ROME – In a new interview, Pope Francis urged the world’s “executive classes” to overcome egoism in the fight against the coronavirus, framed abortion as a scientific and human issue rather than a religious one, and cast doubt on his planned trip to Iraq in March.
Speaking to Italian television channel Tg5 in an interview that aired Sunday night, Francis said that when it comes to politics, “the executive class has the right to have different points of view and to impose its own policy. But at this time, we must aim for unity, always.”
Right now, “there is no right to move away from unity,” he said, calling political struggle “noble” but insisting that “if politicians put more emphasis on personal interest than the common interest, they spoil things.”
“At this time, the executive class does not have the right to say ‘I’. They must say ‘we’ and seek unity in the face of the crisis,” he said. “After the crisis, everyone returns to saying ‘I’, but right now, a politician, even a leader, a bishop, a priest, who is not able to say ‘we’ is not up to par.”
Insisting that “unity is superior to conflict,” the pope said conflicts are necessary, but given the current global fight against the coronavirus pandemic, conflicts “must take a vacation” and instead, “the unity of the country, of the church, and of society, must be emphasized.”
“To those who say, ‘in this way we can lose the elections’ I say that it is not the time, this is the moment of gathering,” he said, adding, “this is the time of peace and not crisis, we must sow the common good.”
“I tell all leaders – pastors, politicians, businessmen – to erase the word ‘I’ and to say the word ‘we.’ You lose an opportunity: history will give you another. But don’t do your negotiation, your business on the skin of the brothers and sisters who are suffering due to the crisis,” the pope said.
Pope Francis in his interview also touched on the siege of the United States Capitol last week by a pro-Trump mob contesting the results of November’s US presidential elections, saying he was “shocked” by the episode, which left five people dead, “because this is a people so disciplined in democracy.”
He also spoke of how Italy’s strict coronavirus lockdown in the spring impacted him personally, and said he plans to get vaccinated when the Vatican begins distributing doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, calling the decision to get vaccinated a “ethical option” and a responsibility to protect the health of others.
Among other things, Francis repeated his condemnation of a so-called “culture of waste,” or “throwaway culture,” which he said often rears its head when a crisis such as the coronavirus erupts, and stressed that while vaccines are being distributed, the coronavirus crisis is not over yet, and it could well impact his upcoming March 5-8 visit to Iraq.
At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, when everything was shut down, Francis said he first felt “caged in, then I calmed down and took life as it came. I prayed more, spoke more, use the telephone more, held more meetings to resolve problems.”
“I had to cancel trips, because I can’t cause crowds,” he said, adding, “Now I don’t know if the one to Iraq will be done.”
Life is different as a result of the pandemic, he said, insisting that God can help people “to emerge better from the crisis.”
“You have to take courage and think of others. There is no culture of waste and indifference, but of brotherhood and closeness,” he said, and condemned the culture of waste, in which “people who are not useful are discarded.”
“Children who are not useful are discarded. Children are discarded unwillingly or refusing them if they have some disease or if they are unwanted, as are the elderly, the sick and migrants,” he said, and, speaking of abortion, said it is “not a religious problem.”
“It is a human problem, pre-religious, it is a problem of human ethics,” he said, explaining that religion enters later, but the problem of abortion is one “that even the atheist must resolve in their conscience.”
Whenever the issue of abortion comes up, the pope said a question come to mind: “Do I have the right to do this?” the scientific answer to which, he said, is that “in the third week, almost the fourth, there are all the organs of the new human being in the womb of the mother, it’s a human life.”
“Is it right to eliminate a human life to solve a problem, any problem? No, it’s not right. Is it okay to hire a hitman solve a problem? Someone who kills human life? This is the problem of abortion. Scientifically and humanly,” he said.
Pope Francis then noted that the elderly who are sick or who are no longer productive are also “discarded,” whether they are simply forgotten, or “their death hastened” when the illness is terminal.
“To discard so that it is more comfortable for us and doesn’t bring us so many problems. This is the throwaway culture,” he said, saying this also applies to migrants who drown in the Mediterranean because “they were not allowed to come.”
“How to manage it later, that is another problem that states must approach cautiously and wisely, but letting them drown in order to solve a problem later doesn’t work,” he said, adding, Nobody does it intentionally, it’s true, but if you don’t put the means of help it’s a problem. There is no intention but there is intention.”
Faced with the “throwaway culture,” Francis said “a culture of welcoming” is needed, which prioritizes closeness, brotherhood, and unity.
Pope Francis then stressed the need to come out of the coronavirus crisis better than when it erupted, saying, “you never leave a crisis as you were before. Never. We leave better or worse.”
Whether the world is a better or worse place when it’s all over “depends on us,” he said, adding, “If we want to come out better, there is a way forward. To come out better we have to review everything. The great values have always been there, they do not change with history, but must be translated into reality.”
Pointing to the many conflicts ravaging global society, he said the international community is currently witnessing “World War III, only it is in pieces.”
“This is why I say: we must aim for concrete things,” he said. “With a month’s worth of war expenses, all of humanity would be fed. We must be realistic, today we need realism.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen