Let’s get back to Pope Francis and his critique of the Roman Curia. I want to finish this up and we still have several spiritual diseases to look at.
But as we look at the Curia, its diseases, and its needed reforms, let me say that I am tired of reading that Cardinal Burke was “demoted.” When a Congressman is reassigned by his party’s leadership from one committee to another, or when a Senator is removed as chairman of a committee because his party no longer has control of the Senate, he is not demoted. He remains a member of the House or the Senate. We expect a congressman who is not in line with his party to lose membership on a key committee and end up on one whose role is not as critical. We expect the chair of a committee to change when the balance of power changes. Why do we think an injustice or a humiliation was imposed on Cardinal Burke? He remains a Cardinal. He is not working with the administration in power; why would he not be removed from crucial committees or lose his prefectship of a dicastery? They very people who are wailing about Cardinal Burke’s reassignment are the ones who had been calling for Cardinal Wuerl or Cardinal O’Malley or Cardinal Kasper to be removed from their positions. Surely they understand that Cardinal Burke cannot be entrusted with responsibilities that he will not carry out according to the mind of the Pope. And it could have been much worse as the Holy Father purges men whose intrigue, whose acceptance of “stipends” for favors or advancements, or whose moral character are at the root of these diseases he sees to infect the Curia. Cardinal Burke escaped with his reputation intact; there are worse fates. Now, on to the next two critiques with which the Pope has slammed the Curia.
The disease of gossiping, grumbling and back-biting. I have already spoken many times about this disease, but never enough. It is a grave illness which begins simply, perhaps even in small talk, and takes over a person, making him become a “sower of weeds” (like Satan) and in many cases, a cold-blooded killer of the good name of our colleagues and confrères. It is the disease of cowardly persons who lack the courage to speak out directly, but instead speak behind other people’s backs. Saint Paul admonishes us to do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent” (Phil 2:14-15). Brothers, let us be on our guard against the terrorism of gossip!
The Holy Father seems to keep coming back to this particular issue of the poisonous atmosphere in the Curia with priests and prelates competing with one another for advancement as they claw their way up the caterpillar pillar. The competition leads to vicious gossip and the spreading of rumor and innuendo in order to destroy one’s competition. The same disease is rampant in university faculties, the corporate world, the civil service and government workers and even garden clubs and volunteer associations. It certainly can be found in Diocesan offices and in religious orders. The Pope does well in tying it to Satan’s sowing of weeds among the good wheat (cf Matt 13:25). While it is bad enough for Christians to engage in this sort of behavior in daily life, we have a right to expect more of the leaders of the Church. The scandals that pushed Pope Benedict into resigning—the purloining of his personal papers by his butler and their release to a journalist—revealed just what a hotbed of intrigue, jealousy, and underhanded politics the Curia is. This is nothing new—the stories of corruption and chicanery in the papal court can be found back into the early Middle Ages. Systemic reform will be ineffective without personal conversion on the part of those who are part of the bureaucracy. That sort of conversion has been rare over the centuries, but hopefully Pope Francis will encourage us all to take a long hard look at ourselves and how we, in our little worlds, fall into the same vices.
The disease of idolizing superiors. This is the disease of those who court their superiors in the hope of gaining their favour. They are victims of careerism and opportunism; they honour persons and not God (cf. Mt 23:8-12). They serve thinking only of what they can get and not of what they should give. Small-minded persons, unhappy and inspired only by their own lethal selfishness (cf. Gal 5:16-25). Superiors themselves could be affected by this disease, when they court their collaborators in order to obtain their submission, loyalty and psychological dependency, but the end result is a real complicity.
One of the most nauseating sights one can see in Rome is the gathering of the capella papale before a papal ceremony. In the half-hour or so before the scheduled arrival of the Pope, the various officials of the Curia arrive to take their places in the Vatican Basilica. There are usually about six to eight rows reserved for them. The Cardinals sit in the first row on gold chairs with their individual pre-dieus. Behind them there are two to three rows of bishops seated on benches. Behind them are the benches for the monsignors and priests who work in the Vatican or who represent the religious orders. As the various men (this is an all male club) arrive in the reserved area, you see the lessers courting the greaters. Bishops search out the cardinals; priests search out archbishops. There is much bowing and scraping, the occasional kissing of a ring, the empty laugh, the glad-handing and the distracted glances as the various priests and prelates select their next target for a suck-up. It all continues until the first notes of the processional start and it resumes as soon as the Mass is over. The same scene plays out on a different scale in the restaurants of Rome, at parties and receptions, even on the street when one encounters a potential patron or ally. The whole structure reinforces the tendency of men to see themselves as people of importance rather than as those who are called to be of service. What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose themselves in the process? It takes people out of contact with reality and reinforces a fantasy world of exaggerated egos and misaligned values.
I think what this highlights is the need not just for structural reform but for personal conversion. Leave it to a Jesuit to sound the call. It is a gift that Ignatius left his sons from his own experience at Manressa; thank you Francis for sharing that gift with the rest of us.