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Pope Francis: 'I am a sinner'

March 8, 2017

The pope highlighted the dangers of personality cults and populism in an interview. Francis spoke with German "Zeit" weekly in his first major interview with a German newspaper.

Vatikan Papst gedenkt in Weihnachtsbotschaft der Kriegs- und Terroropfer
Image: Reuters/A. Bianchi

"Zeit" published a preview of an interview with Pope Francis, in which the pontiff highlighted the importance of taking a critical approach to matters of faith. Francis told the weekly newspaper that any kind of faith that didn't face times of crisis "remains infantile."

When asked whether he had ever doubted the existence of God, Pope Francis replied "I, too, know these empty moments."

"But crises also provide an opportunity to grow," he said.

A fallible pope

The interview, which is to be published in its full length on Thursday, is the first of its kind with a German newspaper since he became Pope four years ago. It deals with a number of spiritual as well as political issues, examining the Pope's personal outlook on a number of current events. The leader of the Catholic Church worldwide stressed as one of his key messages in the interview that he did not want a cult following to build around his persona:

"We mustn't forget that any form of idealization of a human being always brings a subliminal brand of aggression with it as well. If I am idealized I feel under attack," the Pope said, rejecting the personality cult that some members of the Church are cultivating.

Francis also told "Zeit" that he does not consider himself to be special in any way, saying about himself: "I, too, am a sinner, and am fallible."

Francis' crusade against populism

Taking his views one step further, Francis projected the same values on the growth of populism in politics around the globe, saying that "populism is evil and ends badly, as has been shown by the past century."

Time's Person of the Year cover image Pabst Franziskus
Francis said he was against his growing personality cultImage: Time Magazine

"Populism means using the people," Pope Francis said, adding that it would always seek its justification in a compulsion to preserve the identity of the people. Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, had previously compared the trend of growing populism with the rise of Hitler in Germany. He further said that populism always required "a messiah" figure to succeed, hinting at its incompatibility with Christian values and highlighting its foundation in fear while spreading a message of hope for people living under growing oppression:

"Truth means to be free of fear. Fears close doors. Freedom opens them. And when there is only little freedom, it can still open a small window at least."

A religion in flux

The interview with "Zeit" took place at the end of February 2017, also highlighting a number of issues and struggles the Catholic Church faces in Germany.

Will Catholics and Protestants reunite?

The Pope commented among other things on the growing lack of priests in the country, and also spoke about the celebration year of Martin Luther in Germany marking the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant movement in central Europe.

Other issues discussed in the article include the Catholic Church's policy on celibacy for priests while allowing married priests from other Christian denominations to convert to Catholicism.

Sertan Sanderson Moderation
Sertan Sanderson DW journalist & human seeking to make sense of the world and understand what motivates other humansSertanSanderson