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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. In the three months since he was elected head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has surprised people with his candor and off-the-cuff remarks. But few remarks have drawn as many headlines as his alleged acknowledgement of the existence of a so-called gay lobby inside the Vatican. From Rome, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli explains.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual acts are a grave sin. But the existence of active gay prelates in the Vatican bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia, has been a poorly held secret for centuries. Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent for the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, says the normal definition of a lobby - as an organized group of people pushing a specific agenda - does not apply here. He prefers to call it a gay subculture.

ROBERT MICKENS: Many of these people in the Vatican that are gay, and even acting out, are extremely conservative. I mean, these are not people that want to change the church's teaching on homosexuality - not at all.

POGGIOLI: Representatives of Latin American religious had a question-and-answer session last week with Francis. [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The name of the organization is the Latin American Confederation of Men And Women Religious.] In their summary of his remarks, the pope said that in the Curia, quote, "There are holy people, but there is also a stream of corruption. The gay lobby is mentioned, and it is true; it is there. We need to see what we can do," end quote. Mickens says the remarks appear to confirm unsourced media reports, four months ago, of a powerful gay lobby in the Vatican jockeying for power and influence.

MICKENS: The big game is blackmail. It's a mutual recrimination system. That's what's really twisted about the whole thing. I know he's doing this, he knows I'm doing that; checkmate. And that's how the game works. It's a bad, bad system.

POGGIOLI: As soon as Francis became pope, he was given a secret report commissioned by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, about the leaks and scandals that had plagued his papacy. Vatican analyst Marco Politi says the report focused on the major problems afflicting the Vatican administration.

MARCO POLITI: The three hot issues in the Vatican Curia are issues about career, about personal ambitions; are issues about money, which means corruption; and are issues about sex.

POGGIOLI: Reform of the Roman Curia was a rallying cry of pre-conclave discussions among cardinals, before electing the new pontiff. And before he became pope, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio himself said the new pope's major task will be cleaning up the church administration. Another big issue the pope is tackling, Politi says, is the scandal-tainted Vatican Bank.

POLITI: There was money laundering through the Vatican bank, money of the Mafia. And in same time, in the '90s, there were big amounts of money for bribes for Italian political parties.

POGGIOLI: In his remarks to the Latin American religious, the pope admitted that he cannot carry out these big reforms by himself. Ezio Mauro, editor-in-chief of the daily La Repubblica, says that by speaking openly of these issues, the pope is trying to counteract mounting opposition within the Curia itself.

EZIO MAURO: (Through translator) The pope is keenly aware this power structure has entrenched itself underneath the legitimate government of the church. He's probably isolated, but he intends to change things.

POGGIOLI: Francis has already made big changes from all previous popes. He has appointed a commission of eight cardinals from all over the world, to help him govern and reform the church. And he has decided not to live in the papal apartments, preferring to stay in the Santa Marta residence on Vatican grounds. There, he has breakfast and meals with other guests, visiting prelates and even low-level Vatican employees. And he frequently puts his own coins in the automatic espresso dispenser in the corridor.

By making himself accessible, and living as normally as possible on his own terms, Francis has bypassed the Curia machine, and he's dictating his own message.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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