(Vatican Radio) From the future of the Vatican bank to the role of women in the Church, from Vatileaks to the highlights of his pontificate so far: on the flight back from Brazil to Rome Pope Francis gave journalists free rein to ask questions about the Church and about his own challenges as successor of St Peter. Philippa Hitchen takes a look at what the Holy Father had to say…..

In the impromptu press conference aboard the papal plane, journalists spent over an hour questioning the Pope about his recent visit to Brazil for World Youth Day, about plans for future foreign trips, about his ecumenical vision and about the day to day business of dealing with scandals and other obstacles within the Vatican walls.

Describing himself as tired, but spiritually renewed, the Pope talked about the very positive experience of meeting with three million young people in Brazil. He spoke of the security concerns, but stressed that it’s madness to try and separate a bishop from his people.

Discussing future papal journeys, he confirmed he’ll be travelling to Sardinia in September, to Assisi in October and said he hopes to visit his relatives in northern Italy because they’ve been asking to see him. He also spoke of plans for a meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem, but said there was no definite decision yet. He also confirmed that former Popes John XXIII and John Paul II will be canonized at the same time, either this October or, most likely, the week after Easter next year.

Asked about relations with the Orthodox Church, Pope Francis spoke of the sense of beauty and adoration in the Eastern liturgies and how a consumerist mentality in the West has weakened our sense God. The author Dostoevsky, he added, should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the soul of Russia and its people.

Commenting on the Vatican bank, as the Institute for Works of Religion is commonly called, Pope Francis acknowledged the difficulties in deciding whether to change its status or close it altogether – he said he was relying on the advice of a commission of experts called in to promote ‘honesty and transparency’. 

Speaking of other problems within the administration of the Holy See, including rumours of a ‘gay lobby’ within the Vatican, Pope Francis said there are many saintly people working in the Curia but also those who are not so saintly and cause scandals which harm the Church. Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he said that people with homosexual tendencies must not be excluded but should be integrated into society. “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” he asked.

Questioned about the role of women in the Church, the Pope said the issue of ordination is ‘a closed door’ but he said he would like to see more women in leadership roles. Just as Mary was more important than the Apostles, he said, so women today are more important than bishops and priests and there is a great need for theology to explore and explain this better.

Finally on a very personal level, Pope Francis shared how he misses the freedom of being able to walk and meet people in the streets, how he lives in the Santa Martha guesthouse because he needs to talk to others and how he has always found pleasure as a priest, bishop and now pastor of the universal Church in following the Lord’s will.