Pope Francis has played down the notion that he is a
"superman" who will bring sweeping reforms to the Roman
Catholic Church, stressing that its ban on contraception and
opposition to gay marriage will remain in place.
The pope, in an interview with Italy's Corriere della Sera
newspaper, also said no institution had moved with more
"transparency and responsibility" than the Church to protect
children in the wake of its sexual abuse scandals.
That prompted a sharp rebuke from victims, with one group
calling the assertion "disingenuous".
Since his election nearly a year ago, Francis has promoted
the idea of a more humble Church focused on the needs of the
poor, winning huge popularity and raising expectations that
it would soften its rules on such issues as contraception,
cohabitation, sacraments for the divorced who remarry, and
Asked what he felt about his celebrity status, Francis said
he disliked the "mythology" of him as a man who could meet
"To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star,
seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries,
sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a
normal person," he said.
Francis made clear he did not envision changing the Church's
stance on such issues as the ban on artificial birth control
enshrined in Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On
A synod of bishops to be held in October would discuss ways
of applying and explaining it better, he said, calling the
encyclical "prophetic and courageous".
"It's not a question of changing the doctrine but going
deeper so that pastoral concern takes into account situations
and what can be done for people," he said.
Francis restated the Church's position that marriage is
between a man and woman. But indicating a small opening, he
said some states wanted to "justify civil unions" of various
types in order to regularise economic issues such as property
rights and health coverage.
A worldwide survey of Catholics last year showed a deep
divide between Church officials and the faithful on issues of
sexual morality. Last month Francis urged a gathering of
cardinals to be "intelligent, courageous and loving" in a
debate on family-related issues.
But his words in the interview appeared to be a warning to
liberals not to expect too much.
Asked about the sexual abuse scandal, in which many priests
who molested children were moved from parish to parish
instead of being dismissed, he said the Church had done much
since the scandal first broke some 15 years ago and was being
singled out for attack.
He defended the Church's record, including that of his
predecessor former Pope Benedict, whom Francis credited with
having the courage to start reforms.
"On this path, the Church has done much, perhaps more than
all others," he said.
"The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution
that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No-one
has done more, and yet the Church is the only one that is
being attacked," he said.
Victims of sexual abuse by the clergy rejected this.
"His central claim - that no one has 'done more' on abuse
than the Catholic Church - is disingenuous," said the
U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
(SNAP). "It would be far more accurate to say that no one has
done more to deny, minimize and hide child sex crimes than
The pope appeared to be referring to a report by a United
Nations committee last month which accused the Vatican of
systematically turning a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse
of children by priests, and demanded it turn over known or
suspected offenders to civil justice.
The Vatican said the report was distorted, unfair and