Pope Francis Outlines More Reforms, And Addresses Powerful Church Critics

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Pope Francis speaks to Vatican employees on Thursday.

Pope Francis has outlined more reforms to the Roman Catholic Church, including elevating more women and lay people to leadership positions and focusing more on the multicultural nature of the modern church.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reported that it's the third year in a row the pope has used his Christmas address to Vatican employees to lecture them about how they must change:

"Two years ago, Francis accused them of spiritual Alzheimer's. This year ... he said reform would not be like 'plastic surgery to remove wrinkles.'

" 'Dear brothers,' Francis added, 'it's not wrinkles the church should fear, but stains.' He spoke of malevolent resistance, the type he said, 'germinates in distorted minds and presents itself when the devil inspires wicked intentions, often in lamb's clothing.'

"The speech came as the pope has come under criticism from four conservative cardinals who accuse him of sowing confusion on important moral issues."

One of the concerns raised by the cardinals in a letter to Francis this fall was that it was unclear who was allowed to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church, reported the U.K.'s Catholic Herald.

Last year, the pope addressed the question of whether a spouse who belongs to a different Christian denomination may receive Holy Communion — which has historically been reserved for people baptized in the Catholic Church — with his or her Catholic partner.

In a visit to a Lutheran church in Rome, Francis opened the door slightly. "He suggested to a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man that perhaps, if her conscience permitted, she could receive Communion in her husband's church," Sylvia reported.

The four cardinals who penned the letter were not happy with those remarks, and others like them, arguing that they created confusion about one of the most sacred Catholic rituals, the Herald reported.

But Francis has not publicly responded to the letter, and on Thursday, he seemed to address what he considers misguided opposition to doctrinal reform. Open resistance, he said, is "born of goodwill and sincere dialogue," while hidden resistance comes from "hardened hearts content with the empty rhetoric of a complacent spiritual reform."

The Vatican leadership "is not an immobile bureaucratic apparatus," he said. "Reform is first and foremost a sign of life."

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