VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Thursday told his ambassadors around the world, some of whom have been involved in sexual and financial scandals, to live humble, exemplary lives and be closer to the poor than to the elite.
In a document handed to more than 100 ambassadors in Rome for meetings with top Vatican officials, Francis told the envoys that they they had to “live for the things of God and not for those of the world”.
The Vatican is a sovereign state as well as the headquarters of the 1.3-billion-member Roman Catholic Church, and it has diplomatic relations with more than 180 countries. Its ambassadors, known as nuncios, are often the highest ranking and most visible diplomats in a given country.
In recent years, some nuncios or other Vatican diplomats have been mired in scandal.
The nuncio in France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, is under investigation in Paris over accusations of sexual molestation.
In 2013, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the ambassador in the Dominican Republic, was charged with paying boys for sex. He was recalled, kept in detention in the Vatican and dismissed from the priesthood, but died in 2015 before his trial.
Last year, a Vatican court sentenced an Italian priest, Carlo Alberto Capella, to five years in jail for possessing child pornography while he was a diplomat in Washington.
“A man of God does not deceive or defraud others, does not give in to gossip or bad-mouthing others. He conserves a pure mind and heart, not allowing his eyes and ears to be contaminated by the filth of the world,” the pope said.
Nuncios who “go off the rails damage even the Church,” he told them.
Some Vatican ambassadors have also come under fire for lavish lifestyles.
“It is ugly to see a nuncio looking for luxury, for designer clothes, in the midst of people who are deprived of life’s necessities,” Francis said.
He instructed them to reject gifts by the powerful who wanted to influence them, and to spend time with the poor and others on the margins of society.
As the Church under Francis has become more polarised, some nuncios have taken to social media to criticise directly some of the pope’s decisions or draw attention to criticism by conservative groups.
Francis pointedly told the envoys that it was incompatible with their role to “criticise the pope behind his back”.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich