FLORENCE, Italy — Pope Francis insisted Tuesday that the Catholic Church shun all temptations of power, prestige and money as he pressed his reform agenda amid a new scandal at the Vatican.
Francis outlined his vision of the church in a lengthy speech to Italian bishops gathered in Florence, leaving behind a Vatican reeling from revelations of internal resistance to his reform agenda.
The Argentine Jesuit told the bishops he wanted a church that was humble and poor, and not obsessed with preaching doctrine or acquiring power. He said Christian doctrine wasn't a closed or rigid system but rather one that lives and changes and develops.
"May God protect the Italian church from every pretense of power, image and money," he told them. He said Christians shouldn't be obsessed with power "even when it takes the shape of a power that is useful to the social image of the church."
As if to prove his point, Francis chose to eat lunch not with the Tuscan church hierarchy but rather with Florence's poor. He lined up with a few dozen people at a Caritas soup kitchen, getting a registration card like everyone else and tucking into a typical Florentine ribollita bean soup served on plastic plates with plastic utensils.
Francis' visit comes as the Vatican copes with a new "Vatileaks" scandal, after two new books laid bare the pope's uphill battle to reform the Italian-dominated Vatican bureaucracy and get a handle on its finances. Citing leaked confidential documents, the books exposed the greed of cardinals and monsignors, mismanagement of Vatican assets and the resistance to change from the Holy See's old guard.
A high-ranking Vatican monsignor and a laywoman have been arrested in the probe into the leaked documents. Francis has denounced the leaks as a crime but vowed to press ahead with his reform agenda.
Francis began his daylong visit to Tuscany with a stop in the industrial city of Prato, where a 2013 garment factory fire killed seven Chinese workers. In off-the-cuff comments to Prato residents gathered in the piazza outside the city's cathedral, Francis decried the "inhuman" conditions the illegal workers were forced to endure.
"The life of every community requires that we fight the cancer of corruption, the cancer of human and labor exploitation and the poison of illegality," he said to applause from the crowd, which was dotted by Chinese flags and banners.
The Argentine Jesuit pope has frequently spoken out about the scourge of human trafficking and the need for dignified work for all.
Winfield reported from Rome.
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