6 hot-button issues Pope Francis and Gen Z confront in new Disney doc

the pope answers "The Pope Answers" airs on Hulu beginning April 5, 2023. | Hulu

“The true Church is at the peripheries,” Pope Francis says in Disney’s new documentary “The Pope: Answers,” which was released April 5.

Directed by Spanish filmmaker Jordi Évole and available exclusively on Hulu in the U.S., the 1 hour and 23-minute-long documentary shares a conversation between the pope and 10 young people from around the world.

Filmed in a poor, working-class neighborhood in Rome, the documentary is entirely in Spanish but accessible to English audiences through subtitles.

Throughout the film, Francis maintains that the Church cannot allow itself to become “a club of nice people,” that is a group of people “who do their religious duties but lack the courage to get out to the ‘suburbs.’”

Using the term “suburbs” to describe those on the peripheries of the Church and faith, Francis shared his belief that it is the Church’s job to go out to those people at the very edges.

“We all like to be comfortable,” Francis said, but that desire for comfort can lead priests to forget they are the shepherd of a flock.

“If you want to see reality, go to the ‘suburbs,’” Francis said, “To find out what social injustice is, go to the ‘suburbs.’”

Among the group of 20- to 25-year-olds were Catholics, Protestants, atheists, agnostics, and one Muslim. Each has a unique problem with either the Church or God. They question the pope on some of the Church’s most controversial teachings and difficult problems.

Throughout the film the pope listens to the young people calmly, responding gently and retaining a smile even as some of his answers evoke anger and indignation.

They discuss immigration, depression, abortion, clergy sexual and psychological abuse, transgenderism, pornography, and loss of faith.

Here’s a taste of the conversation on these hot-button issues facing the Church and the world.

Women in the Church

One young woman, Milagros, from Argentina, describes herself as a feminist and asks why the Church objects to having women priests or even a woman pope.

“Therein lies a theological problem,” Francis answers. “Women have a function within the Church because the Church itself is female … The Church is a wife, Christ’s wife. It is not his husband. Christ is the husband. That is our faith.”

A few young women smirk, but the pope goes on, saying: “There are two constituting streams within the Church. Two principles. So, the ministry is for men. On the maternal side, which is far more important, are women. The promotion of women is aligned with their own vocation as women … otherwise, women would be diminished.”

The dignity of life

Milagros also objects to the pope’s description of abortion as “hiring a hitman” and argues that abortion is a woman’s right.

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“I think Jesus would walk with that woman. He wouldn’t judge her like they would during Mass at a church,” Milagros says.

With tears welling up in her eyes, Milagros hands the pope a green bandana with the words “Keep abortion legal, safe, free” written in Spanish. She shared that she would keep that bandana in her backpack as a symbol and wanted to give it to him “lovingly and respectfully.” The pope accepted the gift with a smile, kissing Milagros on the cheek.

Though he agrees that the Church should never condemn a woman for having an abortion, Francis stands firm in his position that abortion kills an innocent child.

“Any embryology book shows us that a month after conception, the DNA is aligned, and all the organs are drawn. It is therefore not just a bunch of cells put together, but a systematized human life. So, the question that should be submitted when talking about the morality of this is: ‘Is it valid to eliminate a human life to solve a problem?’”

His response sets off a debate among the young women in the room in which many insist abortion must be kept legal to protect women, while one lone girl, Maria, from Spain, disagrees, asking Milagros; “You are surrounded by women who have had abortions. Don’t you see the suffering abortion causes?”

Throughout the exchange, the pope listens attentively and waits until the conversation has settled to give his thoughts.

“A woman who has an abortion cannot be left alone, we should stay with her,” Francis says. “We should stay by her side. But we should call a spade a spade. Staying by her side is one thing, but justifying the act is something else.”

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Child sexual abuse

Tearing up, one young man in the group by the name Juan, from Spain, shares that when he was 11 and 12, he was sexually abused by a teacher at a Catholic school in Spain.

“There is so much hypocrisy [in the Church],” Juan says through tears. “What about pederasty in the Church?”

“It’s usually said that lives should be protected, there’s a right to live … But then, when it comes to other aspects … many people from within the Church reject the victims or stand on the perpetrator’s side,” Juan says. “You must be aware that there are many priests and bishops below you who are bad people.”

Francis responds, saying: “There are men and women who destroy. The abuser destroys a child, and if it’s a church person, the hypocrisy and double life are horrific.”

“I can’t possibly convey the empathy I feel for a person who has been abused, but it pains me deeply,” Francis says. “We’ve been clear about this, we’ve disciplined the seminaries, we’ve punished the abusing priests or even the abusing laypeople.”

Another member of the group, Lucia, from Peru, objects: “I don’t think enough is being done, considering the people who have survived this have to wait for years for some type of reply, and alone! … You’re reinforcing something that’s been proven to be useless.”

“It’s a serious social problem,” the pope says. “We’re beginning to raise social awareness. That is key.”

Sex and pornography

Another, Alejandra, from Colombia, challenges the Church’s position on pornography. She shares that to earn a living she creates pornographic content on a social media site, asserting that it is the best job she has had because it allows her to stay home to care for her daughter.

The pope responds by reminding the young woman of the obligation to use social media responsibly.

“There should be a distinction between the richness of social media and the morality of what you do … The morality of social media depends on what you use it for,” the pope says. “Pornography diminishes, it doesn’t help you grow. Those who use pornography are diminished in human terms.”

Francis adds that he believes sex is often greatly misunderstood, even in Christian circles.

“I think we Christians haven’t always had a mature catechism regarding sex,” he says. Responding to the group’s discussion of pornography and masturbation, Francis says that neither are true expressions of the fullness of human sexuality.

“Sex is one of the beautiful things God gave human beings. To express oneself sexually is something rich. Anything that diminishes a true sexual expression, diminishes you as well, it renders you partial, and it diminishes that richness,” the pope says.

Gender ideology

Another member of the group, Celia, from Spain, describes herself as nonbinary, asking the pope if he knew what that meant. He responds that he understands.

“I’m nonbinary, and I’m a Christian,” Celia continues. “I’ve been meaning to ask you if you see some space inside the Church for trans people, nonbinary people, or LGBT people in general.”

The pope responds firmly with a smile. “Every person is a child of God, everyone,” he says, adding: “I don’t have the right to kick anybody out of the Church. My duty is to always welcome.”

Reaching the peripheries

Celia pushes further, asking what the pope’s opinion is on “church people or priests” who use the Bible to promote what she described as “hate speech.”

Reaffirming his stance that the Church exists on the peripheries, the pope answers that every person is welcome in the Church and that those who use the faith as a justification for hate are “infiltrators.”

“In general, those who judge are inconsistent. There’s something within them, they feel liberated by judging others, when they should look inside at their own guilt,” Francis says. “But the day the Church loses its universality — the blind, the deaf, the good, the bad, everybody — it will stop being a Church.”

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