The Questions 60 Minutes should have asked Pope Francis

Published May 20, 2024

The Catholic World Report

Whatever else it managed to accomplish, Norah O’Donnell’s 60 Minutes interview with Pope Francis, aired on May 19, obliterated that much-lauded program’s reputation for hard-hitting investigative journalism. The questions posed touched on none of the crucial issues raised by the pontificate over the past eleven years, even as they reinforced any number of mainstream media caricatures of the pope, his teaching, and his mode of governance.

What questions might Ms. O’Donnell have asked to make for a truly interesting interview on the old Sixty Minutes model? Some possibilities:

+ Your Holiness, you once responded to a reporter’s question about the specific case of a homosexual priest who was trying to lead an upright life by saying that, if a person turns from error and works with grace to live righteously, “Who am I to judge?” The global media immediately and inaccurately universalized this into an all-purpose papal injunction to moral non-judgmentalism about same-sex acts. Have you ever thought it important to correct that misrepresentation?

+ After you decided to live in the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guest house, rather than in the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace, the mainstream media praised this as a refreshing, anti-regal decision. But as you know, the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is far more like a middle-class Italian flat than a gilded, Borgia-era boudoir. Wouldn’t correcting this media misrepresentation have been a service to the memory of your predecessors, who are implicitly criticized for inappropriate royalism by their choice to live in the apartment where popes have lived for some time?

+ Pope John Paul II invited guests for breakfast lunch, and dinner virtually every day for more than two decades, including men and women with whom he disagreed on various matters, because he thought he needed to learn from their experience and hear their views to do his job well. Do you ever break bread with those with whom you might disagree, or otherwise seek inputs from outside the circle of your closest associates?

+ You have said that the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood is not possible, period, and that the Synod on Synodality, the signature initiative of your pontificate, is not an occasion for debating settled matters of doctrine. But Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, of Luxembourg, one of the key Synod leaders, has recently said that these are open questions that should be aired at Synod-2024. Have you instructed him to cease and desist?

+ Have you ever thought it important to correct the false notion that Catholic teaching on the moral life, or on the structure of the Church, is not a matter of “policy” but of settled truths?

+ Why has Father Marko Rupnik, whose sins and crimes of sexual abuse are among the vilest, most satanic on record, not been reduced from the clerical state, forbidden to function as a priest, and ordered to live a life of penance?

+ Do you think that the world is interested in the Church of Perhaps – the Church that is unsure of what it believes and muddled about what makes for happiness in how we live? Isn’t the world riddled with enough ambiguity? Aren’t the confusions you have identified – such a gender ideology – best dealt with through clarity married to compassion, rather than ambiguous “accompaniment” that does not call anyone to conversion?

+ Why have you removed bishops from their pastoral office without canonical due process?

+ Granted that some ultra-Traditionalist Catholics reject the Second Vatican Council in toto, why should their extremism become the occasion to deprive other Catholics, faithful to the Church and its teaching, of a form of worship they find spiritually nourishing? Couldn’t the errors of the RadTrads have been addressed without wounding those who find worship according to the 1962 Missal a source of grace?

+ Have you seen the widely circulated meme in which you are presented with an expensive white bicycle, to whose donors you say, “I am not blessing a bicycle, I am blessing two separate wheels”? If you have, I expect you laughed. But how, precisely is that meme mistaken?

+ Are there ever circumstances in which an exceptionless moral norm – for example, the prohibition on a childless couple resorting to surrogate pregnancy – can be overridden by the facts of a particular situation and the subjective judgment of the couple’s consciences? Isn’t that the “proportionalism” definitively rejected by John Paul II in the 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, in which the pope taught that some acts are simply wrong in themselves, and cannot be justified by a calculus of intentions and consequences? And if “proportionalism” is an acceptable method of moral reasoning, how would it apply to other exceptionless moral norms, such as the proscription of murder, rape, torture, mutilation, slavery, and genocide?

+ You have spoken often and eloquently about peace. How is peace to be achieved when an aggressor has declared his intent to eradicate the object of his aggression, and the attacked party knows that it is facing an existential crisis in which its very survival is at issue?

+ The fate of migrants should touch any sensitive heart. But have you ever addressed the failures of states, ideological systems, and regimes from which migrants flee? Isn’t finding remedies to those failures a service to migrants – and to states that are being overwhelmed by an unregulated flow of refugees, at least some of whom are criminals taking advantage of others’ suffering by masquerading as economic or political refugees?

+ How do you account for the fact that the Catholic Church in the United States, for all the challenges it faces, is the most vital, vibrant local Church in the Western world? How do explain the collapse of Catholic faith and practice in Germany?

+ Vocations to the priesthood have declined in many countries during your pontificate. Do you think this has anything to do with your regular criticism of priests and seminarians?

+ How do you distinguish between an inappropriate clericalism and authentic priestly fraternity?

Granted, these are not the kind of questions that, phrased in this way, fit the pattern of rapid-fire interrogation characteristic of 21st-century television. But they are among the questions that will be on the minds of the cardinal-electors in the next conclave, and if CBS doesn’t grasp that, its viewers will be ill-served when the time comes for the next papal transition.

(Full disclosure: The author is Senior Vatican Analyst for NBC News.)

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading public intellectuals. He holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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