Pope vows no more cover ups on sexual abuse in letter to Catholics

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis delivers a speech after a meeting with Patriarchs of the churches of the Middle East at the St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari, southern Italy July 7, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis, facing sexual abuse crises in several countries, wrote an unprecedented letter to all Catholics on Monday, asking each one of them to help root out “this culture of death” and vowing there would be no more cover-ups.

In a highly personal letter addressed to “the people of God,” Church language for all members, the pope appeared to be launching an appeal for all Catholics to face the crisis together and not let it tear the Church apart.

The Catholic Church in the United States, Chile, Australia, and Ireland – where the pope is making a two-day visit this weekend – are reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors. Numerous surveys have pointed to plummeting confidence in the Church in those countries and elsewhere.

In his letter, the pope referred to the suffering endured by minors due to sexual abuse at the hands of a “significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.”

The Vatican said it was the first time a pope had written to all of the world’s some 1.2 billion Catholics about sexual abuse. Past letters on sexual abuse scandals have been addressed to bishops and faithful of individual countries.

“We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death,” he said.

Quoting a Gospel passage that says “If one member suffers, all suffer together,” Francis added:

“(Those words) forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.”

“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the

gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” Francis wrote.

Advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse expressed disappointment. “More actions, less words,” said Anne Barrett-Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a U.S.-based resource center that tracks cases of clerical abuse worldwide.

“He needs an effective discipline process for bishops and religious superiors who are known to have enabled abuse,” she said.

Last week a grand jury in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania released the findings of the largest-ever investigation of sex abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church, finding that 301 priests in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years.

CRYING OUT TO HEAVEN

He acknowledged that “the heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept

quiet or silenced”.

“Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated,” he said.

He also acknowledged that the implementation of a zero tolerance had been “delayed” in some places.

Victims groups have said that while new policies have been put into place in several countries to alert civil authorities about cases of abuse, the pope still needed to do more to hold accountable bishops who covered it up, mostly by moving priests from parish to parish.

In his first direct response to the U.S. grand jury report, Francis said that while most cases it listed “belong to the past,” it was clear that the abuse cited “was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced”.

Last month, Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., and one of the U.S. Church’s most prominent figures, stepped down as a cardinal after accusations that he abused two minors about 50 years ago and later abused adult seminarians.

He was believed to be the first cardinal to lose his red hat in nearly a century and the first ever for alleged sexual abuse.

In May, all 34 of Chile’s bishops offered their resignation to the pope over a widening sexual abuse crisis there. He has so far accepted five of the resignations.

(Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin, editing by Steve Scherer, Richard Balmforth)

‘There’s going to be a raid’: A Chilean prosecutor forces Catholic Church to give up secrets

Archbishop of Santiago, Ricardo Ezzati attends his religious service at the Santiago cathedral, in Santiago, Chile, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

By Aislinn Laing and Cassandra Garrison

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Two special envoys sent by Pope Francis to investigate a child sex abuse scandal in Chile were meeting priests and Church workers at a university in the Chilean capital last month when aides rushed into the room with an alarming development: police and prosecutors were about to start raiding Church offices.

The envoys were 90 minutes into a seminar on how to investigate allegations of sex abuse committed by fellow clergy following revelations that hundreds of children might have been molested. For decades, the Roman Catholic Church in Chile quietly investigated such allegations without alerting police, but it now stands accused, even by Pope Francis himself, of a cover-up that allowed abusers to operate with impunity.

One of the clergymen listening to the envoys was Jaime Ortiz de Lazcano, the legal adviser to Santiago’s archbishop. The aides rushed to his side and told him, “‘Father, go to the (Church offices) because there’s going to be a raid’,” Ortiz later recounted.

Chilean prosecutor Emiliano Arias, who is leading an investigation against alleged sex abuse crimes by Roman Catholic priests, is seen at his work place in Rancagua, Chile, July 18, 2018. Picture taken July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Esteban Medel

Chilean prosecutor Emiliano Arias, who is leading an investigation against alleged sex abuse crimes by Roman Catholic priests, is seen at his work place in Rancagua, Chile, July 18, 2018. Picture taken July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Esteban Medel

Police and prosecutors were staging simultaneous raids on Church offices less than a mile away from the university and outside the capital, looking for evidence of sex crimes the Church had not reported to the police.

The surprise sweeps, ordered by Emiliano Arias, a provincial prosecutor, marked the start of what experts who track sex crimes in the Roman Catholic Church say is one of the most aggressive investigations ever undertaken by a judicial authority anywhere in the world.

Since that cold June afternoon, there have been five more raids on Church offices to seize documents, phones, tablets, and computers, leaving the Vatican scrambling to respond to a rapidly unfolding scandal that is the worst image crisis of Francis’ papacy, now in its sixth year.

Leading the charge against the Church is Arias, 45, who is experienced in fighting organized crime and has a showman’s fondness for taking television news crews on the raids.

Arias told Reuters in an exclusive interview that documents seized by his team contained 30 cases of alleged abuse dating back to 2007 that the Church had not reported to the police. While Reuters was allowed to film his investigators poring through seized documents, he declined to give details from the files because he said they named victims of abuse.

He also alleged that some local Church officials had tried to destroy documents but that his team – made up of two prosecutors, three lawyers and a unit of specialist sex crime police – had salvaged them. He declined to say who had tried to destroy them or how they had tried to get rid of them.

Citizens hold a banner reading "They will not steal our hope" as Archbishop of Santiago Ricardo Ezzati (not pictured) attends his religious service at the Santiago cathedral, in Santiago, Chile, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Citizens hold a banner reading “They will not steal our hope” as Archbishop of Santiago Ricardo Ezzati (not pictured) attends his religious service at the Santiago cathedral, in Santiago, Chile, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Reuters was unable to independently confirm those assertions.

Víctor Villa Castro, head of communications for the Santiago archbishopric, said he could not comment on any cases under investigation by Arias.

“We would, however, say that we have no knowledge of the destruction of documents, nor the covering-up of crimes,” he said. “The victims are the first, and most important, in this and we will cooperate with the civil authorities in any way that can help to get to the truth of these matters.”

Arias says he wants to arrest both those who perpetrated the abuse and those who he says helped to cover it up. He arrested Oscar Munoz, a top aide to Santiago’s archbishop, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, after seizing church documents in which Munoz confessed to sex crimes. Munoz’s lawyer has acknowledged that some of the accusations in the documents are true but says he will challenge some others.

Arias last week named Ezzati, the most senior Roman Catholic in Chile, as a suspect, accusing him of covering up his aide’s alleged abuses. Ezzati has denied any wrongdoing and promised to cooperate.

Arias said he launched the raids after Church officials in Rancagua, the capital of O’Higgins region, told him he would have to make a formal petition to the Vatican to obtain information he was seeking because it was protected by ‘pontifical secret.’

A spokesman for the Rancagua archbishop’s office said they were told to do this by the Vatican and insisted they were cooperating fully with civil authorities. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke declined to comment.

The Roman Catholic Church says the ‘pontifical secret’ provision in canon law is intended to protect the privacy of all involved in sex abuse claims. Critics say bishops have historically used it as a shield to block inquiries from civil authorities.

“We are not talking about a fraud, or a theft, we are talking about crimes against children,” Arias said in an interview in his office in Rancagua, explaining his decision not to submit the request to the Vatican and instead get a judge to approve the raids.

‘CULTURE OF ABUSE’

Allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy are not new, but under Chilean law governing the separation of church and state, the Catholic Church, a powerful and politically influential institution in this conservative Andean nation, has no legal obligation to report the allegations to police.

The sex abuse scandal came to a head after Pope Francis visited in January and was initially dismissive of claims by survivors of a cover-up by top Church officials there. A backlash among advocates for abuse survivors prompted him to dispatch an investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who produced a confidential 2,300-page report on the allegations.

After receiving the report Pope Francis wrote an open letter to Chile’s faithful in May in which he decried “the culture of abuse and the system of cover-up” by the Church in Chile.

He summoned all 34 of Chile’s bishops to Rome in May where they offered to resign en masse. He has so far accepted five resignations and is expected to accept more.

Arias speaks mostly without emotion during the hour-long interview until he talks about how, according to their accusers, priests convinced their victims that they were doing nothing wrong. Then he displays flashes of anger, sometimes so impassioned that he trips over his words.

“I have seen some tough cases but what shocks me about all this is the abuse of conscience – how an accused (Church worker) has entered into the soul of another person and is capable of convincing him that satisfying his desires is not even a sin,” said Arias, who describes his family as “very Catholic” but says he has lapsed.

Arias said he can prosecute senior Church officials for covering up the abuses if he can prove they knew about the systematic abuse and failed to do anything to stop it, or hid evidence to prevent civil authorities from getting involved.

But first he must prosecute the abusers, said Maria Ines Horvitz, a senior lawyer at the State Defense Council of Chile, a public agency that provides legal advice to the Chilean state. And to do that he must find cases within the 10-year statute of limitations – a potential problem that has bedeviled prosecutors in other countries – or turn to the one court in Chile that still handles cases from before roughly 2000, which is backlogged.

PROSECUTORIAL ZEAL

The national public prosecutor instructed all provincial prosecutors last month to pursue sex abuse allegations more vigorously.

But Arias has gone much further than his colleagues in his zeal to bring prosecutions. He has repeatedly widened his remit, from a handful of cases to dozens, from his provincial base to the capital, and from investigating claims of abuse by 14 priests in Rancagua to the alleged complicity of Ezzati, Santiago’s archbishop, himself.

As a result of his uncovering new cases in Church documents, the national prosecutor last week authorized him to expand his investigation into other regions.

BishopAccountability.Org, which tracks allegations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, says the only comparable investigation into sex abuse in the Church was in Belgium in 2010 when police launched coordinated raids on Church offices and the home of a cardinal. That investigation did not lead to any prosecutions because of the statute of limitations.

Arias is carrying out his investigation in the absence of any public backing from the center-right Sebastian Pinera government. Shortly before becoming president in March, Pinera criticized the Church for its “defensive” attitude to the scandal and “insufficient” investigations but has remained silent on the issue since.

A government spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

WHY NOW?

For decades allegations of sexual abuse by priests swirled through Chilean society, but little was done to address them. The Church was largely left to police itself.

But this year that suddenly changed.

Church watchers say several factors contributed to this watershed moment – the international attention received by several victims who went public; the pope’s initial poor handling of the claims; and the ripple effect of the global #MeToo movement.

The Church’s grip on Chile is also weakening, public opinion polling shows, even though the formerly predominately Catholic nation remains largely conservative on social issues.

The waning support for the Church was evident when the pope visited Chile in January – there were many empty seats at his public masses. This was “a turning point for Francis’ papacy” a Vatican official said. “It is when he realized that he was listening to the wrong people about the real situation in Chile.”

For Arias, the pope’s subsequent mea culpa that the Church had covered up abuses gave him the impetus he needed to act. “His description of what was happening in Chile was powerful and should concern us all,” he said.

(Reporting by Aislinn Lange and Cassandra Garrison in Santiago; Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome; Editing by Ross Colvin and Paul Thomasch)

Unholy war of words breaks out over Vatican rapprochement with China

A believer prays during a weekend mass at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin in November 10, 2013.

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – An unholy war of words has broken out among Vatican and Catholic officials over the Holy See’s rapprochement with Communist China, with cardinals, archbishops and priests caught in an undiplomatic crossfire.

In the past few days, one cardinal has accused another of spouting “nonsense” and a priest accused an archbishop of being so naive about China that he was like Alice in Wonderland.

The exchanges came as the Vatican and China moved closer to an accord on the appointment of bishops in what would be an historic breakthrough and a precursor to a resumption in diplomatic relations after 70 years.

Any deal was bound to be controversial because of concessions the Vatican would have to make to a government that has kept religion under its thumb. But the accusations have become exceptionally shrill as diplomacy has collided with passion.

Father Bernardo Cervellera, head of the AsiaNews agency, which specializes in China, accused Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the head of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, of being “naive”.

In an interview this week, Sanchez Sorondo praised China, saying that Chinese today were those who are perhaps best implementing Church teachings on social issues, such as concern for the environment and human dignity.

“We can understand that in the heat of desire for relations between China and the Vatican one can be doting and exalt Chinese culture … but adulating China is an ideological affirmation that makes a laughingstock of the Church,” Cervellera wrote in an editorial headlined “Sanchez Sorondo in Wonderland”.

Catholics in China are split between “underground” communities that recognize the pope and a state-controlled group where bishops are appointed by the government in collaboration with local Church communities. Critics have blasted the deal because it would involve accepting the legitimacy of bishops appointed by the government.

The war of words also reached the stratosphere of Church hierarchy, cardinal versus cardinal.

The Vatican rebuked Cardinal Joseph Zen, 86, the outspoken former bishop of Hong Kong, after he accused it of “selling out” China’s underground Catholics to the communists. Zen, known for his feistiness, did not take it lying down.

He accused the Vatican’s chief diplomat, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, of speaking “nonsense,” after Parolin said in an interview that the aim of dialogue was the greater good and that the Vatican understood the “pain” of Chinese Catholics.

Zen retorted in his blog on Monday: “Oh! This man who lacks faith, how would he understand what is real pain?!”

A Vatican source has said the deal could be signed in the next few months. The clerical gloves are expected to stay off at least until then.

(Additional reporting By Venus Wu in Hong Kong, editing by Larry King)

Pope to Egypt to mend ties with Islam but conservatives wary

FILE PHOTO - Pope Francis meets Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb (R), Egyptian Imam of al-Azhar Mosque, at the Vatican May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis hopes to mend ties with Muslims on his trip to Egypt on Friday but faces criticism from church conservatives for meeting Islamic religious leaders after a spate of deadly attacks against Christians.

In a video message to the people of Egypt on Tuesday, Francis said the world had been “torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of the your dear land” and said he hoped his trip could help peace and inter-religious dialogue.

Security is a primary concern less than three weeks after 45 people were killed in attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Alexandria and Tanta, claimed by Islamic State, on Palm Sunday.

But Francis has insisted on using an ordinary car during his 27 hours in Cairo, continuing his practice of shunning armored limousines in order to be closer to people.

Francis will meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi; Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the world’s most influential center of Sunni Islamic theology and learning; and Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who barely escaped the Alexandria bombing.

Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency after the attacks.

A main reason for the trip is to try to strengthen relations with the 1,000-year-old Azhar center that were cut by the Muslim side in 2011 over what it said were repeated insults of Islam by Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict.

Ties with the center were restored last year after Tayeb visited the Vatican. Tayeb, widely seen as one of the most moderate senior clerics in Egypt, has repeatedly condemned Islamic State and its practice of declaring others as apostates and infidels as a pretext for waging violent jihad.

The Vatican says that Francis, who denounces the idea of violence in God’s name, is convinced that Christian-Muslim dialogue is more important now than ever. Papal aides say a moderate like Tayeb would be an important ally in condemning radical Islam.

In Tuesday’s message, Francis said he hoped the trip could bring “fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world, in which Egypt occupies a primary position” and “offer a valid contribution to inter-religious dialogue with the Islamic world”.

WAR OF RELIGION?

The pope’s views are not shared by all Catholics, however. Some conservatives say there should be no dialogue with Islam and that a “war of religion” is in progress.

Italian historian Roberto de Mattei said the Palm Sunday attacks should be “a brusque reality check for Pope Francis”.

The perpetrators were “not unbalanced or crazy but bearers of a religious vision that has been combating Christianity since the seventh century,” De Mattei, editor of the conservative monthly magazine Christian Roots, wrote in an editorial.

Novus Ordo Watch, an ultra-conservative Catholic blog, blasted the Vatican over the logo of the trip, which displays the Muslim crescent and the cross together, and derided the pope as “Mr. Coexist”.

A leading Catholic scholar of Islam, Egyptian-born Father Samir Khalil Samir, said that Francis meant well but was naive.

“I think his ignorance of Islam does not help dialogue. He has said often that we know that Islam is a religion of peace but this is simply a mistake,” Samir, who is based in Beirut, told reporters in Rome.

“We know there are certainly times of peace and a willingness for peace on the part of many Muslims but I can’t read the Koran and pretend that it is a book that is oriented towards peace,” he said.

The region has witnessed a massive exodus of Christians fleeing war and persecution in the past few decades, accelerated recently by the rise of Islamic State. Francis said in his message he hoped his visit could be a “consolation and … encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East”.

He will visit Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral to pray for the 28 people killed in a Christmas season blast last year and lay flowers in their memory.

Rights activists are concerned about the pope’s meeting with President Sisi.

Sisi has sought to present himself as an indispensable bulwark against terrorism in the region, deflecting Western criticism that he has suppressed political opposition and human rights activists since he was elected in 2014.

Asked if the pope would raise human rights concerns, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Francis had made “trips more delicate than this one,” adding “let’s see what the pope has to say.”

(Additional reporting by Lin Noueihed in Cairo; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

New Jersey teen pleads guilty in plot to assassinate the Pope

Pope Francis celebrates his final mass of his visit to the United States at the Festival of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania September 27, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – A New Jersey teen pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to terrorists in what media called an ISIS-inspired effort to kill Pope Francis in 2015 during a public Mass in Philadelphia, according to a statement by federal prosecutors.

Santos Colon, 17, admitted on Monday in a federal court in Camden, New Jersey, that he attempted to conspire with a sniper to shoot the Pope during his visit in Philadelphia and set off explosive devices in the surrounding areas.

Colon engaged with someone he thought would be the sniper from June 30 to August 14, 2015, but the person was actually an undercover FBI employee, according to prosecutors. The attack did not take place, and FBI agents arrested Colon in 2015.

“Colon engaged in target reconnaissance with an FBI confidential source and instructed the source to purchase materials to make explosive devices,” prosecutors said in a statement on Monday.

A U.S. citizen from Lindenwold, New Jersey, Colon was charged as an adult with one count of attempting to provide material support to terrorists on Monday and faces up to 15 years in prison.

What motivated the attempted attack was not immediately known to Reuters. NBC News reported that prosecutors said Colon admitted the terror plot was inspired by the Islamic State.

Prosecutors and the defense attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Colon also faces a fine of $250,000, or twice the amount of any financial gain or loss from the offense, prosecutors said. No date has been set for sentencing and the investigation is ongoing.

The Pope visited Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and 27, 2015, to hold a public Mass, attracting hundreds of thousands of people during his biggest event in the United States.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Stop hurling insults and listen, Pope Francis tells politicians

Pope Francis

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – Politicians should lower the volume of their debates and stop insulting each other, Pope Francis said on Friday, adding that leaders should be open to dialogue with perceived enemies or risk sowing the seeds of war.

“Insulting has become normal,” he said in a 45-minute-long improvised talk to university students in Rome. “We need to lower the volume a bit and we need to talk less and listen more.”

Francis, the son of Italian migrants to Argentina, also warned against anti-immigrant movements and urged that newcomers be treated “as human brothers and sisters”.

While the pope spoke mostly in general terms about the need for more dialogue in society as he answered questions from four students at the Roma Tre campus, he singled out politicians.

“In the newspapers, we see this one insulting that one, that one says this about the other one,” he said.

“But in a society where the standards of politics has fallen so much – I am talking about world society – we lose the sense of building society, of social co-existence, and social co-existence is built on dialogue.”

He spoke of “political debates on television where even before one (candidate) finishes talking, he is interrupted.”

Francis did not single out any countries for criticism. Italian political talk shows are often shrill and last year’s U.S. presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were peppered with insults.

In one debate last September, for example, Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman” and she accused him of having “engaged in racist behavior”.

Francis urged everyone to seek “the patience of dialogue”.

He added: “Wars start inside our hearts, when I am not able to open myself to others, to respect others, to talk to others, to dialogue with others, that is how wars begin.”

The pope also warned against anti-immigrant movements, which have grown in the United States and a number of European countries, including Italy.

“Migrations are not a danger. They are a challenge for growth,” he said, adding it was important to integrate immigrants into host countries so they keep their traditions while learning new ones in a process of mutual enrichment.

He said immigrants should be welcomed “first of all as human brothers and sisters. They are men and women just like us.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Pope decries ‘malevolent resistance’ to needed Vatican reforms

Pope Francis (L) speaks during the traditional greetings to the Roman Curia in the Sala Clementina (Clementine Hall) of the Apostolic Palace, at the Vatican

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis decried “malevolent” internal resistance to his campaign to reform the Vatican bureaucracy on Thursday and said lay men and women should get top jobs if they are more qualified than clerics.

For the third year running, Francis used his annual Christmas greetings to the Roman Catholic Church’s central bureaucracy, or Curia, to lecture the assembled cardinals, bishops and other department heads on the need for change.

The Argentine-born pontiff, who in his 2014 address said the Italian-dominated Curia suffered from “spiritual Alzheimer’s”, listed 12 guidelines to reform including better coordination, dedication to service and openness to “the signs of the times”.

Speaking forcefully, he acknowledged that there had been resistance from some self-centered members of the bureaucracy, some of it open, some of it hidden and some hypocritical.

“But there has also been some malevolent resistance,” Francis, who turned 80 last week, told cardinals, bishops and monsignors gathered in the Vatican’s frescoed Sala Clementina.

“This (type) germinates in distorted minds and presents itself when the devil inspires wicked intentions, often in lambs’ clothing,” he said.

Pope Francis speaks during the traditional greetings to the Roman Curia in the Sala Clementina (Clementine Hall) of the Apostolic Palace, at the Vatican,

Pope Francis speaks during the traditional greetings to the Roman Curia in the Sala Clementina (Clementine Hall) of the Apostolic Palace, at the Vatican, December 22, 2016. REUTERS/Gregorio Borgia/Pool

Last month, four conservative cardinals made a rare public challenge to the pope over some of his teachings in a major document on the family, accusing him of sowing confusion on important moral issues and requesting clarification.

Francis has not directly answered them but said some people displayed “a certain legalism” and misunderstood the document.

After his election in 2013, Francis set out to reform the Curia, whose intrigues, alleged corruption and leaks were widely held responsible for the decision by his predecessor Benedict XVI to become the first pope in six centuries to resign.

He has shut departments deemed inefficient or outdated and merged others. He has also worked to make the Vatican’s often murky finances transparent according to international standards.

In his address, Francis said Curia officials must be less concerned with careers or promotions and more with spiritual renewal, humility and a sober lifestyle.

He said the reforms, in which a number of ranking members have lost or will lose power, would be continuous and deep and Curia officials should implement them with “courage … firm decisions … (and) unconditional obedience”.

They would not be like “plastic surgery to remove wrinkles,” he said, adding: “Dear brothers, it is not wrinkles that the Church should fear, but stains.”

The Curia, he said, had to be more multinational, more multicultural and, where possible, less clerical.

“It would be opportune to foresee access (to Curia jobs) for a greater number of lay faithful, especially in those departments where they can be more competent than clerics …,” he said, adding that lay men and women should be “integrated in leadership roles”.

Francis called the age-old bureaucratic practice of promoting someone to get them out of the way was “a cancer” that had to end.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Pope says attacks show ‘world is at war’

ope Francis shakes hands with Polish President Andrzej Duda at a welcoming ceremony at Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow

ABOARD PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Wednesday that a string of recent attacks, including the murder of a priest in France, was proof that the “world is at war”.

However, speaking to reporters aboard a plane taking him to Poland, the pope said he was not talking about a war of religion, but rather one of domination of peoples and economic interests.

“The word that is being repeated often is insecurity, but the real word is war,” he said in brief comments to reporters while flying to southern Poland for a five-day visit.

“Let’s recognize it. The world is in a state of war in bits and pieces,” he said, adding that the attacks could be seen as another world war, specifically mentioning World War One and Two.

“Now there is this one (war). It is perhaps not organic but it is organized and it is war,” he said. “We should not be afraid to speak this truth. The world is at war because it has lost peace.”

About 15 minutes later, after greeting journalists individually, Francis took the microphone again and said he wanted “to clarify” that he was not referring to a war of religion.

“Not a war of religion. There is a war of interests. There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for domination of peoples. This is the war,” he said.

“All religions want peace. Others want war. Do you understand?” he said.

He called Jacques Hamel, the priest forced to his knees by Islamist militants on Tuesday who then slit his throat, “a saintly priest”, but said he was just one of many innocent victims.

He thanked the many people around the world who have sent their condolences over the killing of Father Hamel, particularly French President Francois Hollande, who spoke to the Pope on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Larry King)