As Pope Francis opened a landmark meeting on reforming the Roman Catholic Church, he lashed out at Vatican pomp and bureaucracy in an interview published Tuesday in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, and called for a less hierarchical church.
"The (papal) court is the leprosy of the papacy," Francis said. "It looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, in large part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric vision neglects the world around it, and I will do everything to change it."
In an interview containing some of his strongest public language to date, the outspoken pope also said too many of his predecessors in the church's long history had been "narcissists" who let themselves be flattered by courtiers and aides instead of concentrating on the wider mission of the church.
Francis has shunned the spacious papal apartment and many other trappings commonly associated with his office and lives in small quarters in a guesthouse.
Despite his stinging criticisms, he said in the interview that the eight cardinals he chose to make up his advisory board did not have selfish motives.
"They are not courtiers but wise people who are inspired by my own feelings. This is the start of a church with an organization that is not only vertical but also horizontal," he said.
The pope also explained his affinity with his namesake St. Francis, whose tomb he will visit on Friday during a visit to 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 like that sought by St. Francis. He said, "We need to give hope to young people, help the aged and open ourselves toward the future and spread love."