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Originally published Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 9:15 PM

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Pope Francis faults ‘insular’ church

In what is quickly becoming classic behavior, Pope Francis apparently picked up the phone and called Eugenio Scalfari, the atheist founder of La Repubblica, and talked about matters of faith.

The New York Times

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As Pope Francis convened a closed meeting on Tuesday with eight cardinals he appointed to overhaul the Vatican, he used his second revealing interview in two weeks to make a barbed indictment of the failings of the Roman Catholic Church, calling it overly clerical and insular, interested in temporal power and often led by “narcissists.”

“Heads of the church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers,” he said in the interview, published Tuesday and conducted by one of Italy’s most outspoken atheists, Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the newspaper La Repubblica in Rome. “The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”

He said his vision of the church is instead “a community” of people, priests and bishops who “are at the service of the people of God,” especially the poor, the old and the young “crushed” by unemployment.

“The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old,” Francis said, in a striking departure from his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who focused on secularism and relativism as the great evils.

The new pope’s comments provided a peek into his thinking as he began three days of private meetings of his kitchen cabinet of cardinals from Australia, Chile, Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, Honduras, India, Italy and the United States. He appointed the group early in his papacy to advise him as he tries to overhaul the Vatican bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia.

Reform of the Curia was a priority of the cardinals who elected Pope Francis in March, in a conclave held in the midst of a scandal over internal documents stolen and leaked by the pope’s butler and reported to contain accusations of financial impropriety, homosexuality and blackmail in the Vatican.

Francis has made clear that he wants not simply to clean up scandals, but to rid the church of careerists, climbers and those who value clerics more than the laity. He said in the interview, “Clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity.”

He said the Curia should be like a “quartermaster’s office” in the army because it was meant to manage “the services that serve the Holy See.” He said the problem is that the Curia has a “Vatican-centric” view that “neglects the world around us.”

“I do not share this view, and I’ll do everything I can to change it,” he said.

Eugene Cullen Kennedy, an emeritus professor at Loyola University in Chicago and a former priest who has written widely on the church, said Francis was articulating a vision of the Curia quite different from the Curia’s own. “He’s redefining the Curia,” he said. “They don’t look at themselves as the quartermaster; they look at themselves as the stable government.”

“He’s freeing the papacy from control by the Curia,” Kennedy said. “They have outlasted a lot of popes, but here’s one who’s determined to make changes that will outlast him. That’s why he has these cardinals in Rome.”

In the interview, Francis called the eight cardinals “not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings.” He added, “This is the beginning of a church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”

He was interviewed Sept. 24, five days after his first interview set off an uproar when it was published by Jesuit journals worldwide. Scalfari, the interviewer, said he was shocked when his letter seeking a meeting with Francis was answered with a phone call from the pope himself, offering to set a time.

This second interview leaves no doubts that he is in a hurry to further the stalled work of the Second Vatican Council: to open the church to modern culture, and to have a dialogue with other religions and nonbelievers.

Release of report 1st for Vatican bank

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican published its first-ever annual report for the Vatican bank Tuesday.

Earnings at the bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), rose more than fourfold in 2012 as net trading income rebounded from a loss in 2011, the report said. The IOR said it earned 86.6 million euros ($116.95 million) as the value of the securities it held and sold rose to 51.1 million euros from a loss of 38.2 million in 2011. More than 50 million euros of that profit was given to the pope for his charitable works.

The picture may not be so rosy for 2013, with rising interest rates cutting into profits and millions of euros earmarked for the IOR’s ongoing transparency process, which has involved hiring outside legal, financial and communications experts to revamp its procedures, review its client base and remake its image.

The Vatican has long insisted the IOR isn’t a bank but a unique financial institution aimed at managing assets for religious or charitable works — a distinction that presumably helped it avoid typical banking regulations.

The Associated Press

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