After five ballots, in which black smoke poured from the chimney at the Sistine Chapel, white smoke was finally seen on Wednesday evening and the world welcomed a new Pope, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I. Newspapers reported that the 115 Cardinals ‘…were locked up behind the Vatican walls and cut off from the outside world since Tuesday,’ – some might say that the Vatican has been ‘cut off from the outside world’ for decades no matter where the Cardinals happen to be – but that’s a whole other story.
After greeting the excited crowd and sharing a prayer, Pope Francis I retired to the Vatican chambers. After almost two days locked away in the voting room, His Holiness was reportedly suffering social media withdrawals and logged on to Twitter as soon as he could, to tweet ‘HABERMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM,’ which translates to ‘We have a new Pope, Francis.’ So excited was the Pope he did not realise the caps lock key was on and thus shouted his tweet.
This weekend Pope Francis gave his first and exclusive, tell all interview which is transcribed below.
OF: Welcome Your Holiness and congratulations on being elected Pope.
PF: Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.
OF: If we can start with your choice of name. Many people have assumed you took it from St Francis of Assisi, the 12th century Catholic friar, is that so?
PF: St Francis was a great man, there is no doubt about that, however that is not where I took my inspiration for the name. As you know I was raised in a poor working class family in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We did not have many material possessions in our home, I was one of five children and we had to share a room, share our toys and my mother would even make clothes for us. When I was 13 my father bought a television, it was a great thing at the time and many of our neighbours and family would come and watch it. We watched many programs from America when I was a child, but my absolute favourite character of all time was a talking donkey called Francis the Mule.
OF: Francis the Mule?
PF: Oh yes, that donkey and his friends were so funny and got up to so many whacky adventures. My childhood friends and I would spend hours watching him over and over again laughing so hard, it was always an event when a the latest Francis the Mule film opened at the theatre or screened on television. It was my most favourite show as a child.
OF: That’s an unusual inspiration for a papal title. What was the reaction of the other Cardinals?
PF: Oh, they all assumed it was taken from St. Francis of Assisi as well and I was happy to go along with that. There was also the issue of the Vatican email accounts. I didn’t really want a number or a bunch of messy roman numerals next to my name, so that ruled out the popular choices of John, Benedict, Gregory, Clement and Leo, and then Pope_Francis@vatmail.com was available, so I snapped it up! I don’t know if the other Cardinals would approve of my inspiration coming from a talking TV donkey, but hey, I’m the Pope now and it’s too late to change it [laughs].
OF: Commentators have been announcing your election as ‘surprising,’ ‘fresh,’ and even ‘controversial,’ given that you are the first Pope from South America and the first from the Jesuit branch of the church. What plans do you have in store to reform the church?
PF: The first changes I want to make are here at the Vatican. You see, Benedict and I did not see eye to eye on many things and interior design was one of them – Germans really have no sense of style and he was no exception. Everything here is so bland, so I will add a splash of colour to this place, brighten it up a bit! I need to buy some new curtains, some cushion covers and a rug – oh, and a vacuum cleaner. Benedict was such a slob – I have already found biscuit crumbs in between the cushions on the couch and he left coffee rings on the dining room table and the shower smells a bit funny – just between you and me [leans forward], I think he peed in the shower [winks]!
I will make some changes to the outfits too. It gets awfully hot here in Rome in the summer, so I might get someone to design some informal papal shorts or a loin cloth, and thongs – just like Jesus wore – you know, that sort of thing would be good for getting around the house. I might invite you back for a photo shoot when it’s all done.
OF: That would be something – and what of the broader issues facing the church?
PF: Oh, like all that child abuse stuff?
OF: Yes, that seems to be the main issue which is seeing many followers distance themselves or move away completely from the church.
PF: Mmm, I have heard many commentators speaking about my views on that and other issues. The abuse of children in the church is a horrible thing, there is no doubt about that and the Vatican is doing everything it can – relocating priests, paying off victims, silencing dissenters and many others things – to try and solve this terrible problem. It has taken many, many years of hard work to get to this point and we will continue to do our best to end this problem.
In saying that, it would be a far worse situation for society if we let children be adopted by gay parents or let those parents marry or worse still murder children before they are even born, through evils like abortion and birth control. We must be sensitive to the plans of God, of which these abnormal practices are not included.
OF: Ok, so those who are speaking of you as a ‘reformer’ are inaccurate?
PF: Inaccurate? That’s an understatement. I won’t be changing anything! The church has survived for 2000 years by doing things a certain way. Just because I catch the bus and cook my own food does not mean I accept men marrying men or abortions or women’s ordination. Do people really draw that conclusion? Gee whiz, they are optimists, I mean, I’m a deeply religious 76 year old man, I became a priest in 1969 and am now head of the Catholic Church, one of the oldest and most conservative movements in the world – people really need to consider that.
OF: So what then, will be atop the agenda for Pope Francis I?
PF: Look, by the time I get the new curtains and everything else at home sorted out it will probably be Easter and that’s always a busy time. Last year I was in Argentina and I couldn’t find any Hot Cross Buns, so I really want to get some this year. Oh, that reminds me, I’m almost out of milk, I’ll have to pick some up tomorrow, oh and some butter and bread and apple juice. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, we were talking about my agenda. So after Easter I’ll probably sit down with some world leaders for the requisite photo shoots. Then I will meet with Benedict and some other Cardinals, we have to try and find new ways of selling my image as a humble man. That really is a stroke of genius that our PR team has come up with. The whole bus riding, cooking, luggage carrying, foot washing image is great for the church. It will surely ease some pressure from the poor folks targeted by SNAP and other organisations because of that whole child abuse stuff. Essentially, we need to be clever and come up with activities and statements that appear reformist, however ensure the status quo remains, and I can assure we’ll be working very hard on that.
OF: One final topic to cover, that of Amalia Damonte, your childhood sweetheart, could you tell us the story there?
PF: Oh yes, Amalia. We grew up in the same neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. I was 12 years old when I first had sinful thoughts about her. We would spend many afternoons together and it is true that I sent her a picture of a potential marital house. However, once her father clued onto us he forbade her to see me again. For me it was a sign from God and it was then I decided to enter the priesthood.
OF: Was that difficult for you?
PF: Oh no, not at all, I was welcomed with open arms into the church. The Fathers were very enthusiastic for young boys to join the priesthood. It was initially difficult to stop thinking about Amalia in a sinful way, but that eventually passed and my relationship with and love of God grew larger. The rest as they say is history and here I am as Pope Francis I.
OF: Pope Francis thank you for your time.
PF: You’re welcome, God Bless you.