(RNS) Pope Francis has done it again: Just two weeks after the publication of a lengthy, detailed interview in which he expounded on his new vision for the church he has given another interview, this time with the atheist editor of an Italian daily.
Francis had recently written an open letter to Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica, and then called the editor up out of the blue -- as is his habit. The exchange, Scalfari wrote, went like this:
"Hello, this is Pope Francis."
"Hello Your Holiness," I say and then: "I am shocked. I did not expect you to call me."
"Why so surprised? You wrote me a letter asking to meet me in person. I had the same wish, so I'm calling to fix an appointment. Let me look at my diary: I can't do Wednesday, nor Monday, would Tuesday suit you?"
"That's fine," I answer.
"The time is a little awkward, three in the afternoon, is that OK? Otherwise it'll have to be another day."
"Your Holiness, the time is fine."
"So we agree: Tuesday 24 at 3 o'clock. At Santa Marta. You have to come into the door at the Sant'Uffizio."
Here are some highlights of their conversation:
On the church and politics:
"I believe that Catholics involved in politics carry the values of their religion within them, but have the mature awareness and expertise to implement them. The Church will never go beyond its task of expressing and disseminating its values, at least as long as I'm here."
On his plans to reform the church:
"I'm not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness. But I am the Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic world. The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers. Not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings. This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal."
On the Roman Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy:
"It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I'll do everything I can to change it. The Church is or should go back to being a community of God's people, and priests, pastors and bishops, who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God."
On the obstacles he faces:
"The real trouble is that those most affected by (narcissism) -- which is actually a kind of mental disorder -- are people who have a lot of power. Often bosses are narcissists. ... Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy."
On careerist priests:
"It also happens to me that when I meet a clericalist, I suddenly become anti-clerical. Clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity."
On the greatest challenges for the church:
"The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don't even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: Can you live crushed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing."
On converting others:
"Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good."
"I believe ... that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. ... I have the humility and ambition to want to do something."
On the essence of his belief:
"I believe in God, not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God. There is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being."
"Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good. ... Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."
On attaining salvation:
"Agape, the love of each one of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of salvation and of the Beatitudes."
On his favorite saints:
"You're asking me for a ranking, but classifications are for sports or things like that. I could tell you the name of the best footballers in Argentina. But the saints ... I'm not trying to avoid your question, because you didn't ask me for ranking of their cultural and religious importance but who is closest to my soul. So I'd say: Augustine and Francis."
On the moment of his election as pope:
"Before I accepted I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square. My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go away and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the 'Habemus Papam.'"
As the interview ends and Francis escorts Scalfari out, they agree to meet again and the pope adds:
"We will also discuss the role of women in the Church. Remember that the Church is feminine."