POPE FRANCIS REJECTS HERO-WORSHIP AND SAYS HE IS A NORMAL PERSON
Pope Francis Graffiti
Graffiti showing Pope Francis as a superhero near Vatican City in Rome. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, London,Wednesday 5 March 2014 17.36 GMT
Last modified on Tuesday 3 June 2014 08.11 BST
He has graced the cover of Rolling Stone, been depicted as a street-art superhero and is greeted by crowds of adoring fans wherever he goes. But Pope Francis has told a newspaper he has had enough of the hero worship that has accompanied his year-long papacy, describing it as offensive and insisting he is just “a normal person”.
In an interview published in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera almost 12 months after his election, Francis said he objected to the image of him that has been widely propagated.
The Argentinian pontiff, 77, has dramatically altered the style of the papacy, making a series of symbolic choices that have solidified his persona as a plain-living, down-to-earth and genial head of the Catholic church.
But, as a new magazine launched in Italy dedicated entirely to him and the Vatican prepared to mark his first anniversary with a DVD of behind-the-scenes footage, Francis rejected the excesses of so-called Francescomania.
“Sigmund Freud used to say, if I’m not mistaken, that in every idealisation there is an attack,” he said. “Depicting the pope as a kind of superman, a kind of star, seems to me offensive. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person.”
Giving interviews to the mainstream media is one of the ways in which Francis has struck a new tone in the Vatican since his election last March.
But the encounters have not always gone smoothly: the Vatican chose to take down an interview with him that appeared in La Repubblica after doubt sprang up over certain passages in the published text and the journalist admitted he had neither recorded the conversation nor taken notes during it.
Francis said that, while he liked “to be among the people”, he did not appreciate the assumptions he said were made about his stance on core issues.
“I do not like the ideological interpretations, this kind of Pope Francis mythology,” he said. “When, for example, it is said that I leave the Vatican at night to feed the homeless in Via Ottaviano [a street just outside Vatican City]. Such a thing has never occurred to me.”
In some of his comments, Francis appeared to want to strike a balance between insisting that doctrine on issues such as contraception and civil partnerships would not change and hinting, nonetheless, that their application should sometimes take account of pastoral realities in a more pragmatic way.
On birth control, he said that, while doctrinal change was not a possibility, the important thing for the church was “to ensure that pastoral care takes into account situations and what is possible for people”. And, while re-emphasising the church’s position that “matrimony is between a man and a woman”, the pope appeared to indicate that the church should judge non-marital civil unions on a case-by-case basis.
“The secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, driven by the need to regulate economic aspects between people, like, for example, ensuring health care,” he was quoted as saying. “The different cases need to be looked at and evaluated in their variety.”
When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, the pope is reported to have been a supporter of same sex civil partnerships as a potential compromise with the government when it was pushing through gay marriage. The move earned him a reputation as a pragmatic rather than zealous enforcer of church teaching. On Wednesday, however, the Vatican said that Francis had in the interview been speaking “in very general terms and did not specifically refer to same-sex marriage as a civil union.” Francis also took the opportunity to defend the church’s record on the clerical sex-abuse scandal, an issue on which he has rarely spoken about.
While acknowledging the crimes committed as “terrible” occurrences, which left “very deep wounds”, he praised the efforts of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, in responding to the crisis.
“On this the church has done a great deal,” he said. “Perhaps more than anyone else. The statistics concerning the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking but they also show clearly that the great majority of abuse occurs within families and among acquaintances. The Catholic church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. And yet the church is the only one to be attacked.” To mark the anniversary of the church’s first non-European pope for almost 1,300 years, the Vatican is not only producing a series of commemorative coins and stamps but also preparing to release a video from the night Francis was chosen as pope.
The church, however, is not the only organisation regarding 13 March as a date to watch. Mondadori, the publishing company controlled by the family of the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, has brought out a new weekly magazine devoted to the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Entitled Il Mio Papa, or My Pope, the fanzine contains an array of Francis trivia and comment, including tips on the best places to stand in St Peter’s Square to catch his Sunday blessing, photographs of the guesthouse where he lives, and a centrefold picture of the pontiff smiling in his white cassock.