For Francis, no question was off the table — no small thing given that he is known to distrust the mainstream news media and had told journalists en route to Rio that he greatly dislikes giving interviews because he finds them "tiresome."
Francis spoke lovingly of his predecessor, saying that having him living in the Vatican "is like having a grandfather, a wise grandfather, living at home." He said he regularly asks Benedict for advice, but dismissed suggestions that the German pontiff is exerting any influence on his papacy.
On the contrary, Francis said he has tried to encourage Benedict to participate more in public functions at the Vatican and receive guests, but that he is "a man of prudence."
In one of his most important speeches delivered in Rio, Francis described the church in feminine terms, saying it would be "sterile" without women. Asked what role he foresees, he said the church must develop a more profound role for women in the church, though he said "the door is closed" to ordaining women to the priesthood.
He had harsh words for Monsignor Nunzio Scarano. The Vatican accountant has been jailed on accusations that he plotted to smuggle €20 million ($26 million) from Switzerland to Italy and is also accused by Italian prosecutors of using his Vatican bank account to launder money.
Francis said while "there are saints" in the Vatican bureaucracy, Scarano isn't among them.
The Vatican bank has been a focus of Francis' reform efforts, and he has named a commission to look into its activities amid accusations from Italian prosecutors that it has been used as an offshore tax haven to launder money.
Asked if closing the bank is a possibility, Francis said: "I don't know how this story will end."
Frances D'Emilio contributed from Rome
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