• John Thavis

Pope’s Christmas gift to Roman Curia: a harsh diagnosis of careerism, self-interest

Updated: Feb 19

Pope Francis did not play Santa Claus today when he addressed the officials of the Roman Curia in their annual pre-Christmas get-together. Instead, he issued a blistering critique of “curial illnesses,” ranging from the “terrorism of gossip” to the search for worldly profit.


It was another sign that this pope is trying to change the culture inside the Vatican, and not simply reform its bureaucratic structures.


Here is the pope’s list of what he described as 15 of the most common illnesses and temptations that are found in the Roman Curia:


1. Feeling oneself as “immortal,” “immune” or even “indispensable,” a sense of superiority that results from a “pathology of power” and narcissism. To put things in perspective, the pope advised making visits to cemeteries to read the names of the once-powerful.


2. Working too hard, forgetting to take time for rest, reflection and spiritual revitalization.


3. Mental and spiritual petrification, causing one to lose touch with people and develop a “heart of stone.”


4. Excessive planning and an overly pragmatic approach to one’s mission, turning apostles into “accountants” and closing off the action of the Holy Spirit.


5. Poor coordination with colleagues, with the loss of a sense of communion and a team spirit.


6. “Spiritual Alzheimer’s,” in which the primary encounter with the Lord is forgotten and progressively replaced by obsession with one’s own projects. These are people, the pope said, who build walls around themselves with their own habits and activities.


7. Rivalry and arrogance, when humility gives way to selfish interests, and when honors and awards become a primary objective.


8. “Existential schizophrenia,” a hypocrisy that comes from spiritual emptiness and that often strikes those who leave pastoral service for strictly bureaucratic activities. The pope said these people proclaim severe truths to others but often lead hidden, dissolute lives.


9. The “terrorism of gossip,” an illness that begins perhaps with idle chatter and gradually takes over one’s personality, sometimes leading to the “cold-blooded murder” of the good name of colleagues. “This is the illness of cowards who lack the courage to speak directly, so they speak behind one’s back,” he said.


10. Deifying one’s boss, in the hope of gaining promotion or favor. These are wretched and selfish people thinking only of their own career advancement, the pope said, but they are often abetted by their superiors, who reward such flattery.


11. Indifference to others, often exhibited when information is kept for oneself rather than shared with colleagues, or when one takes joy in a colleague’s misfortune.


12. Long-faced, theatrical severity with others, who are deemed to be inferior in some way. The pope said such arrogance and pessimism have no place in the life of an apostle. “A heart full of God is a happy heart that radiates and infects with joy everyone around him,” he said.


13. The accumulation of material goods, which only slow down the journey to holiness.


14. The “closed circle” mentality, in which belonging to a select group is more important than service to the church and to Christ. The pope called this disease a type of cancer that can harm the church from within.


15. The search for worldly profit, in which positions of service to the church are used to obtain power and wealth. “This is the disease of people who seek insatiably to multiply powers and to that end are capable of vilifying, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines,” the pope said.


Ever since his election, Pope Francis has been asking officials of the Roman Curia to make a serious examination of conscience about their attitudes and practices. By raising these issues in such forceful terms today, he was telling them that he intends to follow through on his designs.

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