VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis launched a blistering attack on the Vatican bureaucracy on Dec. 22, outlining a “catalog of illnesses” that plague the church’s central administration, including “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and gossipy cliques.
The pope’s traditional Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See was more “Bah! Humbug!” than holiday cheer as he ticked off a laundry list of “ailments of the Curia” that he wants to cure.
In a critique that left many of the assembled clerics clearly uncomfortable, the 15 ailments in Francis’ “catalogue of illnesses” reflected the take-no-prisoners approach he promised when he was elected nearly two years ago as an outsider with little direct experience in Rome.
“The Curia is called upon to improve itself, always improve itself and grow in communion, holiness and knowledge to fully realize its mission,” the pope said.
“Yet like every body, like every human body, it is exposed to illnesses, malfunctioning, infirmity. They are illnesses and temptations that weaken our service to God.”
In a separate address to Vatican staff later, Francis begged pardon for the “shortcomings” of senior church leaders, as well as the “several scandals” that had “caused so much harm,” without specifying which scandals he had in mind.
The pope denounced the lust for power of ladder-climbing clerics, those who indulge in hypocritical double lives, and lamented a sense of “spiritual Alzheimer’s” that leads clerics to forget the joy that is supposed to animate their lives.
He also attacked what he called “existential schizophrenia” and the “terrorism of gossip.” He was especially critical of cliques that “enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body,” eventually leading to death by “friendly fire.”
“These and other maladies and temptations,” Francis said, “are a danger for every Christian and for any administrative organization, community, congregation, parish, ecclesial movement, etc., and can strike at both the individual and the corporate level.”
The pope signalled early on that he aimed to overhaul and upend the church’s institutional culture; now 78, many had expected Francis to have a relatively short term in office, but he seems intent on using whatever time he has to set policies in ways that will outlive his papacy.
Francis has previously criticized the careerism and power intrigues that afflict those who work inside the Vatican. In elevating his first round of cardinals earlier this year, he warned the new princes of the church that they should not imagine they had joined a “royal court.”
After firing a German bishop who spent $43 million on a grand new residential complex, Francis demoted a leading American conservative, Cardinal Raymond Burke, from the church’s highest court. Burke is known for hard-line dogmatism, elaborate vestments and, most importantly, for opposing major aspects of Francis’ reform agenda.
As he and senior cardinals press ahead with controversial financial and administrative reforms, the pope seemed even more outspoken as he highlighted his concerns about the institution.
“It’s nice to think of the Roman Curia as a little model church, that is a body that every day seeks to become more unified and harmonious,” the pope said.
“In reality the Curia is a complex body ... with different elements that don’t have the same job, but are co-ordinated to work in an exemplary, disciplined effective way, despite the cultural and linguistic diversity of its members.”
Francis, the first pope from Latin American, never worked in the Italian-dominated Curia before he was elected in March 2013 after the shocking resignation of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. The final months of Benedict’s pontificate were overshadowed by the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal in which Benedict’s personal butler leaked sensitive documents alleging corruption in the Curia.
Francis is also the first Jesuit pope, and his outsiders’ critique reflects the sometimes tense relations between Rome and the church’s largest religious order, which often chafes at directives from church headquarters.
The pope’s address reportedly startled assembled members of the Curia. Few were smiling as Francis ticked off his diagnosis, complete with footnotes and biblical references.
At the end of his speech, he asked the prelates to pray that the “wounds of the sins that each one of us carries are healed” so that the church and Curia itself are made healthy.
VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis held nothing back on Monday (Dec. 22) in addressing the ills of the Roman Catholic Church in a blistering critique of what ails the Curia, the church’s central bureaucracy. From the “terrorism of gossip” to “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” Francis has a few get-healthy New Year’s resolutions in mind for his staff:
1.The disease: Feeling “immortal” or “immune” or even “indispensible”
The cure: A visit to the cemetery, Francis said, could help us see the names of those who “maybe thought they were immortal, immune and indispensible.”
2. The disease: Excessive activity
The cure: It is the disease of those who, like Martha in the Gospels, “lose themselves in their work, inevitably neglecting ‘what is better’: sitting at Jesus’ feet.”
3. The disease: Mental and spiritual “petrification”
The symptoms: It is the disease of those who “lose their internal peace, their vivacity and audacity, to hide under papers and become ‘procedural machines’ instead of ‘men of God.’”
4. The disease: Overplanning and functionalism
The symptoms: “When the apostle plans everything in minute detail and believes that, through this, things progress effectively, they are becoming an accountant. Good planning is necessary — but without falling into the temptation of wanting to enclose or steer the freedom of the Holy Spirit.”
5. The disease: Bad co-ordination
The symptoms: It is the disease of members who “lose the community between themselves ... becoming ‘an orchestra producing undisciplined noise.’”
6. The disease: Spiritual Alzheimer’s
The symptoms: A “progressive decline of spiritual faculties,” making victims live in a “state of absolute dependence on their, often imagined, views.” It’s most seen, Francis said, in those “who have ‘lost their memory’ of their encounter with the Lord.”
7. The disease: Rivalry and vainglory
The symptoms: “When the appearance, the colour of vestments and honours become the first objectives of life ... it is the disease that leads us to become false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism.’”
8. The disease : Existential schizophrenia
The symptoms: It is the disease of those who live “a double life, a result of the hypocrisy typical of mediocre people and of advancing spiritual emptiness, which degrees or academic titles cannot fill.”
9. The disease: Gossip and chatter
The symptoms: A “serious illness,” the pope warned, that can begin with a simple chat and sometimes end up with “cold-blooded murder.” It is the disease of cowards, who do not have the courage to speak upfront and so talk behind one’s back. “Look out for the terrorism of gossip!”
10. The disease: Deifying leaders
The symptoms: Those who “court their superior,” becoming victims of “careerism and opportunism” and “live their vocation thinking only of what they must gain and not of what they should give.”
11. The disease: Indifference
The symptoms: “When, because of jealousy or cunning, we rejoice in seeing others fall, rather than lifting them up and encouraging them.”
12. The disease: The funeral face
The symptoms: People who are “scowling and unfriendly” with a “theatrical severity” and “sterile pessimism” that are often symptoms of “fear and insecurity.”
13. The disease: Hoarding
The symptoms: “When the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by hoarding material possessions, not because of necessity, but only to feel secure. In reality we can carry nothing material with us ... and all our earthly treasures — even gifts — can never fill the void.”
14. The disease: Closed circles
The symptoms: “When belonging to a clique becomes more important than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, than belonging to Christ himself. Even this disease starts from good intentions, but in time it enslaves all its members becoming ‘a cancer’ that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much illness.”
15. The disease: Worldly profit and exhibitionism
The symptoms: “It is the disease of those people who relentlessly seek to increase their powers. To achieve that, they may defame, slander and discredit others, even in newspapers and magazines. Naturally, that is in order to show off and exhibit their superiority.”