“Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease.” “Existential schizophrenia.” “Terrorism of gossip.” “Pathology of power.” These are the words that so forcefully – and, judged by their reception, perhaps unexpectedly – echoed through the ‘Sala Clementina’ of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, during Pope Francis’ annual Christmas address to the Curia – the Vatican’s administrative apparatus.
Described as one of the “harshest criticisms to date of the Curia” and a “blistering attack on the Vatican bureaucracy,” it was an address that has caused quite a stir in the national and international media alike, as a headline from the Religion News Service so astutely captured: “Pope Francis to Curia: Merry Christmas, you power-hungry hypocrites.”
Intended as it was for the Curia’s assembled members, I think there is some underlying wisdom that laymen – or the general public at large – can take away from the Pope’s message, particularly during the start of a new year.
Indeed, in reading the various media coverage and opinions on his address, one could argue that his list of “15 Ailments of the Curia” could serve as the antithesis of a New Years resolution list, regardless of one’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof.
Take, for instance, the first “sickness” declared by Pope Francis:
“…of considering oneself ‘immortal’, ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable’, neglecting the necessary and habitual controls. 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 those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others…it often comes from the pathology of power…and narcissism.”
Or, his seventh “ailment” – that of:
“rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the colour of one’s robe, insignia and honours becomes the most important aim in life…it is the disorder that leads us to become false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism’ and a false ‘quietism.”
And his eighth:
“existential schizophrenia: 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 honours…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.”
The sickness of “chatter, grumbling and gossip…it is the disease of cowards, who do not have the courage to speak upfront and so talk behind one’s back…watch out against the terrorism of gossip!”
“The disease of indifference toward others arises when each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity and warmth of personal relationships…when, because of jealousy or cunning, we rejoice in seeing others fail, rather than lift them up and encourage them.”
And his last, the 15th “ailment”:
“the disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power. This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capably of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others.”
Could we not say that these, when flipped around, represent some of the most basic, human ideals that many of us strive for – and which undoubtedly make their way onto many of our New Years Resolution lists each year?
In short, and put simply: to reflect on our actions, show self-restraint and work on humbling and bettering ourselves (#1); to remember that there is more to us, and others, than appearances, awards and accomplishments (#7); to have integrity, be honest and practice what we preach (#8); to not speak falsely, spread rumors, talk behind others back; to mind our own business (#9); to be compassionate, selfless, kindhearted and supportive “(#11); and to avoid becoming greedy, power hungry and arrogant (#15).
While certainly not intended as a New Years Resolution list, in many ways it can be understood and adopted to be just that, not solely for the Curia, but for us – the common folk, the every day man, the famous and the unknown – the population at large.
So, if asked to sum up Pope Francis’ message in a few, short words, I might turn to Henry Burton, a clergyman from the 17th century who once said: “Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on; ‘twas not given for thee alone, pass it on; let it travel down the years, let it wipe another’s tears, ‘til heaven the deed appears – Pass it on.”
Here’s to wishing you, your families and friends a very Happy New Year! May it bring you peace, joy and happiness unending.
Please note that all information and quotes from Pope Francis’ speech came from the following news sources:
- Wall Street Journal, “Pope Issues Blistering Rebuke of Vatican Bureaucracy”
- CNN, “Pope Francis Attacks ‘Diseases’ of Vatican in Curia Address”
- Vatican Insider, “Pope Francis: The Fifteen ‘Diseases’ of the Curia”
- Vatican Information Service press release
To note: For interesting insights on the Pope’s address, listen to NPR’s broadcast of The Diane Rehm Show here.