Pope Francis' Address Risks Lowering Curial Morale

Pope Francis' delivering his traditional Christmas message to heads of the Roman Curia, Dec. 22, 2014.
Pope Francis' delivering his traditional Christmas message to heads of the Roman Curia, Dec. 22, 2014. (photo: CTV)

Pope Francis’ list of 15 spiritual “diseases”, given today in his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia, is playing well to the secular world that’s been bombarded with media coverage of Vatican scandals over the past few years.

After Vatileaks, sex scandals and financial misconduct, it’s no surprise that the media has jumped on the speech, portraying the Holy Father as the outsider who’s come in to clean up the Curia but grown frustrated with a sclerotic and corrupt bureaucracy resistant to change.

The danger of this, however, is that it gives credence to such a portrayal of the Curia, that it’s largely a nest of careerists, brimming with sin and intrigue. 

Veteran Vatican watcher Sandro Magister has called it a “catastrophic diagnosis” in which “arrogance, narcissism, ambition, superficiality, insensitivity, calculation, revenge, whim, vainglory, schizophrenia, debauchery, gossip, slander, flattery, careerism, indifference, greed, selfishness, exhibitionism, lust for power” are pinned on curial officials. “The Pope has even found Alzheimer’s there,” he added, “albeit only of a ‘spiritual’ kind.”

The world’s press, of course, will ignore the reality, partly because the Pope didn't mention it: that the great majority of Vatican officials are virtuous, hardworking, and faithful clergy and laity. The Vatican has stressed that his words apply not only to the Curia but the entire Church and even many institutions in the world today that lose sight of their original mission. But that's not how most of the media will be inclined to read it. 

A further risk is that it’s likely to worsen morale in the Vatican. Already, the mood is not generally positive. Most officials are keeping quiet, waiting to see what reforms will take place, but increasingly one hears complaints of feeling demoralized due to persistent criticism and scrutiny, and uncertainty about the future. To make matters worse is the added concern that a purge of respected veteran officials, appointed under Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is underway.

There’s no doubt the Pope’s speech today will have given the few rotten apples in the Curia something to think about as well as further boosted his popular image in the media.

It will have done little to lessen the unease or increase the morale of the many good officials who have dedicated their lives to serving the Church in Rome.

But perhaps the Pope doesn’t see this, or sees it as a price worth paying.