Who is Jorge Bergoglio, the new Pope? What does he think about contemporary issues? The handful of translated quotes which constitute his work in English up to now do not give a rounded idea of what he thinks. Here are a few paragraphs from his 2011 book Sobre el cielo y la tierra (On heaven and earth). It is a wide-ranging dialogue with a well-known Argentinian rabbi, Abraham Skorka, on religious and social topics.
The future of religion
There have been worse times for religions than the present. Nonetheless they pulled through. Perhaps nowadays there is a scarcity of religious people, but there were times in the past when there was a scarcity of virtue. There have been corrupt times in the Church… There were very difficult times and nonetheless religion revived. Suddenly there appear people like Teresa of Calcutta who revolutionise the notion of personal dignity, who spend their time… helping people to die. These deeds create mysticism and renew the religious sense.
In the history of the Catholic Church, the true renovators are the saints. They are the true reformers, the ones who change, transform, lead and revive spiritual paths. Another example: Francis of Assisi, who introduced a new attitude towards poverty in Christianity when faced with the luxury, pride and vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He introduced a mysticism of poverty, of detachment, and he changed history.
When you pick up a volume of the social teaching of the Church you are amazed at what it condemns. For example, it condemns economic liberalism. Everyone thinks that the Church is against Communism, but it is as opposed to that system as it is to the savage economic liberalism which exists today. That is not Christian either and we cannot accept it. We have to search for equality of opportunities and rights, to fight for social benefits, a dignified retirement, holidays, rest, freedom for trade unions. All of these issues create social justice. There should be no have-nots and I want to emphasise that the worst wretchedness is not to be able to earn your bread, not to have the dignity of work.
If we think of globalisation as a billiard ball, the rich virtues of each culture will be destroyed. The true globalisation which we have to defend is like a polyhedron, in which everyone fits, but each one keeps their particular characteristics, which, at the same time, enrich the others.
There have always been homosexuals. The island of Lesbos is known as a place where homosexual women lived. But never in history has anyone sought to give it the same status as marriage. Whether it was tolerated or not, whether it was admired or not, no one regarded it as equivalent. We know that in moments of great change, the phenomenon of homosexuality increased. But this is the first time that anyone posed the legal possibility of equating it with marriage. I regard it as a retrograde step, anthropologically speaking. I am saying this because it transcends the religious question; it is an anthropological one. If a union is private, no third parties or society are affected. But now that it has been given the status of marriage and given facilities for adoption, children will be affected. Everyone needs a masculine father and a feminine mother to help them shape their identity.
Catholic morality says that one must do what is needed, the ordinary things, for someone whose life is drawing to a close. Quality of life should be assured. The power of medicine for terminal cases is not fundamentally in making someone live three days longer or two months longer, but in ensuring that the organism suffers as little as possible. One is not obliged to preserve life with extraordinary means. That can go against the dignity of the person.
Euthanasia is something different; it is killing. I believe that nowadays there is a hidden euthanasia: the health services pay up to a certain level of treatment and then they say “may God look after you”. An elderly person is not cared for as he or she ought to be and ends up on a scrap heap. Sometimes the patient is deprived of medicine and ordinary care and that kills them….
In Catholic moral teaching, no one is obliged to use extraordinary means to get better. We are talking about hanging onto a life which one knows is no longer a life. As long as recovery is possible, we do all that we can. But it is proper to use extraordinary means only if there is some hope of recovery.
In our society we used to speak of the oppressors and the oppressed. As time passed, we realised that this framework was inadequate and we had to add another, those who are included and those who are excluded. Today things have become much worse and we need to add another framework: those who are needed and those who aren’t. In a culture driven by consumerism, hedonism and narcissism, we have become used to looking upon people as useless….
God must love old age a lot because someone who treats his parents respectfully is heaped with blessings. At 74, I am about to enter old age and I’m not reluctant. I am getting ready for it and I want to be vintage wine, not sour wine. The bitterness of an old man is the worst of all, because it is beyond the point of no return. An old man is called to peace, to tranquillity. I ask this grace for myself.
The moral problem of abortion is of a pre-religious nature because the genetic code is written in a person at the moment of conception. A human being is there. I separate the topic of abortion from any specifically religious notions. It is a scientific problem. Not to allow the further development of a being which already has all the genetic code of a human being is not ethical. The right to life is the first among human rights. To abort a child is to kill someone who cannot defend himself.
You cannot acquire the virtue of hope by yourself; the Lord must give it to you. But another thing is how we use it, administer it, accept it… The way we look at it, hope is one of the three theological virtues, along with faith and charity. We normally give more importance to faith and charity. However, hope is what structures our path in life. One danger is that we fall in love with the path and lose sight of the goal; another danger is quietism: to be looking at the goal and doing nothing on the path. Christianity has experienced times when there were powerful quietist movements. These go against the commandment of God which says that we have to transform the world, to work.
Science has its own autonomy and it must be respected and encouraged. We should not meddle with scientists’ autonomy. Unless, that is, they step outside the boundaries of their own fields and step into the transcendent. Science is fundamentally a tool for the commandment received from God which says, increase, multiply and dominate the earth. Within its autonomy, science transforms a world without culture into a world with culture. But we must take care. When the autonomy of science is unaware of its own limits and steps out of bounds, its own creation can slip from its hands. This is the story of Frankenstein.
Religion in state schools
In the Bible, God presents himself as a teacher. “I myself taught Ephraim to walk, I myself took them by the arm,” it says. A believer is obliged to raise his children. Every man and every woman has a right to educate their children in their religious values. When a government deprives children of this formation, it can lead to cases like Nazism, when children were indoctrinated with values which were alien to the ones held by their parents. Totalitarianism tends to take over education to feather its own nest…
Translation by MercatorNet.