Pope Francis replied, "I was curious, I didn't know Fr. Espinal was a sculptor and also a poet. I learned about it in these past few days; I saw it and for me it was a surprise. It can be categorized as a form of protest art."

He continued:

In Buenos Aires, some years ago, there was an exhibition displaying the works of a good sculptor, a creative Argentine who is now dead. It was protest art, and I remember one piece was a crucified Christ on a falling bomber: a criticism against Christianity but because of its alliance with imperialism. I would qualify it as protest art, that in some cases can be offensive. In this particular case, Fr. Espinal was killed in 1980. This was a time when Liberation Theology had many different branches. One of these branches used the Marxist analysis of reality and Fr. Espinal shared these ideas. I knew this because that year I was rector of the theology faculty and we talked a lot about it. In the same year, the Society’s general, Fr. Arrupe, sent a letter to the Jesuits asking them to stop the Marxist analysis of reality and four years later, in 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the first document, which is critical, and the second, which opens up to more Christian viewpoints. Espinal was an enthusiast of this Marxist analysis and he produced this work. His poetry also belongs to that genre. It was his life, his way of thinking. He was a special man abounding in human genius, a man of good faith. Let us interpret it this way: I understand this piece and I did not find it offensive. I carry it with me.

The Holy Father also addressed remarks he had made at a July 6 Mass in Ecuador, where he prayed for Christ to turn those elements at the Synod on the Family that seem "impure, scandalous or threatening [into a] miracle." The comment caused a stir in the media, with some speculating potential changes to Church teaching. But Pope Francis clarified that his remarks weren't directed at any specific teaching, but were meant in a general sense.

The comment I wished to make was this: The family is facing a crisis, as we are all aware. This is evident in the Instrumentum Laboris (working document). I made reference to all of this. That the Lord would purify us from all that is emerging from these crises, that he makes us better people and that we move forward. 

Read the full transcript of the Pope's remarks here.

Watch part of the press conference:


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