Pope Francis’ meeting today with officials of the Roman Curia was important for what was said and what wasn’t said.
The annual Christmas encounter between the pope and his bureaucratic support system is often a time for “big” speeches that outline papal agendas, and what better occasion for Pope Francis to explain his big project of Curia reform?
That didn’t happen. Instead, in a short speech, the pope made three points that, while offering some praise for the performance of the Roman Curia, also seemed to challenge the reigning attitudes there.
First, the pope spoke of the need for professional skill and competence. “When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow slide toward the area of mediocrity,” he said. Tasks become routine and communication closed, while awareness of the bigger picture is lost.
Incompetence and lack of communication, of course, have been two of the biggest criticisms of the Roman Curia in recent years – criticisms that were aired in the cardinals’ meetings that took place ahead of last spring’s conclave.
Second, the pope emphasized that the Roman Curia is at the service of the church – the whole church and every local Catholic community, not just the pope. When this attitude of service is lacking, he said, “the Curia structure grows into a heavy bureaucratic customs office, an inspector and inquisitor that no longer allows the action of the Holy Spirit and the development of the people of God.”
Ouch. And this was a Christmas greeting.
The pope identified a third crucial element for Roman Curia officials, holiness of life, which he said was “the most important in the hierarchy of values.” And he repeated a remark he’s made elsewhere, that he’s convinced there are “saints” in the Curia, men and women who serve with faith, zeal and discretion in a spirit of pastoral service.
He added that holiness has an enemy: gossip, which he said unfortunately tends to be an “unwritten rule” of the Curia environment. He suggested that they all become “conscientious objectors” to gossip, which damages people as well as institutions.