Lizzy Davies in Rome The Guardian
In remarks to the Italian daily La Stampa, the Argentinian pontiff said the views he had espoused in his first apostolic exhortation last month – which the rightwing US radio host Rush Limbaugh attacked as "dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong" – were simply those of the church's social doctrine. Limbaugh described the pope's economics as "pure Marxism".
"The ideology of Marxism is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don't feel offended," Francis was quoted as saying.
Defending his criticism of the "trickle-down" theory of economics, he added:
"There was the promise that once the glass had become full it would overflow and the poor would benefit. But what happens is that when it's full to the brim, the glass magically grows, and thus nothing ever comes out for the poor ... I repeat: I did not talk as a specialist but according to the social doctrine of the church. And this does not mean being a Marxist."
In the 95-minute interview, conducted last Tuesday by the newspaper's Vatican correspondent, Andrea Tornielli, but published on Sunday, Francis touched on many of the issues that have dominated his first nine months as head of the Catholic church, such as the suffering of the poor and his reform agenda.
He also took the opportunity to knock down speculation that he was considering taking the radical step of creating a female cardinal, saying he had no idea where the suggestion had come from. "Women in the church must be valued, not 'clericalised'," he said. "Those thinking about women cardinals are suffering a bit from clericalism."
Francis, who was elected as the Catholic church's first Latin American pope in March, turns 77 on Tuesday, and will soon be celebrating his first Christmas as pontiff. He said that his thoughts during that time went above all to Christians living in the Holy Land, where he is expected to go next year.
He said he would like to mark the 50th anniversary of Paul VI's pioneering visit in 1964 – the first papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the first time a reigning pontiff had flown on a plane – along with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian church.
He added that violence targeted at Christians in some parts of the world was forming the basis of what he called a new ecumenism of blood. "In some countries they kill Christians because they wear a cross or have a Bible, and before killing them they don't ask them if they're Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox," he said.
"Those who kill Christians don't ask you for an identity card in order to know what church you were baptised in. We must take this reality into account."
Christmas, said Francis, was a time of hope and tenderness that should shake people from indifference when they are confronted with suffering in the world.
Railing against food wastage, he said that at a recent general audience he had seen a mother with a hungry baby who was crying and had told her to feed the child in spite of being in front of the pope. "She was modest," he said. "She did not want to breast-feed him in public while the pope was passing by … I would like to repeat what I said to that woman, to humanity: feed those who are hungry! May the hope and tenderness of Christmas shake us from indifference."
Francis, who has made no secret of his desire to change the way the Vatican is run, said the Council of Cardinals – the eight advisers he picked to suggest ways of implementing change – was at the stage of concrete proposals and would be raising their suggestions at their next meeting with him in February. "I am always present at the meetings … but I do not speak, I just listen, and this does me good," Francis told La Stampa.
Speaking of the scandal-plagued Institute for Religious Works (IOR), known as the Vatican bank, the pope said the mission to make it more transparent "was on the right road" but left a question mark hanging over what its future role would be. "Regarding the future of the IOR, we will see," he said. "The Vatican central bank, for example, is supposed to be Apsa [the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which manages the papacy's assets]. The IOR was established to help with works of religion, missions and the poor churches. Then it became what it is now."
Last week Moneyval, the Council of Europe's body monitoring safeguards against money laundering and terrorist funding, gave the Vatican a mixed report, welcoming efforts to clean up its financial institutions but expressing surprise that the Holy See's regulators had not carried out more inspections of the Vatican bank or of Apsa.
Asked about speculation that he may change the rules that bar remarried divorcees from receiving communion, Francis said: "The exclusion from communion of divorcees in a second marriage is not a punishment. It's good to remember that. But [contrary to speculation] I did not speak of this in the exhortation." The pope said marriage as a whole would be discussed in the coming months and many things would be examined in more detail and clarified.
The interview with La Stampa is not the first time Francis has chosen to speak to the media. In September, he talked extensively to Antonio Spadaro of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal, while the newspaper La Repubblica published what it described as an interview with him in early October. The article was later taken down from the Vatican's website, with a spokesman, Federico Lombardi, saying: "The information in the interview is reliable on a general level, but not on the level of each individual point analysed."
The journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, later said he had neither recorded the interview nor taken notes but had tried to relay the pope's thoughts faithfully after their meetings. Tornielli, in a video on La Stampa's website, said he had recorded his papal interview.