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Church must not be self-centred, Pope Francis told cardinals

Pope Francis prior to his election (Photo: CNS)

Evils within the Church are caused by a self-centeredness and “theological narcissism” that forget to share Christ with people outside of the Church, Pope Francis said in the days before his election.

“When the Church is self-referential, inadvertently, she believes she has her own light,” he said in a speech to the College of Cardinals before the start of the Conclave.

When the Church ceases to be “the mysterium lunae,” that is, to depend on Christ for receiving and reflecting his, not its own, light, it then “gives way to that very serious evil, spiritual worldliness, which according to (Jesuit Cardinal Henri-Marie) De Lubac, is the worst evil that can befall the Church,” said then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The Church then “lives to give glory only to one another” and not the rest of the world, he added.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and Vatican Radio published the future Pope’s comments in an outline of the speech he gave during the pre-Conclave meetings, known as General Congregations. The meetings, which ran from March 4-11, gave the cardinals a chance to discuss the main challenges facing the Church.

According to Vatican Radio, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana “had been so impressed” by then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s speech that he asked for a copy of it and then received the Pope’s permission to share the contents of the speech’s outline.

The outline said evangelisation presupposes that the Church does not want to be locked up inside herself, but wants to go “to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”

“When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelise, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick,” he wrote, adding a note of reference to St Luke’s Gospel account of Jesus curing the crippled woman on the Sabbath.

In the passage, Jesus is criticised for healing on the Sabbath, the day dedicated to rest. Jesus calls his critics hypocrites, asking why they can interpret the law to allow them to untie and release their animals on the Sabbath and not let a woman be unleashed from the binds of the devil who caused her illness.

The future Pope wrote, “The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism.”

“In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter, but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out,” he wrote.

“Put simply, there are two images of the Church: a Church which evangelises and comes out of herself” by hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith; and “the worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself,” he said, adding that, “this should shed light on the possible changes and reforms which must be done for the salvation of souls.”

Then-Cardinal Bergoglio told the College of Cardinals that the next Pope “must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelising.'”

The College of Cardinals elected Pope Francis, reportedly beyond the two-thirds required, on March 13, on the fifth round of conclave voting.