Pope Francis delivered his annual Christmas message on Monday, and it ended up being a lot less festive than expected. Instead of spreading some Christmas cheer, the pope harshly criticized Vatican bureaucracy. All Francis wants for Christmas is for everyone to stop gossiping — is that so much to ask for?
While addressing senior Vatican officials, which includes bishops and cardinals who serve the Holy See, Francis laid out their laundry list of sins — 15, to be exact. Some of the sins these Vatican officials have committed are the lust for power, feelings of superiority, and the "terrorism of gossip." What a way to end the year.
Francis began by suggesting that the Vatican has been "exposed to sickness," causing it to become an "ailing body" that has weakened the Catholic Church. The first sickness, the pontiff said, was "considering oneself 'immortal', 'immune' or 'indispensable'."
A Curia that is not self-critical, that does not stay up-to-date, that does not seek to better itself, is an ailing body. … It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service.
The pontiff then launched into descriptions of other types of "sickness," including "Spiritual Alzheimer's disease," the "ailment of rivalry and vainglory," and "existential schizophrenia." On the latter point, Francis condemned those clergy who live a life full of hypocrisy, addressing the criticisms of Catholic laypeople who feel the Vatican doesn't live up to its own set of standards:
The sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and the progressive spiritual emptiness that cannot be filled by degrees or academic honors. This ailment particularly afflicts those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality and with real people. They create a parallel world of their own, where they set aside everything they teach with severity to others and live a hidden, often dissolute life.
And as for that behind-the-back Vatican gossip? Francis called "chatter, grumbling and gossip" a "serious illness" that consumes people to the point that they ruin the character of their colleagues. The pontiff went so far as calling gossipers "cold-blooded murderers" of reputations. "It is the sickness of the cowardly who, not having the courage to speak directly to the people involved, instead speak behind their backs," Francis said.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Francis speech without the warnings against excessive careerism, materialism and the like. The pope said many in Rome have the "disease of accumulation," which signals an "existential emptiness" in their hearts, which they fill with material objects. It may actually be the perfect message for consumers in the age of Christmas Capitalism.
Francis topped his speech off with an innocent-seeming analogy that contained a dark warning: It only takes a few priests to disgrace the Catholic Church and drive away its followers. Basically, don't be that guy:
I once read that priests are like aeroplanes: they only make the news when they crash, but there are many that fly. Many criticize them and few pray for them. It is a very nice phrase, but also very true, as it expresses the importance and the delicacy of our priestly service, and how much harm just one priest who falls may cause to the whole body of the Church.
According to the Associated Press, the cardinals and bishops didn't find the pope's Christmas speech that joyous. It was reportedly met with tepid applause.
But Francis' critical speech shouldn't come as a surprise — the pope has been shaking up the Vatican over the last year, with many Vatican-watchers suggesting Francis has been cleaning house, so to speak. Francis' actions have caused some conservative Catholic clergy to call for a schism, believing the pope is too radical for facilitating a dialogue on the place of gay Catholics, divorced Catholics and cohabitating Catholics in the church. Others have criticized Francis for his support of immigration reform and denouncement of capitalism, causing Fox News to declare a "war on conservative Catholics."
But as Francis would say: enough with the gossip.
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