VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis says he doesn’t want a “Vatican-centric” church concerned about itself but a missionary church that reaches out to the poor, the young, the elderly and even to nonbelievers. That’s the vision he laid out as he opened a landmark meeting Tuesday on reforming the 2,000-year-old institution.
Francis convened the inaugural meeting of his eight cardinal advisers for three days of brainstorming on revamping the antiquated Vatican bureaucracy and other reforms. The move fulfills a key mandate of the cardinals who elected him: They wanted a pope who would involve local church leaders in helping make decisions about the 1.2 billion-strong church.
The closed-door meeting got under way against the backdrop of one of the most tangible signs that change is already afoot: The secretive Vatican bank, under investigation for alleged money-laundering by Italian prosecutors, released its first-ever annual report Tuesday, the latest step toward financial transparency championed by Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI.
The eight cardinals include Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston and a longtime friend of Francis.
It’s unclear how this parallel cabinet will work with the outdated Vatican bureaucracy that constitutes a pope’s primary cabinet, known as the Vatican Curia. A scandal over leaked papal documents last year showed the Curia to be a dysfunctional warren of political infighting and turf battles, fueling calls for reform from the cardinals.
On the same day the inaugural “Group of Eight” meeting started, Rome daily La Repubblica published a lengthy interview with Francis, in which he denounced the “Vatican-centric” nature of the Holy See administration and acknowledged that popes in the past had been infatuated with the pomp of the Vatican.
“Heads of the church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers,” Francis said. “The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”
The pope also explained his affinity for his namesake St. Francis, whose tomb he will visit Friday in Assisi, the hilltop town where St. Francis preached his gospel of poverty and caring for the most destitute.
Francis said he wanted a missionary church just like that: “We need to give hope to young people, help the aged and open ourselves toward the future and spread love.”
He said the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the church into the modern world, had promised such an opening to people of other faiths and nonbelievers but the church hadn’t made progress since then.
“I have the humility and ambition to do so,” he said.