When Jesuit journals around the world released the now much-talked-of 12,000-word interview with Pope Francis Sept. 19, the pontiff’s words made a splash in the secular media. Those who read only snippets provided by outlets like CNN and The New York Times might only have gleaned that the pope said the Church needs to talk less about abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.

Pope Francis is ushering in a new era into the Church: one in which he is allowing us to talk about our mistakes.

But, as Matthew Bunson, OSV senior correspondent, writes in his analysis on Page 4, the interview goes far beyond flashy headlines. Instead, it was an open, at times deeply moving, conversation with Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor-in-chief of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, that confirmed what we already had pieced together from the past six months: With Pope Francis, what you see is what you get.

This “no-spin” transparency — and its accompanying humility — has riveted both secular and Church media since March, and the Jesuit interview was no different. Pope Francis is ushering in a new era into the Church: one in which he is allowing us to talk about our mistakes and, more importantly, in which he gives us a model for correcting them.

Pope Francis speaks of his past role as superior of the Jesuit order in Argentina, freely admitting that his youth and inexperience in dealing with “difficult situations” led him to make “decisions abruptly and by myself.”

“My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults,” he said. “My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative.”

But, he continued, with time, prayer and experience, he learned how better to handle the demands of leadership.

“The Lord has allowed this growth in knowledge of government through my faults and my sins,” he said.

Pope Francis interview
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 11. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Obviously, as the most recent successor of Peter, Pope Francis is now in a position with another steep learning curve. In identifying how to best govern the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, he may make some future missteps. But he’s also made it clear that that’s a risk he’s not only willing to take, but that he finds essential to take.

In a much-referenced April 18 letter to Argentine bishops, Pope Francis spoke of the dangers of a “self-referential Church.” “A Church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms,” he wrote. In going “out of itself,” the Church does risk accidents, he added. But he prefers “a thousand times over a Church of accidents than a sick Church.”

As Pope Francis continues his pontificate, he likely won’t be perfect. But we aren’t looking for perfection right now. After more than a decade of grappling with the clergy sex abuse crisis and in the midst of an ever-increasing secular culture, we need leadership that will both challenge and inspire us. In admitting his past mistakes, Pope Francis allows us to admit our own — and, like him, with prayer, discernment and trust in God, to course-correct our steps back toward discipleship.

If you haven’t read the interview in its entirety, we strongly encourage you to do so. His quotes on discernment and Ignatian spirituality alone are worth repeated perusal.

His words pull back the curtain on the man behind the papacy — offering a fascinating, illuminating and incredibly human look at the figure who, with humility and determination, is leading our Church deeper into the 21st century and closer to God. 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor; Sarah Hayes, executive editor