Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Pope Francis invites the Curia - and the Church - to an examination of conscience

When he met with the members of the Curia for the traditional exchange of Christmas greetings, Pope Francis gave an address that was an invitation for both himself and his collaborators in the Holy See to an examination of conscience (English language press release here; at the time of posting no full English text on the Vatican website):
Desidero insieme a voi elevare al Signore un vivo e sentito ringraziamento per l’anno che ci sta lasciando, per gli eventi vissuti e per tutto il bene che Egli ha voluto generosamente compiere attraverso il servizio della Santa Sede, chiedendogli umilmente perdono per le mancanze commesse “in pensieri, parole, opere e omissioni”.
E partendo proprio da questa richiesta di perdono, vorrei che questo nostro incontro e le riflessioni che condividerò con voi diventassero, per tutti noi, un sostegno e uno stimolo a un vero esame di coscienza per preparare il nostro cuore al Santo Natale.
[I wish together with you to offer to the Lord a lively and heartfelt thanksgiving for the year that is just ending, for the events experienced and for all the good that He has wished generously to complete by way of the service of the Holy See, asking Him humbly for pardon for the failures committed "in thought, word, deed and omission". And beginning particularly with this request for pardon, I wish that this our meeting and the reflections that I will share with you will become, for all of us, a help and a prompt to a true examination of conscience to ready our heart for a Holy Christmas]
 And Pope Francis prefaced his "catalogue" of fifteen temptations that face the Curia - and indeed all parts of the Church, of the Mystical Body - with the observation that members of the Curia can only fulfil their mission if they maintain a living relationship with Christ, and that, without that relationship, they become simply bureaucrats.

Pope Francis certainly has a hard hitting turn of phrase as he presents each of the temptations. And sometimes his choice of phrase, removed from its complete context, gives a misleading impression of what was said in the Sala Clementina. A good example is his warning against "spiritual Alzheimer's", where he refers to a very specific circumstance which is lost if the phrase is taken apart from its more developed explanation:
C’è anche la malattia dell’“alzheimer spirituale”: ossia la dimenticanza della propria storia di salvezza, della storia personale con il Signore, del «primo amore» (Ap 2,4). Si tratta di un declino progressivo delle facoltà spirituali che in un più o meno lungo intervallo di tempo causa gravi handicap alla persona facendola diventare incapace di svolgere alcuna attività autonoma, vivendo uno stato di assoluta dipendenza dalle sue vedute spesso immaginarie.
[There is also the illness of "spiritual Alzheimer's": that is the forgetfulness of one's particular history of salvation, of a personal history with the Lord, of "the first love" (Ap.2:4). I am speaking of a progressive decline of the spiritual faculty that in a more or less long passage of time causes a serious handicap to the person, making them become incapable of undertaking any individual activity, living in a state of complete dependence on their views, often imagined.] 
[Do look up the reference to Revelation 2:4, and perhaps read 2:1-2:5.]

 Now this invitation to a shared examination of conscience..... is it fairly described as "sixteen paragraphs of sustained and immoderate abuse"?....... Was it a "stunning and very public 'dressing down' of his staff"?....... Was it "a coruscating and very public critique"?

No. It was an invitation to a shared examination of conscience.

And it is unfortunate that both secular and Catholic media are reporting it otherwise.

It is worth noting that, as with a number of the other statements by Pope Francis that have been taken badly by those of traditionalist inclination, some of the themes articulated here are not original to Pope Francis or original to this particular occasion. I was able to find, for example, an account of "Martha-ism" identical to that of Pope Francis, in a book by Terry Rush, a book written, I think, from an Evangelical Christian background. I expect, too, that the idea headlined "spiritual Alzheimer's" is also part of an ecclesial conversation that precedes Pope Francis' address. If you are not familiar with this wider context to what Pope Francis says then you will end up thinking it is a more specifically directed critique than it in reality is. My own quick look suggests that it is those familiar with the writing and life of the Charismatic Renewal who will most readily recognise the wider conversation of which this address forms a part. [A comment at another blog suggests the Spiritual Exercises and Pope Francis' Jesuit training as a background.] If anyone can shed further light on this aspect of Pope Francis' address, please do so via the comments.

UPDATE: For those who read French, Isabelle de Gaulmyn has posted to suggest that the essence of Pope Francis' proposal for the reform of the Curia is spiritual in nature and not managerial: Curie, la réforme spirituelle du pape François.

1 comment:

John McCarthy said...

Spot on, it was not just a critique of the Roman Curia, but a challenge to the church as a whole.