In a pre-Christmas address to cardinals, Pope Francis has sharply criticized the Vatican bureaucracy, complaining of “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and “the terrorism of gossip”.
The pontiff said the Curia – the administrative pinnacle of the Roman Catholic Church – was suffering from 15 “ailments”, which he wanted cured in the New Year.
Pope Francis – the first Latin American pontiff – also criticized “those who look obsessively at their own image”.
He has demanded reform of the Curia.
There was silence at the end of the Pope’s speech.
Addressing the Curia on December 22, Pope Francis said some power-hungry clerics were guilty of “cold-bloodedly killing the reputation of their own colleagues and brothers”.
He compared the performance of the church’s civil servants to that of an orchestra playing “out of tune” because they fail to collaborate and have no team spirit.
Before his election in March 2013, Pope Francis encountered internal opposition to some of the reforms he wants to carry out.
He has set up a series of specialist bodies to fight corruption and poor management, appointing a team of advisers.
Pope Francis also launched a clean-up of the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR). The IOR has long had a poor reputation, after a succession of scandals.
He has also suggested that the Curia’s power – concentrated in Rome for centuries – could be diluted to some extent by giving Catholic bishops around the world a bigger say in Church doctrine.
Pope Francis himself did not work in the Curia before he was elected.
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Pope Francis told Vatican officials he wants them to display professionalism and competence as well as holiness in their lives.
The pontiff warned Vatican administrators Saturday that their work can take a downward spiral into mediocrity, gossip and bureaucratic squabbling if they forget that theirs is a professional vocation of service to the church.
Pope Francis made the comments in his Christmas address to the Vatican Curia, the bureaucracy that forms the central government of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. The speech was eagerly anticipated given that Pope Francis was elected in March on a mandate to overhaul the antiquated and oftentimes dysfunctional Vatican administration.
Already, heads have started to roll. Just last week, Pope Francis reshuffled the advisory body of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, the office that vets all the world’s bishop nominations. He removed the archconservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a key figure in the US culture wars over abortion and gay marriage, and also nixed the head of Italy’s bishops’ conference and another hard-line Italian, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, earlier axed as head of the Vatican office responsible for priests.
Other changes are on the horizon. In the coming weeks Pope Francis will name his first batch of cardinals and in February will preside over the third summit of his “Group of Eight” cardinal advisers, who are expected to put forward a first round of proposals for revamping the Holy See bureaucracy.
Pope Francis told Vatican officials he wants them to display professionalism and competence as well as holiness in their lives
Pope Francis has said he wants a Vatican Curia that is more responsive to the needs of local bishops, who have long complained of Rome’s slow or unhelpful interventions in their work caring for souls. The Pope has said he wants the church as a whole to be less consumed with moralizing than showing mercy to the needy, wherever they are.
The pontiff thanked the cardinals, bishops and priests gathered in the Clementine Hall for the Christmas address for their work, diligence and creativity. Deviating from his prepared text, he said: “There are saints in the Curia!”
He also reminded them that Vatican officials must display professionalism and competence as well as holiness in their lives.
“When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow drift downwards toward mediocrity. Dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information, and incapable of opening up lofty perspectives,” he 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.”
Pope Francis also repeated a warning he has issued on several occasions in his morning homilies at the Vatican hotel where he lives: an admonition against gossiping. The secretive, closed world of the Vatican is a den of gossip, as revealed publicly last year by the leaks of papal documents from then-Pope Benedict XVI’s butler.
Using terminology familiar to those present, Pope Francis called for Vatican officials to exercise “conscientious objection to gossip”.
“Let us all be conscientious objectors, and mind you I’m not simply moralizing! Gossip is harmful to people, our work and our surroundings.”
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Pope Francis has appointed a group of cardinals to advise him on how to reform the Vatican’s often arcane bureaucracy.
The Catholic Church’s new leader chose eight cardinals and a bishop who between them represent nearly every continent, and only one of whom is currently a Vatican official.
The bureaucracy, or Curia, has been blamed for the Church’s hesitant response to sex abuse and other crises.
It is nearly 50 years since the Vatican’s last major reforms.
The cardinals who elected Pope Francis last month were strongly critical about basic failings of the Curia under Pope Emeritus Benedict.
Pope Francis has appointed a group of cardinals to advise him on how to reform the Vatican’s often arcane bureaucracy
The cardinals include two Europeans (from Italy and Germany), two from Latin America (Chile and Honduras), one from the US, one from Asia (India), one African and one Australian. An Italian bishop will act as secretary.
Announcing the appointments, the Vatican said Pope Francis had got the idea of forming the advisory body from meetings ahead of his election by cardinals last month.
Pope Paul VI undertook the last major reform of the Vatican bureaucracy in 1967.
The new group is to have its first meeting on October 1-3.
Earlier this week the pontiff met personally all 300 staff members of the Vatican’s secretariat of state, the body responsible for carrying out Church policies.
Some radical reforms are expected soon, although Pope Francis is moving cautiously given the complexity and sensitivity of Church government.
Scandals have included clerical sexual abuse, financial problems at the Vatican bank and the theft of documents from Pope Benedict’s desk.