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CULTURE | 05-04-2023 10:11

Porn, sex abuse, gender: Pope Francis tackles thorny issues in youth Q&A

New film released Wednesday shows Pope Francis gamely confronting intimate accounts of abortion, gender identity, and paedophilia in the Catholic Church.

Confronting intimate accounts of abortion, gender identity and paedophilia, Pope Francis gamely takes part in a no-holds-barred encounter with young adults in a new film released Wednesday, accepting both questions and rebukes.

The documentary captures a meeting in Rome last year between 10 young Spanish speakers from around the globe and the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics.

He is met with an array of blunt questions and challenges, tearful personal stories and frank affirmations.

"Do you know Tinder?" asks Celia, one of the participants, in one of the milder questions of the four-hour session that covered issues ranging from migration and racism to mental health, LGBTQ rights, pornography and masturbation.

In Conversations with the Pope, released Wednesday on the Disney+ streaming platform, the Argentine Jesuit does not shy away. He engages with the many questions posed by the youths aged 20 to 25, a mix of Catholics, atheists and Muslims from diverse backgrounds.

From Francis's first entrance into the room in his white cassock, limping because of his "bothersome" knee, the contrast is startling with the group, some sporting tattoos or piercings or wearing baseball caps backwards, and greeting the pope informally.

If some of the young people shed tears while telling their deeply personal stories, others do not hesitate to challenge the pope in criticising the Church as an institution.

"What do you think of Church people or priests who promote hate and use the Bible to support hate speech?" asks Celia, who identifies as non-binary.

"These people are infiltrators who use the Church for their personal passions, for their personal narrowness," responds Francis, calling "narrow ideologies" one of the "corruptions" plaguing the Church.

About the place in the Church for LGBTQ Catholics, Francis says "every person is a child of God," who "doesn't reject anyone."

"I don't have the right to kick anybody out of the Church. My duty is to always welcome," he says.

A young man asks Francis why the Holy See archived a sexual abuse case against a Spanish priest he said had molested him at the age of 11.

"You must be aware that there are many priests and bishops below you who are bad people," says the young man, Juan.

Francis thanks Juan for having reported the priest, saying it showed courage.

"It pains me that the sentence was mild... But now that there's a final judgement, I would like to have that case reviewed. You can count on that," he says.

 

'Less reverence'

Francis himself does not spare criticism for the Church he leads.

If priests do not engage with the faithful outside the Vatican, the Church gets rusty, he says, turning into a "club of nice people" who "lack the courage to get out into the suburbs."

The film was released during Holy Week, the most important event in the Christian calendar, and just days after the pope was hospitalised for three nights with bronchitis.

The goal was to "see one of the most influential people on the planet in dialogue with a group of young people whose lifestyle sometimes clashes head-on with the principles of the Church", said Marius Sánchez, who co-directed the film with fellow Spaniard Jordi Evole.

Sanchez acknowledged to AFP that even while enjoying the pontiff's trust, "we treated him with less reverence than he is used to."

The young people, most from South America, were selected because "they had interesting questions to ask", he said. During initial interviews, they were not told they would eventually be chatting with the pope.

The documentary, shot in June 2022 in Rome's working-class neighbourhood of Pigneto, opens with rare footage of Francis sitting at his desk and having coffee in the dining hall of the Santa Marta residence where he lives in the Vatican.

The film includes some astonishing sequences, such as when one young woman describes to Francis in detail her online porn business, and how it has allowed her to spend more quality time with her daughter.

In a question about the role of women within the Church, another young woman asks the pope: "What's keeping a woman from being in your position?"

The answer, in short: theological reasons.

Patiently and without condescension – but without appearing to convince his audience either – the pontiff explains the Church's position on allowing women to become priests, and on abortion.

Francis is even asked whether he himself ever wanted to be in a relationship, to which he responds: "I was in a relationship before I entered the seminary. But then I chose celibacy."

 

'Middle-class worker'

There are lighter moments, too, where the pope is seen joking with the group or sharing confidences about his personal life.

To a question about the dating app Tinder, the pope admits he does not know it, but responds: "It's funny, young people have an eagerness to meet and that's a good thing."

He tells the group that he does not have a salary, "But that doesn't worry me because I can eat for free."

The pope, born Jorge Bergoglio, says his humble lifestyle is not dissimilar to that of a "middle-class worker."

The former archbishop of Buenos Aires also reveals that he does not have a cellphone. "I'm a bit anachronistic about that," he says.

As for his Twitter accounts, followed by some 54 million people, "they are managed by my secretaries

by Clément Melki & Alexandria Sage, AFP

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