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Pope Francis' CBS interview is surprisingly and refreshingly clear

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Stressing openness and mercy, Francis' emphasis has been on welcoming everyone into the church, and if a mess is made along the way, so be it.

Gretchen R.

In one of the memorable early moments of his pontificate, Pope Francis told millions of young people gathered in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day to "Hagan lio!" or "Make a mess!" Some might say that, over the years, he has (more than?) occasionally followed his own advice, especially when holding a microphone or speaking with a journalist. After-the-fact clarifications have become somewhat commonplace in this pontificate -- whether they be about breeding "like rabbits," white flags in Ukraine or blessings for same-sex couples. Stressing openness and mercy, Francis' emphasis has been on welcoming everyone into the church, and if a mess is made along the way, so be it.
But for a pope who hasn't always been clear over the years -- sometimes even where points of doctrine are concerned -- his recent interview with CBS' Norah O'Donnell offered clarity in spades.
It's important to note first that Pope Francis was clear about the things he has always offered strong clarity on. He spoke direct and compelling truths about the horrors of war (he talks with Holy Family parish in Gaza every night at 7 p.m.), the importance of peace and negotiation, about welcoming the stranger, the fact that the Gospel is open to all and the danger that comes from not caring for our planet. These topics are Francis' passion, and they are so far the best fruits of his pontificate.

But he also offered somewhat surprising clarity on more controversial topics. Regarding perhaps the most significant of these topics -- that of women's ordination -- Pope Francis answered O'Donnell's questions boldly and decisively.
O'Donnell: "Will [a young girl today] ever have the opportunity to be a deacon and participate as a clergy member in the church?"
Pope Francis: "No."
O'Donnell: "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?"
Pope Francis: "If it is deacons with holy orders, no. But women have always had, I would say, the function of deaconesses without being deacons, right?"
For a pope who has organized two separate commissions to study the idea of women in the diaconate, and who recently also set up a synodal study group to consider the issue, it was a clear answer in the negative, with no ambiguity, on any kind of future ordination of women to the diaconate or otherwise.
He also offered clarity on the controversial document on blessings, Fiducia Supplicans ("Supplicating Trust"), released last December, which offers guidelines for what it calls "the blessings of same-sex couples."
When O'Donnell brought up the topic, asking why the pope last year "decided to allow Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples," Pope Francis corrected the question's premise. "No," he said, "what I allowed was not to bless the union; that cannot be done because that is not the sacrament. I cannot. The Lord made it that way. But to bless each person, yes. The blessing is for everyone."
If Fiducia Supplicans had offered that kind of clarity from the outset, the Church and Pope Francis himself might have been spared a painful couple of months in early 2024.
This wasn't a perfect interview, though. There were missed opportunities on Pope Francis' side, especially when speaking about surrogacy, to explain how the church teaches, wisely and correctly, that children are gifts from God, not rights to be achieved by any means possible.
There was also a missed opportunity from O'Donnell, when speaking about clergy sexual abuse, to ask about the Vatican's ongoing investigation into Father Marko Rupnik, the Slovenian-born priest who has gained international recognition both for his liturgical art and for the numerous accusations of sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse leveled against him in the course of his career.
But, all things considered, the interview with O'Donnell was a good one, worth watching especially for the American church audience. In it, Pope Francis spoke clearly and concisely about the great breadth of truth that can be found in all aspects of the beautiful and challenging social teaching of the Church, and in the Gospel itself. And he did so mess-free.

- Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.

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