NBC Hypes: Pope Francis 'Had His Own Moments of Doubt and Temptation' As Young Man

In a report for Friday's NBC Today, correspondent Jim Maceda seized on an account in a 2012 book in which Pope Francis, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, recalled being attracted to a woman when he was a young seminarian preparing to enter the priesthood: "Well, it turns out that Francis...came to the priesthood rather late, at age 32, and not before he had his own moments of doubt and temptation." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Maceda went so far as to make a sensational comparison to a soap opera about a priest falling in love with a woman. After a clip of the show played, Maceda declared: "Like the conflicted Catholic priest in the 1980 TV mini-series Thorn Birds, the former Jorge Bergoglio admitted in a book published in Spanish last year, to be 'dazzled' by a young woman at the time he was studying to be a priest."

Co-host Matt Lauer introduced the segment by promoting speculation that the new pope might overturn Church rules: "This is a question a lot of people are asking this morning, just a few days after the official installation of Pope Francis, will the Church change under his leadership? Those who want to get rid of the celibacy requirement for priests are looking hopefully at the Pope's admission of past crushes."

At the end of his report, Maceda touted: "And in another sign of just how open Pope Francis is, he's even reaching out to atheists, calling them, quote, 'Our precious allies in the search for human dignity and peace.'" Maceda used the instance to take a shot at the Pope Emeritus: "Now that's something that critics say that his predecessor Benedict would never do."

Apparently that criticism was just too good for Maceda to check because Benedict XVI proposed such a dialogue with "with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown" in 2009.  


Here is a full transcript of Maceda's March 22 report:

7:15AM ET

MATT LAUER: This is a question a lot of people are asking this morning, just a few days after the official installation of Pope Francis, will the Church change under his leadership? Those who want to get rid of the celibacy requirement for priests are looking hopefully at the Pope's admission of past crushes. NBC's Jim Maceda has more on that. Jim, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Celibacy and Priests; Could Pope Francis Change Age-Old Requirement?]

JIM MACEDA: Good morning, Matt. Well, it turns out that Francis, the first Latin-American pope, came to the priesthood rather late, at age 32, and not before he had his own moments of doubt and temptation. As Pope Francis' story emerges, we're learning that the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires can be frank about the most delicate subjects, clerical celibacy and sex.

RACHEL WARD: You can marry me. You love me.

RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN: But I love God more.

MACEDA: Like the conflicted Catholic priest in the 1980 TV mini-series Thorn Birds, the former Jorge Bergoglio admitted in a book published in Spanish last year, to be "dazzled" by a young woman at the time he was studying to be a priest. "I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head," he said. Eventually Bergoglio chose the priesthood and swore to celibacy, in doing so, fulfilling a promise, it seems, that he made to this woman, Amalia, once his neighbor and childhood crush.

AMALIA: He said to me, "If I don't marry you, I'll become a priest."

MACEDA: But surprising some Vatican watchers, Pope Francis appears to bless the idea of married priests, at least in the future, saying this about celibacy. "It is a matter of discipline, not faith. It can change."

PHILIP PULLELLA [REUTERS VATICAN CORRESPONDENT]: It means basically that Pope Francis or Jorge Bergoglio was a man before he became a priest.

MACEDA: He's even weighed in on sexual matters. What if a priest gets a woman pregnant? "He has to leave the ministry," he said, "and take care of that child, even if he chooses not to marry the woman." Pope for just days, Francis is already setting the tone for a new more open papacy.

And in another sign of just how open Pope Francis is, he's even reaching out to atheists, calling them, quote, "Our precious allies in the search for human dignity and peace." Now that's something that critics say that his predecessor Benedict would never do. Matt.

LAUER: Obviously raise a few questions there. Jim Maceda in London for us this morning. Jim, thank you very much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC