VATICAN CITY — Public criticism by cardinals and bishops is annoying — “like a rash that bothers you a bit,” Pope Francis said — but differences need to be aired and criticism can be helpful, he told the Associated Press.
“You prefer that they don’t criticize, for the sake of tranquility,” he said in the interview conducted Jan. 24 and published the next day. “But I prefer that they do it because that means there’s freedom to speak.”
The papacy is not a dictatorship, he said, and, besides, “criticism helps you to grow and improve things.”
Pope Francis objected to the idea that criticism has increased since Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died and that somehow it is related to the late pope no longer being around to quiet the critics.
Instead, he said, it seems to be a natural part of “the wear-and-tear” of his papacy, which is nearing its 10th anniversary. In the early years, he said, everything was new and exciting, but the criticism began “when they started to see my flaws and didn’t like them.”
The AP interview with the pope also covered topics including his health, the ongoing clerical sexual abuse crisis, homosexuality and potential policies for regulating the retirement of a pope who renounces his office.
In the discussion about homosexuality, Pope Francis said that “being homosexual is not a crime. It is not a crime.” And he defined as “unjust” laws that criminalize homosexuality or homosexual activity.
According to Church teaching, homosexual activity is sinful, the pope said, but, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, gay people must be respected and welcomed and not marginalized or discriminated against.
“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” the pope said.
Being gay “is not a crime,” he said. One could say, “‘Yes, but it’s a sin.’ Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”
“It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another,” he added.
Pope Francis said he had no role in lifting the excommunication in 2020 of Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik, a Slovenian priest and artist, who continues to have restrictions on his ministry after additional accusations of sexually, psychologically and spiritually abusing women in a religious order he helped begin.
And while he said he always orders the lifting of the statute of limitations when a case involves someone who was a child at the time of the abuse, he does not when survivors were adults because justice demands respect for the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty and that crimes must be prosecuted within a certain time limit.
As he had done shortly before Pope Benedict’s death, Pope Francis also said he had no plans to issue norms for how a retired pope should live, dress and what he should be called.
But, he said, if he were ever to resign, he would insist on being referred to as the emeritus bishop of Rome and he would live in a Rome diocesan residence for retired priests.
Pope Francis insisted he is “in good health,” at least “normal” for his age, which is 86. His knee has healed, he said, but he told AP that he again is suffering from diverticulosis.