During an assembly in Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on Thursday evening, Pope Francis asked the gathered bishops of Italy to heed to a new pastoral vision.
It was the first time that Francis met with all of the more than 250 Italian bishops.
Vatican Radio reported that following the evening’ ceremonies, the Argentine-born pope spoke directly to the bishops in a “profession of faith,” in which he warned that clergymen must not be distracted from their true calling.
“We are not the expression of a structure or Organizational necessity," Francis proclaimed. "[But] the sign of the presence and action the Risen Lord,” which requires a kind of “spiritual vigilance.”
“The lack of vigilance … makes the pastor lukewarm; he becomes distracted, forgetful and even impatient; it seduces him with the prospect of a career, the lure of money, and the compromises with the spirit of the world; it makes him lazy, turning him into a functionary, a cleric worried more about himself, about organizations and structures, than about the true good of the People of God,” Francis said.
“Yes, to be pastors means to believe every day in the grace and strength that comes to us from the Lord, despite our weakness, and to fully assume the responsibility of walking in front of the flock.”
Le Figaro, the French daily newspaper, described the pope’s speech as an attack on the "arrogance" of Italian bishops.
RomeReports.com also reported that Francis complained that Italy has an “excessive number” of dioceses (well above 200) and that the bishops should reduce this number in order to prevent what he termed as “careerism.”
(In contrast, the French Catholic Church has less than 100 dioceses, while Spain has about 70.)
The pope also instructed the bishops to deal directly with Italy’s state and public institutions, rather than using the Vatican as their proxy and representative.
In addition, the pope asked the bishops to be more open and communicative with the priests under them.
“A special place is reserved for our priests,” advised the pope, according to the Catholic News Agency.
“Especially for them, our hearts, our hands and our doors remain open at all times. They are the first faithful we bishops have, our priests. Let us love them, let us love them from the heart!”