A Chat with Pope Francis

The Commonweal Interview

Commonweal presents an unprecedented exclusive: Pope Francis’s first interview with a lay Catholic publication. The transcript of the editors’ conversation with the pope has been translated from the original Italian into Latin, then English, and then back into Italian, and then discarded and reconstructed from memory.


Commonweal: Your Holiness—

Pope Francis: Please, call me Francis.

CW: This seems like an awfully…informal location for an interview with a pope.

PF: Ah, Roma Termini, I come here to meet the people. [Aside] Such a beautiful baby! May I kiss? Also, the number sixty-four bus goes from the train station right to the Vatican. Very convenient, but watch out for pickpockets.

CW: Does the papal staff know you’re here?

PF: Eh, they don’t need to know everything.

CW: You seem like a hard man to keep up with.

PF: I like to talk with people. I suppose there is always the danger that I may say something I will regret. After all, that is why my predecessors stuck to speeches and carefully orchestrated encounters with the press: to prevent embarrassing gaffes. You can see how well it worked.

CW: You may have heard that there is some consternation among conservatives in the American church about your recent pronouncements, and how different your style is from the previous pope’s—

PF: Pope Benedict, yes, he was a wonderful man and everything he did was exactly right.

CW: And yet you’re quite different.

PF: I can’t help it, I am just so undisciplined, you see. I picked up so many bad habits in my Jesuit days. If only I were less naïve, I would stop myself from talking to disaffected Catholics in such a friendly way. It gets their hopes up, or so I am told.

CW: Some conservatives are worried you’ll undermine the teachings of the church by appearing to downplay doctrinal orthodoxy.

PF: It would certainly be a shame to deflect attention from the church’s teachings on homosexuality and birth control—just when they were catching on!

CW: There has been some confusion about the accuracy of your reported conversation with the Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari. Did you really say that “the court is the leprosy of the papacy”?

PF: Was I too mild? I thought I was just saying what everyone was thinking.

CW: It seems unlikely that everyone agrees with you.

PF: Maybe not. This is why I have assembled a new group of cardinals to advise me; I’m hoping that they will tell me what people are really thinking. Some say this is dangerous, because my job is to tell people what they ought to think. Something about giving in to the dictatorship of relativism. But figures of speech about “dictatorships” don’t get very far with me. So I will listen, maybe I will hear something interesting. Maybe a good joke. I do like jokes.

CW: Have you received much resistance to your plans to reform the curia?

PF: Well, there was the time somebody passed me a zucchetto with a note inside. It said “Back off or else,” and it was composed of letters cut and pasted from L’Osservatore Romano.

CW: Wow, what did you do?

PF: I blessed it and tossed it back. As for the curia, let them complain. There are plenty of parishes in mission territory that need priests.

CW: That’s awfully blunt, even for you.

PF: Ah, but this is for Commonweal, yes? No one at the Vatican will read it.

CW: Pope Francis…

PF: Please, call me Frank.

CW: Can you say more about your thoughts on women in the church?

PF: Oh, women, women, they are so important. The church herself is a woman, yes? And that is why women are really so much better than men, forgive me if I speak plainly! Without its women the church is like a bumblebee at the post office, as we say in Argentina. We must talk about women very much, in Rome and everywhere. Maybe we should even talk to women. That is how important they are.

CW: And the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood…

PF: Not a chance. Next question.

CW: Have you given any thought to what you might do about the damage from the sex-abuse crisis?

PF: Is that still going on?

CW: In a way, yes.

PF: You know, when bishops come to see me they never bring it up. Surely they would want me to know if it were still a problem. I keep waiting for them to talk about it.

CW: Maybe you should try asking someone else?

PF: Hmm. I might just do that. As we say in Rome, stranger things have happened.

CW: Do they say that in Rome?

PF: They do now.



Commenting Guidelines

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Too bad the transcript was discarded. I'd love to see the Latin version. Appellate me Frank!

Is today April Fool's Day?

What the editorial is not:  Funny, clever, thought-provoking, profound, or worthwhile.  What the editorial is: weak, juvenile, thoughtless, wholly without merit.  

Better suited for a high school newspaper than a Catholic journal of ideas.  Then again I am not sure that it would pass muster even at the 9th grade level.

The editors insult the notion that Catholicism is a thinking religion.


Priceless. But maybe we in mission countries don't want a curial official for pastor.

Well, Editors, I loved it.  It's right up there with the Christmas Cookie Recipe - 2 chalices of flour, etc.

Love it.

I picked up so many bad habits in my Jesuit days.

Did he expand on that?

CW, how come he didn't ask you non-rhetorical questions? I thought he did and took a personal interest in the person he was conversing with.

Well, very funny in any case. Juvenile, I don't know since I wouldn't be able to tell - I still enjoy scatological humor, so this is highbrow for me - but in any case, "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

darn funny!

@Kenneth Ray:

Again with the stream of grave censorious adjectives.  As GKC wrote, recalling the "deep levity" of "the most earnest medieval art," it is too true that "solemnity flows out of men naturally, but laughter is a leap.  It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.  Satan fell by the force of gravity."

Being able to laugh at ourselves is one important characteristic of being a human being.  I am not perfect and I have never met anyone else or any organization or institution that is perfect, including the Church aka the People of God.  Thanks for the laughs.

As Lawrence Welk said: wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

"Ceci n'est pas un Pape."   

Please, call me Frank(ly) amused.

if Pope Francis had no problem bonding with an Italian atheist journalist, he no doubt could handle a candid conversation with an American lay Catholic publication.

@JJI:  If Satan fell by the force of gravity, the editors are falling from self-absorption.  Despite your fondness for the author, G. K. Chesterton remains a minor figure in Western thought.

I suggest you try applying some Shakespeare:  "....the unyoked humor of your idleness..."

The editorial of which we speak is nothing if not the product of idleness:  formulaic, intellectually lazy, and forgettable.  To continue along this path is to guarantee that this journal, and other "counterpoint" publications like it will forever be relegated to the margins of Catholic thinking.

National Lampoon's Vatican Vacation:  Join in the hilarious adventures of the Griswold family as they make a wrong turn (Who knows where?  Venice?  Genoa?) and end up in The Vatican City! Where they meet the Pope -- and a whole bunch of frumpy old guys in shiney red clothes who speak a strange language and burn incense1  Really!   It's the family comedy of the year!


Nice to see Commonweal poke fun at itself since America got the real scoop on the interview with Pope Francis.  

Bravo, bravissimo.  The Pope called me just a little while ago, and he loved it too. Honest..

Didn't Luther say that the only thing the devil can't stand is laughter?

@Justus George Lawler:

Maybe just a phenomenal pope, not a noumenal one?  May the shades of Magritte and Kant forgive us.

Wonderful piece!!!  Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall watching this post being put together. 

Turned on tv and saw a bit of the Pope during his speech at the Vatican interacting with a young boy who it appears wandered onto the stage with him.  Bet you've seen the photos.  My goodness does Francis ever seem to have his priorities in order.

@Kenneth Ray:

My, my.  Disparagement of Chesterton usually comes from a very different quarter --from those often suspected of inadequate "fondness" for the Catholic tradition.  And combining the put-down with one-upping, like that of The Topper in "Dilbert" (I'll see your GKC and raise you a WS)?  A dialectic of that sort can only go from bad to worse (Maybe Prince Hal did become king, but Falstaff got a beer named after him, so there, smarty!).  A disappointing rhetorical gambit, from one so ready to impute immaturity to others.

Your Griswoldian paraphrase recalls the old saying "Oyen campanas y no saben donde."  While not as mysteriously evocative as the one about the bumblebee, this saying is authentic and undoubtedly well known to Francis.  It's about those who hear the sound of bells but can't tell where the bell-tower is.  Years ago I.A. Richards marshalled abundant evidence to demonstrate how badly sense, feeling, tone and intention can be misread, and your reading of the fictional interview adds one more example.  Far from being a crude mockery aimed by ignoramuses at what they don't understand, the "interview" is a knowing and gentle spoof, not so much of Romanità as of the glib representations of Francis and of responses to him in clueless mass media; of the pitfalls of translation; of pontificating taiking heads; of the tendency we all have to create our own images of any public figure; and of Commonweal itself (as Alan Mitchell has observed).

I must say that that was a fascinating interview!  The Pope certainly can be sarcastic!

However, I am beyond disgust.  When, oh when, is a Pope going to make it clear to the global Church and to the world that the NUMBER ONE ISSUE IS PEDOPHILIA IN THE CLERGY.

I would have started out with the most important first question: How is it that you are going to cooperate (participate?) in the canonization of John Paul II who barely spoke out about the huge number of pedophile priests in the Church for, likely, hundreds of years till the present day, and who gave the infamous Cardinal Law of Boston protection, an escape, as he ran from the irate citizens of Boston and of his Archdiocese after he ignored written letters and calls from parents pleading and begging him to do something about the late Father Geoghan, Rev. Paul Shanley, a convicted child abuser who is serving time in prison now and who was a friend of Cardinal Law,  and others whom he merely transferred from post to post as they continued to rape and molest children?  How can this Pope Francis not refuse to participate in  the canonization of the late Pope John Paul II who not only did virtually nothing to address the global crisis of priests who rape children and adults  (he barely spoke about it) and who coddled Cardinal Law when he made flight from Boston, making him Bishop of the largest basilica in Rome?  Cardinal Law is known for his army of defense lawyers who refused to turn over the letters from the parents begging for his intervention until these letters and other documents were ordered to be handed over by a Boston judge. This is so shocking that John Paul II was beatified and now we see that "Frank" has no intention of stopping the canonization.  I have never been able to get over how none of the last 3 popes have made the issue of pedophilia the Number One Issue to be addressed in the Church.  



Robert, you are too right.  I loved the article. 

Of course, the bishops never bring up the subject of the abuse of children or anything else they have been involved in.  They covered up the crimes and sent the abusers to other parishes.  Is this interview for real?

@Eileen M. Ford:

Two suggestions: 

1. Read the text in italics that precedes the "interview."

2. Have a look at this:


@Eileen M. Ford: That link didn't come through correctly the first time.  Trying again:


@Eileen M. Ford:

Still not right.  To get the right article you need to be sure you use the entire url, which describes the radio drama rather than the H.G. Welles novel.  For some reason the last part keeps getting left off the link.  The disambiguation page on Wikepedia should take care of it.

Men will never ordain women, poppycock! It's already being done-we're sitting in the male-only section of the pews and saying we won't take it anymore because everyone has been cheated for over 1500 years by only half of humanity leading at the table.  We are leading the Church in more ways than one--in that he's right and we do not need a Theology of Women written and reasoned by men because we know who and what we are because we've been here the whole time, even though they haven't acknowledged it--we do not need to be told who and what we are as women, they are the ones who need to learn who we really are as female humans--the other half of humanity.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Is 'Frank' aware of WOC or RCWP, or not?  Women ARE called and doing it--he IS naive!

Rignt on, Janice! A priest from RCWP is my pastor. She is an inspiration to the women and men in our community.

Delightful! But you forgot to tell us how Pope Francis was dressed when he took bus 64 from Vatican City to Stazione Termini.  White cassock? No! Black cassock? No! Too recognizable... If in lay clothes, people would remark his face looked a bit like Pope Francis.  Even John XXIII used to sneak out of the Vatican to have a glass of wine with some friends among the elderly priests in a Rome hospital...

Dekightful!  But you forgot to tell us how Pope Francis was dressed when he took bus 64 from Vatican City to Stazione Termini...  White cassock?  No!   Black cassock?  No!  Too recognizable...  In lay clothes, people woulf just remark his face looked a bit like Pope Francis...  Even John XXIII used to sneak out of the Vatican to have a glass of wine with some friends among the elderly priests in a Rome hospital,,,

It was TOO.  I laughed and laughed!  Especially about the translations!  Then I periodically got caught up short.  Forget women priests.  Humph.  Maybe this counts as being profound, or at least thought-provoking.  But then I laughed and laughed again!   Call me Frank!   Now I know what's been missing in the Catholic Church.  May we all learn to laugh at outselves.  It's part of the Good News.  May the Lord be with you.

:-) !


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