By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis decried "malevolent" internal resistance to his campaign to reform the Vatican bureaucracy on Thursday and said lay men and women should get top jobs if they are more qualified than clerics.
For the third year running, Francis used his annual Christmas greetings to the Roman Catholic Church's central bureaucracy, or Curia, to lecture the assembled cardinals, bishops and other department heads on the need for change.
The Argentine-born pontiff, who in his 2014 address said the Italian-dominated Curia suffered from "spiritual Alzheimer's", listed 12 guidelines to reform including better coordination, dedication to service and openness to "the signs of the times".
Speaking forcefully, he acknowledged that there had been resistance from some self-centered members of the bureaucracy, some of it open, some of it hidden and some hypocritical.
"But there has also been some malevolent resistance," Francis, who turned 80 last week, told cardinals, bishops and monsignors gathered in the Vatican's frescoed Sala Clementina.
"This (type) germinates in distorted minds and presents itself when the devil inspires wicked intentions, often in lambs' clothing," he said.
Last month, four conservative cardinals made a rare public challenge to the pope over some of his teachings in a major document on the family, accusing him of sowing confusion on important moral issues and requesting clarification.
Francis has not directly answered them but said some people displayed "a certain legalism" and misunderstood the document.
After his election in 2013, Francis set out to reform the Curia, whose intrigues, alleged corruption and leaks were widely held responsible for the decision by his predecessor Benedict XVI to become the first pope in six centuries to resign.
He has shut departments deemed inefficient or outdated and merged others. He has also worked to make the Vatican's often murky finances transparent according to international standards.
In his address, Francis said Curia officials must be less concerned with careers or promotions and more with spiritual renewal, humility and a sober lifestyle.
He said the reforms, in which a number of ranking members have lost or will lose power, would be continuous and deep and Curia officials should implement them with "courage ... firm decisions ... (and) unconditional obedience".
They would not be like "plastic surgery to remove wrinkles," he said, adding: "Dear brothers, it is not wrinkles that the Church should fear, but stains."
The Curia, he said, had to be more multinational, more multicultural and, where possible, less clerical.
"It would be opportune to foresee access (to Curia jobs) for a greater number of lay faithful, especially in those departments where they can be more competent than clerics ...," he said, adding that lay men and women should be "integrated in leadership roles".
Francis called the age-old bureaucratic practice of promoting someone to get them out of the way was "a cancer" that had to end.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)