Papal mitreOn Boxing Day 2014, RMC’s Grandes Gueules (Big Mouths, a French radio talk show) discussed Pope Francis’s Christmas message to the Roman Curia.

The Curia are the cardinals, most of whom elected him Pontiff. They are the elite of the Vatican.

In The Telegraph, Peter Stanford summarised Francis’s message:

… he told them they were, “a sick body” and listed 15 ailments that afflicted them – including “spiritual Alzheimer’s”, the “terrorism of gossip” and an attitude equivalent to a “lord of the manor” who regards himself as “superior to everyone and everything”.

Josephine McKenna, also writing for The Telegraph, listed the 15 ailments, which include (emphases in the original):

3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened.

“It’s dangerous to lose that human sensibility that lets you cry with those who are crying, and celebrate those who are joyful.”

6) Having ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s.’

“We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord … in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias, in those who build walls around themselves and become enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.”

7) Being rivals or boastful.

“When one’s appearance, the colour of one’s vestments or honorific titles become the primary objective of life.”

9) Committing the ‘terrorism of gossip.’

“It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.”

11) Being indifferent to others.

“When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.”

14) Forming ‘closed circles’ that seek to be stronger than the whole.

“This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad – scandals – especially to our younger brothers.”

15) Seeking worldly profit and showing off.

“It’s the sickness of those who insatiably try to multiply their powers and to do so are capable of calumny, defamation and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally to show themselves as being more capable than others.”

Although I disagree with the Pope’s theology, the 15 ailments he describes are particularly pertinent not only to senior clergy in the Catholic Church but in Protestant denominations as well. They also concern seminarians everywhere. Lay people, too, should guard against these faults.

Another Telegraph article tells us that Francis is attempting to reform the Vatican:

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 final days of Benedict’s pontificate were overshadowed by the so-called “Vatileaks” affair – in which Benedict’s butler leaked sensitive documents alleging corruption in the Curia.

The Pontiff and his nine key cardinal advisers are drawing up plans to revamp the whole bureaucratic structure, merging offices to make them more efficient and responsive.

In a separate address to Vatican staff, Pope Francis asked them to pardon him and his colleagues for their “shortcomings” and “several scandals” that had “caused so much harm”.

Going back to RMC’s discussion of this controversial address, regular panellist Patrice Gourrier, a Catholic priest who serves in Poitiers, said that Pope Benedict came up ‘against a wall’ in trying to clean up the Vatican. Benedict’s age and health prevented him from pressing on with reform, resulting in his historic resignation.

Gourrier added that, locally, priests are also guilty of the same 15 ailments:

I’ve never seen so much jealousy as I have at parish level.

Gourrier reminded the talk show panel that he came late to the priesthood and had a secular career before entering seminary. He said that the behaviour of the business executives he knew did not even come close to what he has seen among priests in France.

He called for them to return to teaching the Gospel message. More than one panellist said that a return to Christlike behaviour would fill the churches every Sunday.

Unfortunately, all agreed that this was unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Incidentally, a Pew Research survey from December 11, 2014, shows that 88% of French people approve of Pope Francis. In the UK, only 65% of people questioned share the same enthusiasm.

Peter Stanford mentioned the Pope’s popularity in his article and the Curia’s contrasting reaction:

The Argentinian Pope may be regarded by the vast majority of Catholics, and indeed by the rest of the world, as an unambiguously Good Thing, someone of evident sincerity and integrity who is getting on with bringing about much needed change in the Church and beyond. But at God’s business address on earth, the elderly men who have spent the past three decades under first John Paul II an then Benedict XVI ruling the roost are determined that they are not about to be pushed about by any parvenu from Buenos Aires.

Worst of all a parvenu who has spent a lifetime eschewing the curia and its machinations. They calculate that, at 78 and with half one of his lungs missing, Francis cannot surely last that long in such a demanding job. If they just drag their expensively shod heels sufficiently, it will be back to business-as-usual soon enough, with all his talk of devolving decision-making to bishops in the field soon swept under the carpet in the traditional fashion …

He adds:

This week’s Christmas’ message to the staff might best be seen therefore as the equivalent to a final warning. This is their last chance to repent, seek forgiveness for past crimes, and embrace the new direction in the church, Francis was telling his audience. The curia, he believes, should be like the office of Pope – there to serve the people of God, not control, criticise and condemn them.

It’s going to be a steep learning curve, but a necessary one if the leaders of Catholicism are not to be judged and damned by the same standards as today’s discredited secular political class.

Personally, I do not expect much to happen. Furthermore, it is difficult to know whether reform should start at the top — with the Curia — or at root level with the seminaries.