By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis began landmark meetings on Tuesday to reform the Vatican, promising to do all he could to change the mentality of an institution he said was too focused on its own interests.
Francis and eight cardinals from around the world are holding three days of closed-door meetings to discuss the Vatican's troubled administration and to map out possible changes in the worldwide Church.
As the talks began, left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper published a long interview conducted by its atheist editor last week in which the Argentine pope spoke frankly about the problems facing the Vatican administration, known as the Curia.
He said too many previous popes in the Church's long history had been "narcissists" who let themselves be flattered by "courtier" aides in the Curia instead of concentrating on the wider mission of the universal Church.
"The (papal) court is the leprosy of the papacy," said Francis, who has brought a new style of openness, consultation and simplicity to the Vatican. He has shunned the spacious papal apartment and lives in small quarters in a guest house.
There are some "courtiers" among administrators in today's Curia, he said, adding that its main defect is that it is too inward-looking.
"It looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, in large part temporal interests. This Vatican-centric vision neglects the world around it and I will do everything to change it," he said.
Francis said the eight cardinals he had chosen to make up his advisory board did not have selfish motives.
"They are not courtiers but wise people who are inspired by my same feelings. This is the start of a Church with an organization that is not only vertical but also horizontal," he said.
The Curia has been riven by scandals over the years and has sometimes seemed to have taken on the trappings and intrigue of a Renaissance court. Bishops around the world have deemed it heavy-handed, autocratic, condescending and overly bureaucratic.
Francis announced the papal advisory board of cardinals, revolutionary for a Church steeped in hierarchical tradition, a mere month after his election as the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and the first from Latin America.
His decision to take advice from the cardinals from Italy, Chile, India, Germany, Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States, Australia and Honduras, is a clear sign that he intends to take seriously calls from within the Church for de-centralization in a traditionally top-heavy institution.
Each cardinal polled their faithful and bishops about what should be discussed at the meetings, which will be closed even to top officials from the Vatican's Secretariat of State, itself a target for reform. Some 80 documents are up for discussion.
The cardinals on the advisory board are Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Giuseppe Bertello of Italy; Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa of Santiago, Chile; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Reinhard Marx of Munich; Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa; Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston; and George Pell of Sydney.
The group's main task is rewrite a 1998 constitution on the workings of the Vatican's various departments.
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)