Vatican City • In a lengthy interview published in an Italian newspaper this week, Pope Francis made his most expansive remarks on the Vatican’s recent declaration allowing priests to bless same-sex couples, dismissing those who oppose the decision as a vocal minority.
Conservatives have harshly criticized the declaration on blessings, “Fiducia Supplicans,” issued by the church’s Department for the Doctrine of the Faith in late December. An organization of Catholic bishops in Africa, where homosexuality is in some places persecuted, issued a statement saying that African priests will not bless same-sex couples.
But the pope said the African bishops’ objection “is a separate case” due to the culture in many African countries that views homosexuality negatively. “Those who protest vehemently belong to small ideological groups,” he told the Italian daily La Stampa.
“In general, I trust that everyone will gradually calm down on the spirit of the declaration,” Francis said, “which wishes to include, not divide.” He said several times that everyone should feel welcomed in the church.
“We are all sinners,” the pope said. “Why then should we write a list of sinners who can enter the church and a list of sinners who cannot stay in the church? This is not the gospel.”
Asked about the possibility of a schism in an increasingly polarized church, he said he is not concerned.
“There have always been small groups in the church who expressed schismatic tendencies,” Francis said. “You must let them be, and walk and look ahead.”
The 87-year-old pontiff talked about his life as the leader of a global church. He acknowledged feeling lonely at times and said his remedy is prayer.
The pope also spoke about his concern about the major conflicts that are dividing the world, particularly in the Middle East and Ukraine. He called for dialogue and prayers for peace, pushing back against the notion of a just war, a concept with roots in Catholic theology but which the pope said can often be “exploited.”
In the war between Israel and Hamas, the pope most immediately called for the hostages held by Hamas to be released, and he suggested that a longer-term solution lay in the two-state solution laid out in the mid-1990s peace agreements known as the Oslo Accords. Noting that he speaks to parishioners in Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza every day, Francis praised the work of his man on the ground in Israel and the occupied territories, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.
As for Ukraine, Francis commended Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the veteran diplomat and head of the Italian bishops’ conference, who is leading the Vatican peace mission.
“He is good and capable,” the pope said. “He is undertaking a constant and patient diplomatic operation to put conflicts aside and build a climate of reconciliation.”
In the interview, Francis also addressed mounting concerns over his health, saying he is not offended when people ask whether he will resign due to illness. “Resignation is a possibility for every pontiff,” he said, “but I’m not thinking about it now. It doesn’t worry me. If and when I won’t be able to do this anymore, I will start thinking and praying about it.”
Despite his age and the forces tearing at the unity of his church and the world, the pope showed a relentless desire to continue his work and mission, laying out an ambitious list of possible papal trips, including to Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
“I dream of a church that is capable of being close to people concretely and in the complexities and challenges of daily life,” he said. “The church is called to go outward to the peripheries, not only the geographic ones but also the existential ones.”