Pope Francis says Vatican administration is sick with power and greed
Vatican City: The Vatican’s top administrators would have been expecting an exchange of pleasantries at their annual Christmas meeting with Pope Francis on Monday.
Instead, Francis chose the occasion to issue a stinging critique, telling the priests, bishops and cardinals who run the Curia, the central administration of the Roman Catholic Church, that careerism, scheming and greed had infected them with “spiritual Alzheimer’s”.
Francis, the first non-European pope in 1300 years, has refused many of the trappings of office and made plain his determination to bring the Church’s hierarchy closer to its 1.2 billion members. To that end, he has set out to reform the Italian-dominated Curia, whose power struggles and leaks were widely held responsible for Benedict XVI’s decision last year to become the first pope in six centuries to resign.
“The Curia needs to change, to improve … a Curia that does not criticise itself, that does not bring itself up to date, that does not try to improve, is a sick body,” he said in a sombre address.
Francis said some in the Curia acted as if they were “immortal, immune or even indispensable”, an apparent reference to retired cardinals who remain in the Vatican and continue to exert influence.
He told his audience that too many of them suffered from “rivalry and vainglory”; superiors favoured proteges and underlings fawned on bosses to further careers; others fed gossip or false information to the media.
Francis warned against what he called a lust for power, hypocritical double lives and the lack of spiritual empathy among some men of God. He listed the 15 “ailments and temptations” that weaken their service to the Lord, inviting them to a “true self-examination” ahead of Christmas.
“Brothers, let’s guard ourselves from the terrorism of gossip,” Francis told the rows of bishops and cardinals seated in a 16th-century reception hall in the Apostolic Palace, some looking ahead attentively, others meditatively keeping their heads down.
Including himself among the sinners, Francis, stressed once more his idea of a church at the service of the poor and the peripheries, a religious institution able to move away from scandals, infighting and lavish behaviours.
“This is the ideological and religious manifesto of a radical reform of the Curia,” Carlo Marroni, a Vatican expert with the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, said. “He doesn’t describe the details of the reform that we will most likely see next year, but he indicated the principles according to which the Church has to change, at least in the pope’s intentions.”
In his Christmas speeches, Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus, had often issued programmatic statements for the year to come, and talked about controversial issues like same-sex marriage. However, he had not used such a stern tone.
Last year, in his first Christmas speech to the Curia as pope, Francis warned his prelates against drifting “downwards towards mediocrity,” and urged them to be “conscientious objectors” to gossip.
In a meeting with the Vatican’s employees soon after his speech to the Curia, Francis repeated his plea for forgiveness, asking the laypeople who work for the Vatican to pardon his shortcomings and those of his collaborators, as well as some scandals that have hurt the church.
Since his election in March 2013, Francis has created various bodies to improve the Holy See’s management and has appointed nine cardinals to advise him on the reform of the Curia.
But the pope did finish on an upbeat note. Before wishing them all a Happy Christmas, Francis urged the Vatican’s administrators to be more joyful, saying how much good a “dose of humour” could do.