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Pope Francis on ISIS, the Gospel, sex abuse, money and much more

Pope Francis talks during a mass of Pentecost in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on May 15, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-ISIS, originally transmitted on May 17, 2016.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) What do the tango, Islam and conscientious objection have in common? They are just three of the references that Pope Francis made in his latest blockbuster interview.

Speaking to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, Francis reflected on issues affecting the church and society as a whole.

Here are the key points:

Child sexual abuse

Francis described a priest who abuses children as someone who “disseminates evil, resentment, distress” and said a zero tolerance approach was needed, with no statute of limitations on how long after a crime a pedophile could be convicted under canon law.

Focusing on the headline-making case of French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, who is accused of failing to report abusive priests years ago, the pope said it would be “imprudent” to seek the cardinal’s resignation:

“Based on the information that I have, I believe that Cardinal Barbarin in Lyon took the necessary measures and that he has matters under control. He is courageous, creative, a missionary. We now need to await the outcome of the civil judicial proceedings.”

Government officials as conscientious objectors

On being asked about how Catholics can respond to issues such as euthanasia or same-sex marriage, Francis threw his support behind the right of state workers to object on faith grounds:

“The right to conscientious objection must be recognized within each legal structure because it is a human right. Including for a government official, who is a human person. The state must also take criticism into account. That would be a genuine form of laicity” — a reference to France’s strict form of secularist government.

The West, Christianity and Islam

Asked about Islam and the West, Francis said:

“Today, I don’t think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam. It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.

“In the face of Islamic terrorism, it would therefore be better to question ourselves about the way an overly Western model of democracy has been exported to countries such as Iraq, where a strong government previously existed. Or in Libya, where a tribal structure exists. We cannot advance without taking these cultures into account.”

London’s new Muslim mayor

Pope Francis talked about the need to integrate migrants and avoid the “ghetto-ization” that the pontiff said can result in extremism. He then turned to the recent success of Sadiq Khan — the son of Pakistani immigrants — who was elected the first Muslim mayor of London.

“In Brussels, the terrorists were Belgians, children of migrants, but they grew up in a ghetto. In London, the new mayor took his oath of office in a cathedral and will undoubtedly meet the queen. This illustrates the need for Europe to rediscover its capacity to integrate.”

The right to wear a veil or cross

The pope backed secularism but said that may go hand in hand with the protection of religious freedom. That includes the right to publicly show one’s faith, Francis said:

“If a Muslim woman wishes to wear a veil, she must be able to do so. Similarly, if a Catholic wishes to wear a cross. People must be free to profess their faith at the heart of their own culture, not merely at its margins.”

Clericalism as a sin — and a tango

Francis spoke out against the focus on the hierarchy within the Catholic Church, arguing that a person does not need to be a priest in order to evangelize and describing clericalism as a “danger”:

“This is a sin committed by two parties, like the tango! The priest wants to clericalize lay people and lay people request to be clericalized because it’s easier.”

The ‘idolatry of money’

Asked about the refugee crisis that is overwhelming Europe, Francis said he understands the hesitation of some countries because “one cannot open the gates wide unreasonably.” But he said it was important to address the root of the crisis:

“More generally, this raises the question of a world economic system that has descended into the idolatry of money. The great majority of humanity’s wealth has fallen into the hands of a minority of the population. A completely free market does not work. Markets in themselves are good but they also require a fulcrum, a third party, or a state to monitor and balance them.”

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Rosie Scammell

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  • Barbarin is now the subject of a criminal investigation on charges of failing to report and endangering the lives of others about sexual abuse of minors as required by French law. One of Barbarin’s priests, Fr. Bernard Preynat, was indicted on Jan. 27 for “sexual abuse of minors under 15 years by a person in authority.” In an interview published Feb. 10, Barbarin admitted “having learned the facts in 2007-2008” about Preynat, but promoted him anyway in 2007, keeping him in ministry and in contact with children until he removed him in August 2015. Barbarin has allowed at least one other priest to continue in ministry, Fr. Jérôme Billioud, who has admitted to sexually abusing a minor.
    Typical RNS reporting to omit the above information.

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