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‘60 Minutes’ Revealed ‘What Pope Francis Really Said’ All Along

What Pope Francis said on 60 Minutes seemed to be a surprise to a lot of people. But it shouldn’t have been.

A friend and I have been playing a game for the past few years — though I’m not sure it’s a game for him. Let’s call it the “What Pope Francis Really Said” game. I call it that because of my book, of course (which is newly available on Audible, by the way).

The game goes like this: He texts me, outraged about the latest outrageous thing Pope Francis “said.” First, I look to the article he read, and point out to him that what he is reading gives severely edited Francis quotes, surrounded with a lot of characterization of what he said. Then, when I can, I find a transcript of what Pope Francis really said, and give him the context. Usually, it turns out that the media has grossly mischaracterized what the pope said.

So, to him and to me, the “surprising” things Pope Francis said in his 60 Minutes interview were not so surprising after all. Here are some examples.

On same-sex attraction, Francis is committed to the full Catholic teaching.

In his CBS interview with Nora O’Donnell (a different transcript is here), Pope Francis corrected the record on Fiducia Supplicans (On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings), the Vatican document on blessing same-sex persons, clarifying what the Vatican also clarified in Dignitas Infinitas (On Human Dignity) later.

Pope Francis said, “What I allowed was not to bless the union, that cannot be done because that is not the sacrament … but to bless each person, yes. The blessing is for everyone.” He added, “To bless a homosexual-type union, however, goes against the given right, against the law of the Church. But to bless each person, why not? The blessing is for all.”

In my book, I cover Pope Francis’s grossly misrepresented “Who am I to judge?” comment. He has explained his true position many time since then, though it is not often covered in the media, left or right. One place he described it is in a book covered here in the article “In New Book, Pope Francis Stresses the Full Teaching on Homosexuality.”

That “full teaching” includes supporting what the Catechism teaches about the immorality of homosexual acts, but also what the Catechism teaches about  accepting homosexual persons. Pope Francis reaffirmed that second part of the teaching on 60 Minutes also. O’Donnell quoted Francis saying “Homosexuality is not a crime” and Francis answered: “No. It is a human fact.”

On women’s ordination Francis gave a strong No.

It was fascinating to read the transcript of Pope Francis’s clear and brief answers to Nora O’Donnell on the ordination of women.

She said, “I’m curious for a little girl growing up Catholic today, will she ever have the opportunity to be a deacon and participate as a clergy member in the church?”

“No,” said Pope Francis.

“I understand you have said no women as priests, but you are studying the idea of women as deacons. Is that something you are open to?”

“No. If it is deacons with holy orders, No,” said Pope Francis. “But women have always had, I would say the function of deaconesses without being deacons, right? Women are of great service as women, not as ministers. As ministers in this regard, within the Holy Orders.”

On immigration Francis says: Welcome them in — but send some back.

One big debate raging in the nation and in the Church is the debate over immigration.

On the one hand there is a great concern that, as a wealthy nation bordering an impoverished one, America has a moral duty to help immigrants support their families’ needs. On the other hand is the fear that a policy that amounts to open borders, putting little check on who is allowed in and in what circumstances, is open to abuses, including allowing criminal elements into the country.

Pope Francis said, “To close the border and leave them there, that is madness. The migrant has to be received. Thereafter you see how you are going to deal with him. Maybe you have to send him back, I don’t know, but each case ought to be considered humanely.”

This is the same balanced immigration policy Pope Francis has had all along. I cover it in the book and have covered here in “Our Lady of Guadalupe and U.S. Immigration” and “Catholic Can Transform the Immigration Debate?” The answer? The nation should do what it can to welcome immigrants without compromising safety. The Church’s job is to support and develop the faith of immigrants, just like we did at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. The real scandal today is that Catholic parishes are not at the forefront of efforts to integrate immigrants into American life, making them good Catholic citizens.

On in vitro fertilization, Pope Francis delivered the Church’s No.

Since all television is edited, it’s unclear whether Pope Francis was made more blunt or less blunt by 60 Minutes editors. But again and again, he gave clear answers that amounted to, “No. That’s against the rules.”

That is what happened in the interview when he was asked about surrogate motherhood, which is how children are born by in vitro fertilization.

“I know women who are cancer survivors who cannot bear children and they turn to surrogacy,” said O’Donnell. “This is against church doctrine, but what about the children who are born from surrogacy?”

In the portion of the interview in the transcripts, Pope Francis doesn’t respond about the children, but focuses on the mothers.

“In regard to surrogate motherhood, in the strictest sense of the term, it is not authorized. See, sometimes surrogacy has become a business and that is very bad. It is very unpalatable,” he said.

“But sometimes for some women it is the only hope,” counters O’Donnell.

“It could be,” answers Pope Francis. “The other hope is adoption.”

Two Benedictine College professors’ articles recently delved into the morality of in vitro fertilization.

Last, on his challenges to ideology, Pope Francis has been consistent.

All the recent popes — St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis — have condemned ideologies, which tend to reduce the human person to one dimension or another. When the popes criticize their ideology, Americans who self-identify as liberal or conservative are quick to defend or denounce the pope, depending on how their ideology fairs.

Pope Francis did this again on 60 Minutes. About the campus protests against Israel, he said words that may have upset liberal listeners and cheered conservative ones. “All ideology is bad, and antisemitism is an ideology, and it is bad,” said Pope Francis. “Any ‘anti’ is always bad. You can criticize one government or another, the government of Israel, the Palestinian government. You can criticize all you want, but not ‘anti’ a people. Neither anti-Palestinian nor antisemitic. No.”

But then, what he said about doctrinaire elements in the Church in the United States, quoted here by EWTN, may have upset conservatives and cheered liberals. Pope Francis said: “You use the adjective ‘conservatives.’ That is to say, a conservative is one who sticks to something and does not want to see anything else. It is a suicidal attitude. Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to take into account situations from the past, but another is to be closed inside a dogmatic box.”

There is much to criticize in the governance of Pope Francis. Much has been written about his appointments to Vatican initiatives, missteps on sexual abuse issues, and statements that allow the media to mischaracterize them. But as Larry Chapp is fond of saying, in terms of doctrine, Pope Francis has not budged from the Church’s teaching on important Catholic doctrine at all.

Those on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide need to be more open to challenging their own assumptions in order to avoid locking into ideology when their loyalty ultimately should be to Jesus Christ,  who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Image: Wikmedia Commons


Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.