VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis lamented that the use of guns by civilians to defend themselves is becoming a "habit."
In an interview on Tuesday with The Associated Press, the pontiff, who has frequently criticized the arms industry, was asked about the large number of guns in civilian hands and frequent massacres in the United States. Francis expressed concern about how recourse to guns has become "habit."
"I say when you have to defend yourself, all that's left is to have the elements to defend yourself. Another thing is how that need to defend oneself lengthens, lengthens, and becomes a habit,'' Francis said. "Instead of making the effort to help us live, we make the effort to help us kill."
Francis has denounced the arms industry as trafficking in death. Francis said he wants to draw attention to the problem by saying: "Please, let's say something that will stop this."
The AP asked the question about the proliferation of guns among civilians after recent days saw several shootings, including in California.
Here are some other key takeaways from the interview.
ON 'PATIENCE' WITH CHINA
Saying "we must walk patiently in China," Pope Francis views continued dialogue with Beijing as the guiding principle in his efforts to safeguard his flock, who are a small minority in the Asian nation.
The AP asked what comes next in the diplomatic overtures between the countries.
"We are taking steps," Francis replied. "Each case (of a bishop's nomination) is looked at with a magnifying lens." The pontiff added that "that's the main thing, the dialogue doesn't break."
As for Chinese authorities, "sometimes they are a little closed, sometimes not," Francis said.
The pope sidestepped a question about how the Vatican's relationship with Taiwan affects the dialogue. The Holy See is one of the few states to maintain formal ties with Taiwan instead of with China.
Francis has been criticized by more conservative factions of the Catholic Church for a 2018 agreement with Beijing over the appointment of bishops in China, given how that country's Communist authorities have at times imprisoned priests. Among his harshest critics is Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.
In the interview, Francis called Zen, who is 91, a "charming old man," and a "tender soul." He recounted how, when the cardinal came to Rome this month for the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI, the pontiff invited him to the Vatican hotel where Francis lives. In front of the pope's private study is a statue depicting Our Lady of Sheshan. Francis said when the cardinal saw it, "he began to cry, like a child."
Zen was arrested last year after he fell afoul of Hong Kong authorities over his participation in a now-silenced democracy movement.
Pope Francis has stepped up his criticism of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. He called laws criminalizing homosexuals unjust but reiterated Catholic Church teaching that homosexual activity is sinful.
Bantering with himself, Francis articulated the position: "It's not a crime. Yes, but it's a sin. Fine, but first let's distinguish between a sin and a crime."
ON PAPAL HEALTH AND RETIREMENT
The 86-year-old pontiff was asked to assess his health.
"I'm in good health. For my age, I'm normal. I might die tomorrow, but I am under control. I always ask for the grace the Lord will give me a sense of humor," he said.
His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. Following Benedict's death, Francis was also asked about the need for rules for any future retirement.
"After some more experience ... then it could be more regularized or regulated," he said. "But for the moment it hasn't occurred to me."
ON SEX ABUSE CRISIS
The pope suggested that East Timor's Nobel Peace Prize-winning independence hero was indeed allowed to retire early rather than face prosecution or punishment following sex abuse allegations.
Francis also denied he had a role in deciding the case of a famous Jesuit artist whose seemingly preferential treatment cast doubt on the Vatican's commitment to cracking down on abuse.
He acknowledged the Catholic Church still had a long way to go to deal with the problem.
ON GERMAN CHURCH REFORM EFFORT
The pontiff warned there's a risk that a reform process in the German Catholic Church over calls for married priests and other possible liberalizing moves might become harmfully "ideological."