In preparation for Christmas, Pope Francis sought to help members of the Roman Curia examine their consciences by issuing a “catalogue” of 15 frequent “diseases” that he says afflict life at the Vatican.
In his customary annual audience, during which the Holy Father exchanged Christmas greetings with the heads of departments, Francis pulled no punches in singling out wrongdoings that, he said, “weaken our service to the Lord.” Many of these issues he has previously mentioned in his homilies and papal addresses.
On Dec. 22, he began by reminding his staff that the Roman Curia is like a “small model” of the Church and that, as a “body,” it tries to be “more alive, healthier, more harmonious and more united in itself and with Christ.”
“The more closely we adhere to God, the more we are united among ourselves, because the Spirit of God unites, and the evil spirit divides,” he told the assembled officials in the Clementine Hall.
“The Curia is always required to better itself and to grow in communion, sanctity and wisdom to fully accomplish its mission. However, like any body, it is exposed to sickness, malfunction and infirmity.”
After inviting all those present to make an examination of conscience to prepare themselves for Christmas, he then listed 15 of these maladies.
The first, he said, is “the sickness of considering oneself ‘immortal,’ ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable,’ neglecting the necessary and habitual controls.” He warned that a Curia that is “not self-critical, that does not stay up to date, that does not seek to better itself is an ailing body.” It is the sickness of the “rich fool,” he said, “who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service.”
The second disease is “‘Martha-ism,’ or excessive industriousness, named after Martha in the Gospel. Francis said those who overly immerse themselves in work inevitably neglect “the better part” of sitting at Jesus’ feet. Rest, once one’s mission is completed, is a “necessary duty and must be taken seriously,” he said. “In spending a little time with relatives and respecting the holidays as a time for spiritual and physical replenishment, it is necessary to learn the teaching of Ecclesiastes: that ‘There is a time for everything.’”
Francis then reminded those present of the third sickness of “mental and spiritual hardening”: those who lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness and conceal themselves “behind paper, becoming working machines, rather than men of God.” Such attitudes lead to losing the human sensibility necessary to be able “to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice!”
The fourth disease that Francis said afflicts the Curia is that of “excessive planning and functionalism.” Planning everything in detail in the belief that it leads to progress makes one “a sort of bookkeeper or accountant,” he said. Falling into static and unchanging positions is easy and convenient, but Francis stressed that the Church shows herself to be “faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not seek to regulate or domesticate it.” The Spirit, he added, “is freshness, imagination and innovation.”
Fifth, the “sickness of poor coordination” develops when communion between members is lost, leading to a lack of collaboration and an inability to work with a spirit of communion or as a team.
A sixth disease is that of “spiritual Alzheimer’s” — forgetfulness of the history of salvation, of one’s personal history with the Lord and of one’s “first love.” This is a “progressive decline” of spiritual faculties, the Holy Father said, which can make one “incapable of carrying out certain activities” and depend on “imaginary views” instead.
Continuing his catalogue of ailments, as seventh, the Pope highlighted “rivalry and vainglory,” a disorder that leads us to become “false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism’ and a false ‘quietism.’”
Eighth, he spoke of “existential schizophrenia,” where some members create a “parallel world” of their own, abandoning pastoral activities and limiting themselves to bureaucratic matters. In doing so, they become neglectful of reality and real people, teaching “with severity to others” and living “a hidden, often dissolute life.”
Francis has strongly warned against gossip, and he did so again, assigning it to the ninth sickness.
“This is a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, and takes people over, turning them into sowers of discord like Satan,” he said. “It is the sickness of the cowardly who, not having the courage to speak directly to the people involved, instead speak behind their backs.”
Tenth, the Pope spoke against the sickness of “deifying leaders,” which is “typical of those who court their superiors with the hope of receiving their benevolence.” They are victims of “careerism and opportunism” and think only of what they can obtain rather than offer. “They are mean, unhappy and inspired only by their fatal selfishness,” the Pope said.
Turning to the disease of indifference as No. 11, the Pope warned that this one can lead to the loss of sincerity and warmth of personal relationships. It’s replaced, he said, by feelings of joy at “seeing others fall rather than lifting and encouraging them.”
Twelfth, the Pope spoke of the disease of the “funeral face,” people who are “scowling and unfriendly and think that, in order to be serious, they must show a melancholic and strict face and treat others — especially those who they think are inferior — with rigidity, harshness and arrogance.” Such attitudes are often “symptoms of fear and insecurity about themselves,” he said. “The apostle must strive to be a polite, serene, enthusiastic and joyful person.” And he added that he says a prayer of St. Thomas More every day that begins with the words, “Grant me, O Lord, good digestion and also something to digest. Grant me a healthy body and the necessary good humor to maintain it.”
As No. 13, the Pope highlighted the sickness of accumulation, filling an empty heart with material goods in order to feel secure. “Accumulation only burdens and inexorably slows down our progress.” Earthly gifts will never fill that void; accumulation, meanwhile, only “slows down the path inexorably.”
The penultimate disease was that of closed circles, when belonging to a group becomes a stronger focus than belonging to the body of Christ and even Christ himself. This may start with good intentions, he said, but can threaten the harmony of the body and cause “a great deal of harm — scandals — especially to our littlest brothers.”
Lastly, the Pope warned of “worldly profit and exhibitionism,” when the apostle “transforms his service into power and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power.”
“This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others,” the Pope said.
Speak the Truth in Love
This disease is “very painful to the body,” he said, and he recalled a priest who called journalists to tell them private and confidential information about his brothers and parishioners. He did so because it made him feel so “powerful and compelling,” Francis said, but it caused “much harm to others and to the Church.”
After listing these ailments, Pope Francis exhorted the Curial heads to live by “speaking the truth in love” and urging them to become like Christ. “When each part is working properly, it makes the body grow, so that it builds itself up in love,” he said.
He also reminded the faithful to pray for priests. “I once read that priests are like airplanes,” the Pope said in closing. “They only make the news when they crash, but there are many that fly.”
“Many criticize them, and few pray for them,” he concluded. “It is a very nice phrase, but also very true, as it expresses the importance and the delicacy of our priestly service and how much harm just one priest who falls may cause to the whole body of the Church.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.