Pope Francis defends Vatican on abuse, says his popularity is “offensive”

In an interview with an Italian newspaper Pope Francis staunchly defended the Catholic Church’s track record on tackling sexual abuse by priests.

Just a week before the Pontiff’s first anniversary in the Vatican he told Corriere della Sera that “no-one else has done more” to root out pedophilia. The Pope told the paper the Roman Catholic Church had acted with transparency and responsibility and noted that it was the only institution being attacked.

He said “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility.

“No-one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked.”

Francis went on to praise his predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI’s actions during his tenure. Saving he had been “very courageous” in changing the church’s attitudes towards predatory priests.

He also questioned the focus on the debate in general. Pope Francis said, “The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show that the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighborhood environments."

Last month the United Nations (UN) called on the Pope to remove all clergy who are known or suspected abusers.  The UN accused the Vatican of placing the “preservation of the reputation of the Church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims."

Pope Francis has set up a commission to investigate sex crimes within the Catholic Church, but so far he was made few public comments about the sexual abuse scandals. Francis has not met with any victims and has not moved to oust a bishop convicted of failing to report a problem priests.

The Pope also used his interview to voice his discomfort with how he is regarded by the public.

A recent piece of street art depicted the pope as “SuperPope,” the Catholic Church’s superhero, who – Italian newspapers have speculated – sneaks out of the Vatican at night to feed the homeless. This week a magazine devoted entirely to his life called “Il Mio Papa” (“My Pope”) was launched in Italy. Last week someone tried to give him an replica Oscar that said “Oscar Pope” on it.

In response to this massive attention he said, "I don't like ideological interpretations, this type of mythology of Pope Francis.

"If I'm not mistaken, Sigmund Freud said that in every idealization there's an aggression. Depicting the pope as a sort of Superman, a star, is offensive to me.

"The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person."

During the Corriere della Sera interview the Pope also spoke about the current arrangement with the emeritus pope. He said that it was never part of the plan that Pope Benedict XVI would be hidden away in the background. Quite the opposite, Pope Francis believes that he has wisdom to offer.

He said, “The emeritus pope isn't a statue in a museum. He's an institution.

“We talked about it and we decided together that it would be better if he sees people, gets out and participates in the life of the church."

He continued, “Some might have wanted him to retire away in a Benedictine abbey far from the Vatican.

“I thought about grandparents who with their wisdom and advice give strength to their families and don't deserve to end up in an old folks' home."