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Pope Critiques Vatican Bureaucracy
From the Wall Street Journal of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 17:08:30 EST
Pope Francis exchanges Christmas greetings with the Roman Curia Monday in Vatican City.
Pope Francis exchanges Christmas greetings with the Roman Curia Monday in Vatican City. Alessandra Benedetti/Vatican Pool/Corbis

Pope Francis launched his harshest criticism to date of the Vatican’s Roman bureaucracy, denouncing a hierarchy that he likened to an “ailing body” that has often failed to provide a positive model for the Catholic Church at large.

In his Christmas address to the Curia, Pope Francis delivered a rebuke of the body, warning against “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease,” careerism and gossip.

Speaking to a gathering of cardinals and senior officials, the pontiff served up a colorful 15-point list of “diseases” from which it suffers.

He warned against a “Curia that is not self-critical,” likening such a body to “the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity.” Some suffer from “the sickness of mental and spiritual hardening: those who, along the way, lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness,” he said.

The pope also blasted the “ailment of rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the color of one’s robes, insignia and honors become the most important aim in life.” The pope himself has made waves within the Vatican for his decision to repudiate the Apostolic Apartments, where popes typically live, in favor of a two-room apartment inside a modest rooming house. He has also shunned expensive cars and elaborate robes, wearing a simple metal cross.

The 78-year-old pontiff pointedly said that the Curia should be a model for the entire church. “I once read that priests are like airplanes: they only make news when they crash, but there are many that fly,” he concluded, adding that “one priest who falls may cause” harm to the whole church.

The extraordinary address is the toughest criticism yet by a pope who has wasted few opportunities to denounce the bloated, scandal-ridden Curia since he was elected in March 2013. Before the conclave that elected Pope Francis, the cardinals issued a clear call for a pontiff who would shake up a bureaucracy that saw a stream of embarrassing revelations of corruption and infighting during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI . Pope Francis was chosen in part because, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was far from the intrigue in Rome.

The pope has begun to overhaul the Curia, starting largely with the financial management of the body, a task that is well under way. But next year, he is widely expected to begin streamlining the bureaucracy, collapsing some of the departments.

Many are also watching his choices of a new batch of cardinals, which will come in January, for more signs of his plans. He has made little secret of his desire to rebalance the college of cardinals to reflect the growth of Catholicism in the emerging world and to reduce the weight of cardinals—many Italian—who represent various departments in the Curia.

Write to Deborah Ball at

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