Wishful

The Pope’s Christmas Dream, The Curia’s Nightmare

The most human pope in recent memory slips out of the Vatican’s golden cage for a few moments, then lambasts the cardinals of the Curia who think they run the place.

VATICAN CITY—Oh the woe of being Pope Francis. On one hand, he clearly longs for the simple things in life, like shoe shopping. So much so that during the mad Roman pre-Christmas shopping rush, he left the protected grounds of Vatican City to visit a local pharmacy and pick up a new version of his famously simple orthopedic shoes. He blessed a cashier’s crucifix, signed a charge slip for the shoes, and went back through the hallowed gates to what some might be call his gilded cage.

On the other hand, Francis just as clearly revels in his role as the leader (and shaper) of a revitalized Catholic Church. During his annual Christmas greeting to the cardinals and senior officials of the Roman Curia, he lambasted those who show three types of resistance to his continued reform, which he described as “open, hidden and malevolent.” The audience included the cardinals who have publically condemned him and would love to see him ousted.

In the pontiff’s wide-ranging remarks, which included a promise to increase the “role of women and of lay persons in the life of the church,” he pinpointed the 12 guiding criteria he would follow to continue reforming the institution. In 2014, he identified 15 “diseases” he implied that many of the men in front of him suffered from and last year he offered up a “catalogue of necessary virtues” they should embrace.

This year, he urged those in the audience to consider loosening up. “Since the Curia is not an immobile bureaucratic apparatus, reform is first and foremost a sign of life, of a Church that advances on her pilgrim way, of a Church that is living and for this reason semper reformanda, in need of reform because she is alive,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the Vatican Press Office. “Here it must clearly be said that reform is not an end unto itself, but rather a process of growth, and above all, conversion.”

But he also said it might not be pretty. “Consequently, the aim of reform is not aesthetic, an effort to improve the looks of the Curia, nor can it be understood as a sort of facelift, using make-up and cosmetics to embellish its aging body, nor even as an operation of plastic surgery to take away its wrinkles,” he said. “Dear brothers and sisters, it isn’t wrinkles we need to worry about in the Church, but blemishes!”

Among his 12 guiding criteria were some that might be expected, including “Catholicity,” “pastoral concern,” and “missionary spirit.” Others might seem out of place, including “gradualism” which he described as the “necessary discernment entailed by historical processes, the passage of time and stages of development, assessment, correction, experimentation, and approvals ad experimentum. In these cases, it is not a matter of indecision, but of the flexibility needed to be able to achieve a true reform.”

Francis also included “professionalism” among his reform criteria, which he said means “every dicastery [department of the Curia] must adopt a policy of continuing formation for its personnel to avoid their falling into a rut or becoming stuck in a bureaucratic routine. Likewise,” he said, “essential is the definitive abolition of the practice of promoveatur ut amoveatur.” Which is essentially promoting someone to get rid of them.

The pope then rattled off a grocery list of his accomplishments over the three years of his papacy so far, which included the creation of his cardinal advisors in 2013 and several examples of reforms to the Vatican Bank along with a host of somewhat inside-baseball achievements in reorganizing the Curia and its sprawling bureaucracy.

He then gave them all the Italian edition of a Latin tome written by the 16th-century Jesuit Superior General Claudio Acquaviva called Industriae pro Superioribus ejusdem Societatis ad curandos animae morbos, or “Illnesses of the Soul.”

The pope celebrated Christmas Eve mass in St. Peter’s basilica on Saturday night and will address the world at his annual Urbi et Orbi message at noon on Christmas Day in St. Peter’s Square.