Before His Election, Pope Francis Called Out “Spiritual Narcissism” in the Roman Catholic Church

The website of the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba, Palabra Nueva, made public this week the handwritten notes then Cardinal Bergoglio used in an address to the College of Cardinals in advance of the papal conclave in which he was elected. Archbishop of Havana Jaime Ortega requested a copy of then Cardinal Bergoglio, and was initially rebuffed. But Bergoglio had a copy of his notes delivered the next day to Ortega, and confirmed his authorization for his remarks to be made public after his election as pontiff.

The cardinal who would be pope offered four insights on “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing” (Pope Paul VI) that included blunt critiques of the Roman Catholic Church as it is guided by the Magisterium—the teaching authority enacted through the hierarchy of the pope, cardinals, and bishops.

First, Bergoglio insisted that “The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only in the geographical sense but also to go to the existential peripheries: those of the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and of religious indifference, of thought, of all misery.”

He went on to point to a “self-referential” sickness in the Catholic Church that “seeks Jesus Christ within and does not let him out.” This practice, he said, allows evil to grow within the institutional Church, expressing itself as “theological narcissism.”

When this happens, said Bergoglio to his brother bishops, the Church “believes it has a light of its own… and gives rise to the evil that is so serious—that of spiritual worldliness.” Suggesting a direction for reform, the cardinal bemoaned a Church “living in itself, of itself, for itself.”

Finally, the then future pope spoke directly to the qualities demanded of the man who would lead the Roman Catholic Church: “a man who, from the contemplation of Jesus Christ and from worshiping Jesus Christ helps the Church [come] out of itself to the outskirts of the existential [limits], that helps Her to be a fruitful Mother.”

The full text of Francis’ notes, in English, is available here.

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