Pope Francis has urged religious orders of the Catholic Church to strive to mold both the hearts and the minds of those studying in seminaries to become priests, warning that they can otherwise become "little monsters."
"We must form their [seminary students'] hearts. Otherwise we create little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps," Italian Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica quotes the pope as telling the superiors general of religious orders in a conversation.
The pope stressed that sinners, not corrupt people, were admitted in the seminary. "I am not speaking about people who recognize that they are sinners: we are all sinners, but we are not all corrupt. Sinners are accepted but not people who are corrupt," Francis said in the three-hour conversation that took place in late November.
"The ghost to fight against is the image of religious life understood as an escape or hiding place in face of an 'external' difficult and complex world," the pontiff told the leaders.
"It is possible to live differently in this world. ...It is a question of leaving everything to follow the Lord. No, I do not want to say 'radical.' Evangelical radicality is not only for religious: it is demanded of all. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way," said the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
"Religious should be men and women who are able to wake the world up," Francis said. "Life is complicated. It consists of grace and sin. He who does not sin is not human. We all make mistakes and we need to recognize our weakness. A religious who recognizes himself as weak and a sinner does not negate the witness that he is called to give, rather he reinforces it and this is good for everyone."
The 77-year-old pope went on to say that priests must have "real contact with the poor."
"This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people," he said. "If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy."
Francis possibly alluded to sexual abuse by priests, telling the religious orders to be careful in admitting a man who has been asked to leave another seminary, according to Reuters.
After his election in March last year, Francis told the cardinals that the Catholic Church must not become just another charitable group without its divine mission, urging they must stick to the faith's Gospel roots and resist modern temptations.
When he addressed the media for the first time, the pope reminded Catholics that Jesus, not the pope, is at the center of the Church, which he said should be "poor, and for the poor."