22 December 2014, The Tablet

The programme of Francis’ papacy: changing the culture of the Roman curia

Three days before Christmas in 2005 Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Roman Curia in what was considered to be a key speech of his pontificate.

In it he set out what he saw as the correct way to interpret the Second Vatican Council - the 1962-5 gathering that brought forward a series of reforms in the Church - criticising a “hermeneutic of discontinuity or rupture” that sees a split between the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church.

While how to interpret Vatican II was a recurring theme under Benedict, the reform of the Roman Curia has been high on Francis’ agenda.

And his speech today, where he sets out the 15 diseases that can infect those who work at the global church’s central administration, is also likely to be seen as an important document for his papacy.

Reforming the curia – or to others “cleaning it up” – was, after all, one of the reasons Francis was elected Pope.

Among the diseases the Pope included are the accumulation of power, gossip, “deifying” leaders, poor coordination and spiritual laxity or “Alzheimer’s.”

Granted, many of these points have been made by the Pope before but it is the first time he has set them out in a list in such an extensive way.

As a Jesuit, the Pope is leading an intensive examination of conscience trying to strip away all the things that are barriers to encountering Christ. He would surely include himself in some of the traps those in the curia can fall into as one of them is failing to take a rest. After all, he has refused a holiday since his March 2013 election.  

But the 78-year-old Pope, who faces considerable opposition to his reforms from within the curia and possibly feels he is short of time, is not pulling his punches.

“A curia which is not self-critical, that you do not update, which does not seek to improve, is a sick body,” he said.

Francis warns of those who slander others “even in newspapers and magazines”; “petty and miserable” people looking “what they need to get and not what they have to give”; those for whom “colours of the robes and insignia” become the goal in life and others who go around with a face “like a funeral” treating those “deemed inferior” with “stiffness, hardness and arrogance.”

Many of the people who work for the curia are hard working and of integrity but as Francis says: priests are like planes, most of them fly but when one crashes everyone hears about it.

When the Pope was elected the Vatican was at a low-ebb and still reeling from the Vatileaks scandal that saw confidential papers released alleging corruption at the heart of the Church. 

Since being in office, Francis has set out plans to make the curia work more effectively. He’s appointed no-nonsense Australian Cardinal George Pell to reform the finances and it is expected that more reforms will be unveiled next year.

But for Francis it seems a change in culture is as important as a change in structure. He wants an end to careerism, gossip, scandal and the equally damaging sin of spiritual indifference.

The Roman Curia is arguably the oldest institution in the world and there will be some working in it who are prepared to simply bide their time and wait for a new pontificate. Francis can’t be expected to change things overnight but he has started a process that could lead to substantial and significant reform.

What do you think?


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User comments (5)

Comment by: Benedict Joseph Labre
Posted: 01/01/2015 05:06:55

Homilies play well in the pulpit. They don't change a cynical world. The Curia needs radical structural reform to introduce even minimal transparency and accountability. Francis will either keep on with the sermons and pretend things are getting better, or he'll try to pull up the poisonous weeds by the roots, in which case he'll be sabotaged. The Curia's defeated everyone who's ever tried to reform it.

Comment by: Francis
Posted: 29/12/2014 18:11:42

Pope Francis fully deserves support in his efforts to reform the church. If he constantly asks himself "what would Jesus think of this? " he will have the answers. The simple carpenter of Nazareth would surely be appalled at the ornate papal thrones, the unacceptable adulation, pomp and frippery still attached to the papacy, the fancy titles and modes of address of church leaders, such as your holiness, your eminence, your grace etc etc. which are all barriers to communication with lay people. We need to work towards a church in which Jesus would be happy to be a member.

Comment by: GS
Posted: 27/12/2014 13:40:57

Mary Wood writes: "How about sexism?"
That's the elephant in the room. The prognosis is poor until that disease is cured.

Comment by: Mary Wood
Posted: 25/12/2014 06:42:40

15 "diseases" identified. But what are the root causes? How about sexism and misogyny?

Comment by: Edward Heatley
Posted: 25/12/2014 05:02:45

How can Pope Francis feel justified in incorporating the words “Alzheimer’s” and “schizophrenia“ into the context of a rebuke for greed and vainglory? “Alzheimer’s” and “schizophrenia” are conditions of absolute human vulnerability, not of culpability. We should no more use these terms for rhetorical flourish than we would use racially insensitive language for effect.

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