Francis also warned the sisters against using their vocations for personal ambition, saying priests and sisters who do so “do more harm to the Church”.
Francis has complained frequently about such “careerism” in the Church — a buzzword frequently used to describe Holy See bureaucrats.
The Pope made the comments during an audience with about 800 sisters attending an assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, which gathers the leaders of women’s religious orders from 75 countries.
The meeting came before Francis’ general audience in St Peter’s Square, where, in a break with tradition, he walked around a quadrant of the square greeting pilgrims.
Francis said that clergy who were “careerists” or “social climbers” were doing serious damage to the Catholic Church in his latest utterance aimed at instilling a sense of frugality and service in the Vatican and beyond.
Francis, 76, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, said: “Men and women of the Church who are careerists, social climbers, who use the people, the Church, brothers and sisters — those they should serve — as a springboard for their own ambitions and personal interests do great damage to the Church.”
“We learn poverty from the humble, the poor, the sick,” he added, urging clergy to work with those on the margins of society and shun the “idols of materialism” that cloud the true meaning of life.
“We have no use for theoretical poverty,” Francis said, departing from his prepared text.
Since his election on March 13, Francis has made it clear through his words and example that he wants clergy to live simpler lives, to serve the poor and shun temptations of power. He has decided not to live in the spacious, luxurious papal apartments in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors, opting instead for a small suite in a guest house, where he shares meals with other residents.
In his address, Francis appeared to be sending a message not only to priests, nuns and bishops around the world who serve the 1.2 billion-member Church, but also to bureaucrats in the Vatican.
Francis has inherited a Vatican rocked by a scandal in which documents leaked to the media spoke of alleged corruption in its administration and depicted prelates as fighting among themselves to advance their careers.
Last month he set up an advisory board of eight cardinals from around the world to help him reform the Vatican administration, known as the Curia. They will help him put into place changes in an administration which has been held responsible for some of the mishaps and scandals that plagued the eight-year reign of Pope Benedict before he resigned in February.
Benedict left a secret report for Francis on the problems in the administration which came to light when sensitive documents were stolen from the Pope’s desk and leaked by his butler in what became know as the “Vatileaks” scandal.
Before the conclave that elected Francis, cardinals called for changes to the Curia to make it a model of good governance, including introducing term limits on Vatican bureaucrats.
Anger at the mostly Italian prelates who run the Curia was one of the reasons that cardinals chose the first non-European pope for 1,300 years.