The 'fallible' Pope strikes a new chord

Pope Francis poses for a photo after a meeting with youths in downtown Cagliari, Italy, 22 September 2013
Image caption The Pope has said he needs to "live his life with others"

On the eve of a crucial first meeting with a group of eight cardinals from around the world who are to be his permanent consultants, Pope Francis has pointed the way towards a less authoritarian future form of Church government, criticising "small-minded" Catholic rules.

The Pope has granted his first in-depth post-election interview to the editor of a prestigious Jesuit magazine published in Rome, Civilta Cattolica.

The interview reveals not only a remarkable change of tone at the Vatican, but an important shift of key. Pope Francis has added sharps and flats to papal teaching which show that, far from claiming infallibility, he is a person of great humility who has grown accustomed to living with his own past personal failings and mistakes.

In this, he offers a fresh vision of his currently beleaguered Church. He explains that he is following the will of the College of Cardinals who elected him Pope last March.

His forthcoming meeting with the "Group of Eight" is going to be a "real consultation", not a mere talking shop, he says.

"There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but have now lost value or meaning," he told his Jesuit interviewer, Father Antonio Spadaro.

"The view of the church's teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong."

He continued with unexpected candour: "My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative."

In this six-hour interview, Pope Francis explained quite vividly the reasons why, when he first set eyes upon the papal apartment on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace, he decided he could not live there.

"The papal apartment is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious.

"But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight.

"People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others."

Instead, the pope chose to live in the Domus Marthae, a residence for clerics and official Vatican guests close by Saint Peter's Basilica where he occupies a modest, three-roomed suite.

He takes his meals in a common dining room, using the formal papal quarters only for official receptions and meeting heads of state.

"The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials," Pope Francis said.

"I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds.

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Media captionPope 'determined to carry out reform'

"Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds... And you have to start from the ground up."

The Pope's language is unlike anything heard coming out of the Vatican during recent papacies. It may not please some Catholics, and is certainly causing some degree of consternation among Vatican administrators accustomed to running things their way.

"The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent," Pope Francis concludes.

"The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

"We have to find a new balance. Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards."

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