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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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Pope Francis has urged top officials in the Roman Curia to be "conscientious objectors to gossip", lamenting that such backbiting is a tacit rule of life inside the Vatican.
"We rightfully insist on the importance of conscientious objection, but perhaps we too need to exercise it as a means of defending ourselves from an unwritten law of our surroundings, which unfortunately is that of gossip," the Pope said today in the annual pre-Christmas gathering with the cardinals and bishops that head Vatican offices. "I am not simply being a moraliser! Gossip damages the quality of people, our work and our environment," he warned, speaking in Italian.
Francis said he had already "acknowledged several times publicly" that there "were and are saints" that work in the Curia. He said their lives were marked by holiness, professionalism and service that should be the qualities to which all curial officials should aspire. "When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow drift downwards towards mediocrity. Dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information, and incapable of opening up lofty perspectives," the 77-year-old Pope said. "Then too, when the attitude is no longer one of service to the particular Churches and their bishops, the structure of the Curia turns into a ponderous, bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of God’s people," he added.
Francis thanked the curial officals for their "care, diligence and creativity", saying he knew it was "not always easy to work together in the office, both to listen to and challenge one another, and to bring out the best in all your different personalities and gifts, in a spirit of mutual respect".
Previous popes have often used their pre-Christmas address to Roman Curia officials to review the most important events in the Church and the papacy over the past year or to set out policy goals for the year ahead.