VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Saturday called on the Vatican hierarchy to embrace change as he quoted a late progressive cardinal who warned that the Catholic Church was seriously behind the times.

“Cardinal Martini, in his last interview a few days before his death, said words that should make us reflect: ‘The church is 200 years out of date. Why don’t we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?’” Francis said.

Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a former Archbishop of Milan, was a leading liberal voice in the Catholic Church. Once seen as a possible pope, he died of Parkinson’s disease in August 2012.

The pope quoted the late cardinal in his traditional pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy. He has used such occasions in the past to berate cardinals and other Curia members over their failings.

In his speech, Francis said the church needs to adapt to an era of “epochal change” and accept a historic loss of influence in secularized Western societies.

“We are no longer under a Christian regime because faith – especially in Europe, but also in large parts of the West – is no longer an obvious prerequisite of common life, and on the contrary, often it is even rejected, mocked, marginalized and ridiculed,” he said.


Secularization is a long-term trend in Western societies, but the Catholic Church has seen its standing further jeopardized by long-running clergy sex abuse and financial scandals.

Francis did not directly mention the scandals, but said that his drive to reform the Roman Curia aims to make church structures focus more on “evangelization” and less on “self-preservation.”

In a coded response to arch-conservatives who have lambasted his relatively liberal approach, the pope said “tradition is not static, it’s dynamic.”

Francis has come in the crosshairs of traditionalists with reforms like softening a ban on the communion for remarried divorcees, and by generally insisting that the church should not obsess about doctrine.

On Saturday, he spoke against “rigidity,” saying it comes “from fear of change and ends up putting sticks and obstacles in the ground of the common good, turning it into a minefield of misunderstanding and hatred.”

In a separate move, Francis issued a decree making the dean of the College of Cardinals, an influential role in the Vatican hierarchy, a five-year renewable position, rather a lifetime one.


The decision was announced alongside the resignation of the current dean, 92-year-old Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served as the Vatican’s second-in-command under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Sodano is a member of the conservative old guard, and he has faced criticism for allegedly turning a blind eye to clergy sex abuse cases while he held high office.

Francis was elected in 2013 with a broad reform mandate, but his efforts have been stymied, partly from the weight of vocal conservative opposition and continued church scandals.

A new constitution for the Roman Curia, which should reorganize Vatican structures, has for months been reported to be nearly ready, but its adoption has been repeatedly pushed back.

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