VATICAN CITY Pope Francis says he wants a missionary church with a modern spirit modern spirit that gives hope to the poor, young and elderly, speaking as key meetings begin on church reform.
Francis gave a lengthy interview to the editor of Rome daily La Repubblica that was published Tuesday as Francis began meeting with his parallel cabinet of eight cardinals tapped to advise him on reforming the church.
In the interview, Francis denounces the "Vatican-centric" nature of the Holy See, explains his affinity for his namesake St. Francis and describes how he was "invaded by anxiety" after he was elected, but then excused himself from the Sistine Chapel, closed his eyes and was filled with a light that enabled him to accept the job.
The first round of talks with Pope Francis, and eight cardinals from around the globe, will focus on reforming the Catholic Church to get local church leaders more involved in helping make decisions for the 1.2-billion strong universal Catholic Church.
While the aim is for Francis to get advice, the Argentine Jesuit has already started making a mark on his own, with important Vatican appointments already made and clear-cut indications of the direction he wants to take the church that have elated liberals and alarmed many conservatives.
Francis' recent interview with a Jesuit journal, in which he called for more balance between the church's rules on issues like abortion,and contraception and the need for it to be a more welcoming, merciful place for all, has become the must-read mission statement of his papacy.
It's unclear which of those issues feature in the 80-odd documents that will be considered by the pope and his so-called "Group of Eight" cardinals meeting behind closed doors this week. One core agenda item is certain: overhauling the Vatican bureaucracy, an antiquated administration that is universally disparaged as unhelpful to both the pope and the bishops it's designed to serve.
Thelast year showed the Vatican bureaucracy to be a dysfunctional warren of political infighting and turf battles, fueling calls for reform from the cardinals who elected Francis pope.
Beyond the scandal, local church leaders have long bemoaned that Vatican courts take years to process requests for annulments and that Vatican offices are simply unresponsive to requests from them and lay faithful. Francis himself is a critic, frequently telling Vatican officials to be more pastors than bureaucrats. Just this weekend he told the Vatican police force that it was their job to stop the "devil" from creating internal wars through Vatican employees spreading gossip.
"It's a war that you don't fight with weapons, but with your tongue," he said.