Past popes have been narcissistic, Francis tells newspaper
Pontiff to do his ‘best’ to change church, describing Holy See as often too ‘Vatican-centred’
Pope Francis stands with cardinals during a consistory at the Vatican. Photograph: L’Osservatore Romano/Reuters
In an interview with Italian daily “La Repubblica”, the pope conceded that in the past popes had been “narcissistic” as well as “flattered, and badly egged on by their courtiers”, adding: “The court is the leprosy in the Vatican. ”
Asked whether by the term “court”, he was referring to the Roman Curia, Francis replied: “No, in the Curia we sometimes have courtiers, but overall the Curia is a different thing… However, it does have a serious defect, in that it is very Vatican-centred. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, in great part, temporal matters…
“This Vatican-centred vision tends to ignore the world all around us. I don’t agree with this vision and I will do my best to change it. The church is, or it has to once again become, a community for the people of God - and the priests, the bishops in caring for souls, are at the service of the people of God…”
Asked what he sees as the most urgent priorities facing the church, Francis replies: “The most serious problems afflicting the world at the moment are the unemployment of youth and the loneliness of the old. The elderly need care and company; the young need work and hope but they don’t have either, and what is worse, they don’t even look for them any more. They have been overwhelmed by the present…”
Pope Francis has made no secret of his desire to create “a church of the poor and for the poor”. In that context, he describes his early encounter at school in Argentina with a female teacher who was a fervent communist, subsequently arrested, tortured and executed under the Argentine military junta in the 1980s.
Even if never attracted by communism, he says that to have come across it via an “honest and courageous” person was “useful”, helping him when it came to understanding the Catholic Church’s teachings on social justice.
Asked whether it had been right that Popes John Paul II and Benedict had repressed Marxist-influenced, liberation theology in Latin America, Francis gives an equivocal answer: “Certainly they [liberation theologians] followed up their theology with political activism but many of them were believers with an impressive concept of humanity.”
Asked about the responsibilities of the international political community, Pope Francis first says that it is not the business of the church to become involved in politics.
Later, he does acknowledge, however, that politics has a major responsibility for creating a world in which “egoism” has grown much more than “love of others”, adding: “Personally, I think that the so-called globalisation has managed only to make the strong stronger, the weak weaker and those excluded, even more excluded.”
As for his reform plans within the church, he points to his eight-man Council of Cardinals meeting with him this week in the Vatican, describing them as “wise men motivated by the same sentiments as me”, adding: “This is the beginning of a church which has not only a vertical organisation but also a horizontal one.”
Speaking of how he himself lives his faith, Pope Francis says that he has no “vocation as a mystic” but does reveal that on the day last March when he was elected pope, he experienced a mystical moment. After having won the conclave vote, he asked his fellow cardinals if he might withdraw for a moment of solitude.
He was filled with a great anxiety, even with the idea that he might refuse to accept the papacy. In order to rid himself of this, he sat down and shut his eyes: “At a certain point, I was struck by a great light. It didn’t last long, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded and I jumped up and went back to the room where the cardinals were waiting for me…and signed the act of acceptance”, he adds.