Pope Francis. | Wiki­media Commons

“The more power one has, the more one must be willing to serve,” Pope Francis says early on in “God Is Young,” a book-length interview pub­lished in Italian this past March.

The English version of the interview only became available on Oct. 2, in con­junction with the Catholic bishops’ “Synod on Young People.” Francis agreed to the interview in part to explain how he hoped the synod would unfold. Within it, he pro­vides an open and guiding spirit to the topics he believes the synod should cover, the envi­ronment and tech­nology in par­ticular. But Francis takes special care to remind leaders in “God Is Young” to think about caring for the weakest in their soci­eties — espe­cially the very young and the very old — in 2018 and beyond.

Francis has preached humility ever since he took office in 2013, and “God Is Young” is no exception. But here, more so than in other parts of his papacy, Francis focuses on spir­itual purity as the concept that unites young and old in resisting — and with the help of God, defeating — the abuses com­mitted by those in power.

The pope begins by laying out fifteen spir­itual dis­eases that those in power are most sus­cep­tible to con­tracting, and points out how they hurt both one’s rela­tionship with others and with God. Although he orig­i­nally wrote them out for members of the Curia, Francis says he believes that they apply just as well to secular leaders.

The first of these dis­eases Francis calls “spir­itual Alzheimer’s,” meaning that it causes one to forget that the path of sal­vation comes through a “per­sonal romance” with the Lord. Leaders blind to the need for a rela­tionship with God will inevitably fall prey to over­pow­ering desires to possess and control lower goods.

“It happens in par­ticular to those who live hedo­nis­ti­cally, to those who are slaves to their pas­sions, their whims, their manias, their phobias, their instincts, at times the lowest and most squalid,” Francis says.

A little further down the list, Francis iden­tifies a disease he calls “exis­tential schiz­o­phrenia.” It afflicts those — often admin­is­trators — who look after the affairs and welfare of large groups of people but live rotten per­sonal lives, à la Dorian Gray.

“It is the disease of those who lose touch with reality, with actual people, and become simple admin­is­trators of bureau­cratic matters,” Francis says. “These people create their own par­allel world where they set aside every­thing they sternly teach others and begin to live a hidden and often dis­solute life.”

All of the dis­eases, Francis con­cludes, stem from the root desire to transform service into power. This per­version turns self-sac­ri­ficial love into the love of self-sat­is­faction — insa­tiable, and even­tually deprives the indi­vidual of his ability to serve others. It is the disease that turns the shepherd into predator, and it most often attacks those in public service

This disease, Francis says, is nur­tured by an individual’s vanity, making it the hardest to unravel. Drawing on an example from the Desert Fathers, Francis com­pares vanity’s effect on the soul to an onion: peeling back layer after layer of deceit only reveals another layer of deceit. And even when it’s all gone, the sharp odor remains.

Through this con­stant enfolding of a society into its leaders’ faults, vanity in a leader can corrupt the whole insti­tution.

“Vanity is a soap bubble,” Francis says. “Being vain is hiding behind a mask.”

But the abuses of the pow­erful should not deter young people from wanting better leaders, Francis encourages his audience. Cor­ruption is a middle-aged illness, con­tracted by people who have become jaded by the past failings of the insti­tution they serve.

Francis sees this self-per­pet­u­ating problem and warns young people not to fall victim to become com­placent.

“Young people must not accept cor­ruption as if it were any other sin, they must never grow used to cor­ruption, because what we let slide by today will reoccur tomorrow, until we adapt to it and become an indis­pensable cog in its wheel,” he says.

The pope is right: Only those who refuse to accept living with unad­dressed atroc­ities as normal can uproot cor­ruption. And it is good that Francis has extended his advice beyond the Curia — maybe someone will listen.

Nic Rowan is a senior studying history.