Pope Francis has vowed to change the mindset of the Roman Catholic church, saying that the institution “must return to being a community of the people of God” and rethink the relationship between its leaders and the laity.
“Leaders of the Church have often been Narcissus, flattered and sickeningly excited by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy,” the pope said in the interview published Tuesday in Italy’s La Republicca newspaper. He also disclosed some of his own fears before being elected to the position by a conclave of cardinals in March
“Sometimes when I meet a cleric, I suddenly become anti-clerical,” the pontiff said, according to the paper. “Clericalism shouldn’t have anything to do with Christianity.”
The interview was conducted last week in the Vatican guest house where Francis, who has been praised for what is seen as a simpler and less ostentatious approach to the papacy, lives in a low-key residence.
“When in the conclave they elected me pope, I asked for some time alone before I accepted,” he said in the interview. “I was overwhelmed by great anxiety, then I closed my eyes and all thoughts, including the possibility of refusing, went away.”
The interview appeared as Francis begins a three-day meeting with a group of eight cardinals gathered from around the world with the task of reforming the Vatican administration, known as the Curia.
“We need to include those who are now excluded and preach peace. The Vatican, inspired by Pope John and Paul VI, decided to look at the future and open up to modern culture. This includes a dialogue with non-believers. After that, not so much was done in this direction. I have to the humility and ambition to do so,” the pope said, according to La Republicca.
In a separate interview published on Sept. 19, the pope said the church should not focus on issues like abortion, contraception, and gay marriage to the extent that it neglects other aspects of the faith.
“We have to find a new balance,” he said in that interview, published in Jesuit journals. “Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the gospel.”
NBC News’ Erin McClam contributed to this report. The Associated Press and Reuters also contributed.