Pope Francis has acknowledged that corruption is still a “deep problem” in the Vatican, as he lamented at the same time the “malfeasance” and “betrayals” in Holy See investments that have “hurt” the sensibilities of the faithful.

– “The Church has always been a chaste whore, a sinner”

“Unfortunately, corruption is a cyclical story; it repeats itself, then someone comes along to clean up and tidy up, but then it starts again waiting for someone else to come along to put an end to this degeneration”, the pontiff recognised October 30 in an interview with Italian news agency AdnKronos.

“The Church is and remains strong, but the theme of corruption is a deep problem”, Francis acknowledged, emplyoing an expression of St. Ambrose of Milan to convey the extent of the issue: “The Church has always been a chaste whore, a sinner”.

“Better yet, a part of it, because the vast majority [in the Church] goes in the opposite direction [and] pursues the right path”, the Pope explained.

“But it is undeniable that people of various types… ecclesiastics and many fake lay friends of the Church have helped to dissipate the assets and properties not of the Vatican but of the faithful”, he added.

On the issue of Church corruption, however, the Pope was clear, insisting that the Gospel asks us to choose: “either follow God or follow money. Jesus said it, it is not possible to follow both”.

– In fight against fraud, “the plan is simple: to keep going and not stop”

Francis has made the fight against Vatican mismanagement and corruption a cornerstone of his pontificate. Asked whether he is beginning to feel isolated and unsupported after seven years of relentless attempts to reform Vatican finances, the Pope replied: “I have thought about it. And I came to the conclusion that there are two levels of loneliness”.

“One can say, I feel alone because those who should collaborate do not collaborate, because those who should get their hands dirty for others do not, because they do not follow my line or things like that, and this is a loneliness, let’s say… functional”, Francis explained.

“Then there is a substantial loneliness, which I do not feel, because I have found so many people who risk their lives for me, who put their lives on the line, who fight with conviction because they know that we are right and that the road taken, even among a thousand obstacles and natural resistance, is the right one.

“There have been examples of malfeasance, of betrayals, which hurt those who believe in the Church. These people [who were responsible] are certainly not cloistered nuns”, the Pope said ironically.

But Francis insisted that he does not intend to throw in the towel in the fight against corruption in the Church. “I know I must do it, I have been called to do it, then it will be the Lord who will say if I have done well or if I have done wrong”. “Honestly, I am not very optimistic, but I trust in God and in men faithful to God”, the Pope said with a smile.

“I do not believe that there could be a single person, inside and outside of here [the Vatican], against eradicating the evil of corruption”, the Pope doubled down. He added that “there are no particular strategies; the plan is trivial, simple, to keep going and not stop; one must take small but concrete steps”.

– On criticisms over China deal, endorsement of same-gender civil unions… the importance of discernment

Also in his interview Friday with AdnKronos, Pope Francis alluded to his relationship with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and said that “Benedict for me is a father and a brother… I often visit him… and if I see him a little less recently it is only because I don’t want to tire him out”.

“The relationship is really good, very good, we agree on what things to do. Benedict is a good man, he is holiness personified. There are no problems between us”, Francis emphasised.

The pontiff also referred to the criticisms ultra-conservative elements in the Church never tire of lobbing at him, most recently over the renewal of the Vatican agreement with China on the appointment of bishops there or of his own personal endorsement of same-gender civil unions.

Though he admitted that those criticisms hurt – especially if launched in “bad faith” or with “malice” – the Pope insisted that “criticism can be constructive, and so I take it all because criticism leads me to examine myself, to make an examination of conscience, to ask myself if I was wrong, where and why I was wrong, if I did right, if I did wrong, if I could do better”.

“The Pope listens to all criticism and then he exercises discernment, understanding what is good and what is not”, Francis said, adding that that discernment “is the guideline of my path, on everything, on everyone”.

The Pope insisted that “honest communication” is “important” to get at the truth “about what is happening in the Church”. Even though he acknowledged that “it is true that if I have to find inspiration in criticism to do better”, he stressed that “I certainly can’t let myself be carried away by every little hardly-positive thing they write about the Pope”.

More on Novena on corruption in the Vatican:

Amid Vatican financial scandals, Pope laments: “It is awful to see when people who have authority in the Church seek their own interests”

Vatican ‘economy minister’ calls for “transparency” on shady investments, says “it is possible that the Holy See has been cheated”

Amid Holy See financial scandal, cardinal tells European evaluators: Vatican money chiefly used for “works of religion and charity”

Cardinal fired by Pope caused “huge black hole” in Church finances by funnelling funds to offshore investments, family businesses: report

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.