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Pope Francis tells 60 Minutes in rare interview: "the globalization of indifference is a very ugly disease"

Pope Francis: The 60 Minutes Interview
Pope Francis: The 60 Minutes Interview 13:39

Francis is the first pope from the Americas, the first of his name, and more than any other pope in recent memory, has dedicated his life and ministry to the poor, the peripheral, and the forgotten. All while leading the Catholic Church on difficult, sometimes controversial issues that not everyone supports. We were granted a rare interview at the Vatican, and spoke to him, in his native Spanish, through a translator, for more than an hour. Not lost in translation was the 87 year old's warmth, intelligence and conviction. We began by discussing the Church's first World Children's Day. Next weekend, Pope Francis will welcome tens of thousands of young people to the Vatican, including refugees of war.

Norah O'Donnell: During World Children's Day, the U.N. says over a million people will be facing famine in Gaza, many of them children. 

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): Not just in Gaza. Think of Ukraine. Many kids from Ukraine come here. You know something? That those children don't know how to smile? I'll say something to them (mimics smile)… they have forgotten how to smile. And that is very painful.

Norah O'Donnell: Do you have a message for Vladimir Putin when it comes to Ukraine?

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): Please, warring countries, all of them, stop. Stop the war. You must find a way of negotiating for peace. Strive for peace. A negotiated peace is always better than an endless war. 

Pope Francis and Norah O'Donnell
Pope Francis and Norah O'Donnell 60 Minutes

Norah O'Donnell: What's happening-- in Israel and Gaza, has caused so much division, so much pain around the world. I don't know if you've seen in the United States, big protests on college campuses and growing antisemitism. What would you say about how to change that?

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): All ideology is bad, and antisemitism is an ideology, and it is bad. Any "anti" is always bad. You can criticize one government or another, the government of Israel, the Palestinian government. You can criticize all you want, but not "anti" a people. Neither anti-Palestinian nor antisemitic. No.

Norah O'Donnell: I know you call for peace. You have called for a cease-fire in many of your sermons. Can you help negotiate peace?

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): (sighs) What I can do is pray. I pray a lot for peace. And also, to suggest, "Please, stop. Negotiate."

Prayer has been at the center of the pope's life since he was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, in 1936, into a family of Italian immigrants. Before entering the seminary, Bergoglio worked as a chemist.

His own personal formula is simplicity. He still wears the plain silver cross he wore as the archbishop of Buenos Aires. Though it's not what Francis wears, but where he lives that set the tone for his papacy, 11 years ago.  

Instead of a palace above St. Peter's Square, he chose the Vatican guest house Casa Santa Marta as his home. 

We met him there under a painting of the Virgin Mary. Surrounded by the sacred, Francis has not forsaken his sense of humor, even when discussing serious subjects, like the migrant crisis.

Norah O'Donnell: My grandparents were Catholic. Immigrated from Northern Ireland in the 1930s to the United States, seeking a better life. And I know your family, too, fled fascism. And you have talked about with migrants, many of them children, that you encourage governments to build bridges, not walls.

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): Migration is something that makes a country grow. They say that you Irish migrated and brought the whiskey, and that the Italians migrated and brought the mafia… (laugh) It's a joke. Don't take it badly. But, migrants sometimes suffer a lot. They suffer a lot.

Pope Francis and Norah O'Donnell
Pope Francis and Norah O'Donnell 60 Minutes

Norah O'Donnell: I grew up in Texas, and I don't know if you've heard, but the state of Texas is attempting to shut down a Catholic charity on the border with Mexico that offers undocumented migrants humanitarian assistance. What do you think of that?

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): That is madness. Sheer madness. To close the border and leave them there, that is madness. The migrant has to be received. Thereafter you see how you are going to deal with him. Maybe you have to send him back, I don't know, but each case ought to be considered humanely. Right? 

A few months after becoming pope, Francis went to a small Italian island near Africa, to meet migrants fleeing poverty and war.

Norah O'Donnell: Your first trip as Pope was the Island of Lampedusa, where you talked about suffering. And I was so struck when you talked about the globalization of indifference. What is happening? 

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): Do you want me to state it plainly? People wash their hands! There are so many Pontius Pilates on the loose out there… who see what is happening, the wars, the injustice, the crimes… "That's OK, that's OK" and wash their hands. It's indifference. That is what happens when the heart hardens… and becomes indifferent. Please, we have to get our hearts to feel again. We cannot remain indifferent in the face of such human dramas. The globalization of indifference is a very ugly disease. Very ugly.

Pope Francis has not been indifferent to the Church's most insidious scandal– the rampant sexual abuse of hundreds of thousands of children worldwide, for decades.  

Norah O'Donnell: You have done more than anyone to try and reform the Catholic Church and repent for years of unspeakable sexual abuse against children by members of the clergy. But has the church done enough?

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): It must continue to do more. Unfortunately, the tragedy of the abuses is enormous. And against this, an upright conscience and not only to not permit it but to put in place the conditions so that it does not happen.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis 60 Minutes

Norah O'Donnell: You have said zero tolerance.

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): It cannot be tolerated. When there is a case of a religious man or woman who abuses, the full force of the law falls upon them. In this there has been a great deal of progress.

It's Francis' capacity for forgiveness and openness that has defined his leadership of the Church's nearly 1.4 billion Catholics. He put them and the world on notice, during an impromptu press conference on a plane in 2013, when he spoke on the subject of homosexuality.

"If someone is gay," he said, "and he searches for the Lord and has good will…who am I to judge?" 

… and he did not stop there.

Norah O'Donnell: Last year you decided to allow Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples. That's a big change. Why?

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): No, 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. For everyone. To bless a homosexual-type union, however, goes against the given right, against the law of the Church. But to bless each person, why not? The blessing is for all. Some people were scandalized by this. But why? Everyone! Everyone!

Norah O'Donnell: You have said, "Who am I to judge?" "Homosexuality is not a crime."

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): No. It is a human fact. 

Norah O'Donnell: There are conservative bishops in the United States that oppose your new efforts to revisit teachings and traditions. How do you address their criticism?

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): You used an adjective, "conservative." That is, conservative is one who clings to something and does not want to see beyond that. It is a suicidal attitude. Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box. 

Pope Francis has placed more women in positions of power than any of his predecessors, but he told us he opposes allowing women to be ordained as priests or deacons.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis 60 Minutes

Francis' devotion to traditional doctrine led one Vatican reporter to note that he's changed the tune of the Church, but the lyrics essentially remain the same. This frustrates those who want to see him change policy on Roman Catholic priests marrying; contraception, and surrogate motherhood.  

Norah O'Donnell: I know women who are cancer survivors who cannot bear children, and they turn to surrogacy. This is against church doctrine.

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): In regard to surrogate motherhood, in the strictest sense of the term, no, it is not authorized. Sometimes surrogacy has become a business, and that is very bad. It is very bad.

Norah O'Donnell: But sometimes for some women it is the only hope.

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): It could be. The other hope is adoption. I would say that in each case the situation should be carefully and clearly considered, consulting medically and then morally as well. I think there is a general rule in these cases, but you have to go into each case in particular to assess the situation, as long as the moral principle is not skirted. But you are right. I want to tell you that I really liked your expression when you told me, "In some cases it is the only chance." It shows that you feel these things very deeply. Thank you. (smiles)

Norah O'Donnell: I think that's why so many people-- have found hope with you, because you have been more open and accepting perhaps than other previous leaders of the church.

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): You have to be open to everything. The Church is like that: Everyone, everyone, everyone. "That so-and-so is a sinner…?" Me too, I am a sinner. Everyone! The Gospel is for everyone. If the Church places a customs officer at the door, that is no longer the church of Christ. Everyone.

Norah O'Donnell: When you look at the world what gives you hope?

Pope Francis (In Spanish/English translation): Everything. You see tragedies, but you also see so many beautiful things. You see heroic mothers, heroic men, men who have hopes and dreams, women who look to the future. That gives me a lot of hope. People want to live. People forge ahead. And people are fundamentally good. We are all fundamentally good. Yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good. 

Produced by Keith Sharman, Julie Morse and Anna Matranga. Associate producer, Roxanne Feitel. Broadcast associates, Eliza Costas and Callie Teitelbaum. Edited by Jorge J. García.

Pope Francis sits down for a historic interview with CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell in an hour-long special airing Monday, May 20 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS and streaming on Paramount+. In a wide-ranging conversation, Francis speaks about countries at war, his vision for the Catholic Church, his legacy, his hope for children and more.

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