Source: Vatican News Service
Pope Francis returned to Rome today, concluding his 22nd Apostolic Journey outside Italy. During the press conference on the flight back from Lima, the Holy Father spoke about the warmth of the people of Chile and Peru and addressed the subject of his defence of a bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse, the in-flight wedding he presided over, and the liberal policies of some South American countries.
There were many emotional moments through the trip, he said, noting especially the final Mass at Lima's Las Palmas air base at which more than one million three hunds thousand were present. The Holy Father said he was especially moved by his visit to the women's prison in Santiago. "Seeing these women, the ability to change their lives, the power of the Gospel, moved me very much." He also mentionedf his meeting in Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon rainforest, and his visit to the Little Prince children's home in Peru.
However, the press conference was dominated by questions about the Pope's remarks in Chile on the case of Bishop Juan Barros who has been accused of personally witnessing sexual abuse by a popular Chilean priest. The Holy Father has consistently supported the Bishop, saying he has seen no evidence to substantiate the accusations.
Responding to questions, Pope Francis acknowledged that some of his remarks had "wounded" survivors of abuse. "I ask pardon if I have hurt them without realising it" he said, insisiting that this was not his intention. He also admitted that the words he had used were unfortunate, but said the Bishop in question would remain in place, because as he said: "I cannot condemn him if I do not have evidence."
Pope Francis was also asked about the status of the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors, which was headed by Cardinal O'Malley. The Commission's mandate expired in December 2017 and has not yet been renewed. The Pope was asked whether this meant that the protection of minors was no longer considered a priority. Interrupting the question, Pope Francis said that as with Benedict XVI before him, the official line he has taken remains 'zero tolerance'. He said he appreciated the work the commission has done so far and that work will continue. Currently the renewal of membership on the commission is ongoing but needs time to be completed.
Reporters also asked about the inflight marriage the Pope had presided over during his trip. He said: "I questioned them a little bit and their answerrs were clear - 'for their whole lives ' - And do you know these things I asked? Do you have a good memory? They told the Pope they had done a marriage preparation course. He said the couple were prepared and they asked him to celebrate their marriage. The Pope noted "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." "All the conditions were clear" he said. "And so why not do what can be done today without putting it off until tomorrow.."
Other topics touched on during the press conference included questions on environmental policies that contrast the protection of nature with protection of human beings, and the necessity of rooting out corrruption in Latin America.
Pope Francis said he had nothing to add to the comments of Cardinal Maradiaga in response to a question concerning accusations that the Honduran prelate had musused Church funds.
Regarding the political situation in Chile, Pope Francis said he didn't know the situation very well, but nonetheless he said liberal policies in some countries in Latin America had led to greater poverty. Saying he was not an expert, he said: "in general, a liberal policy that does not involve all peoples, is selective and brings them down."
Pope Francis arrived in Rome about 2.15 this afternoon. Immediately on his arrival went to the Basilica of St Mary Major to pray before the image of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani in thanksgiving for a successful journey.