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Pope Francis Says The Court Is The 'Leprosy Of The Papacy'

Pope Francis delivers a speech during a meeting with young people last month in Cagliari, Italy.
Franco Origlia
Getty Images
Pope Francis delivers a speech during a meeting with young people last month in Cagliari, Italy.

Pope Francis is meeting on Tuesday with his closest advisors, a hand-picked lot of like-minded cardinals, to discuss the direction of the Roman Catholic Church.

As The Guardian writes, "The panel – officially named the Council of Cardinals – was hailed as a revolutionary move when it was formed in April shortly after Francis's election." The eight cardinals come from across the globe, including the United States, Australia, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Guardian says:

"A personal decree known as a 'chirografo' issued by Francis said their official task was to advise him on "governance of the universal church" and help him revise the Pastor Bonus, the apostolic constitution on the curia drawn up by Pope John Paul II in 1988."

That meeting comes on the same day that an extraordinary interview with the pontiff was published inla Repubblica, Italy's largest circulation daily, in which he described the Council as "[not] courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings." He called it "the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal."

Francis' six-month papacy has been in sharp contrast to his doctrinaire and hardline predecessor, Benedict XVII, who has been living in retirement since February. [Despite stepping off the world stage, the pope emeritus in a letter to la Repubblica last week denied that as head of the church he'd tried to cover up the priest abuse scandal.]

Francis has been keen to downplay the importance of such hot button issues as abortion, contraception and gay marriage – issues that have long been central to the church's doctrine. In an interview with Jesuit publications, Francis last month said the church had grown "obsessed" with "small-minded rules." He warned it must change or "fall like a house of cards."

In his wide-ranging interview with the Italian newspaper published on Tuesday, Francis touched on his formative years, his philosophy and his vision for the church. In the process came an admission that in the past, heads of the church "have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers."

"The court is the leprosy of the papacy," he said.

The interview, with editor Eugenio Scalfari, was precipitated by a letter from the Italian journalist – an acknowledged non-believer — to the pontiff. In their face-to-face, the two joked that each had thought the other might try to make a convert. In a radio address in May, the pope shocked many by calling atheists "precious allies" and advising them to "do good: we will meet one another there."

Scalfari, in translation from Italian, asked Francis if there was a "single vision of good." Francis replied: "Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."

The pope seemed to draw a line between church and state, saying: "politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion. Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres."

He said it was a the same view espoused by his predecessors, "albeit with different accents," though he acknowledged that "[often] the Church as an institution has been dominated by temporalism and many members and senior Catholic leaders still feel this way."

He said that in his youth, he was influenced by a university professor "who was a fervent communist."

"She often read Communist Party texts to me and gave them to me to read. So I also got to know that very materialistic conception," he said. The woman, he said, "was later arrested, tortured and killed by the dictatorship then ruling in Argentina."

Expounding on his political philosophy, he said he believed that "unrestrained liberalism only makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker and excludes the most excluded" and advised the need for "great freedom, no discrimination, no demagoguery and a lot of love."

"We need rules of conduct and also, if necessary, direct intervention from the state to correct the more intolerable inequalities," he said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.

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