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Pope rips ‘malicious’ resistance to Church reform

December 22, 2016

Pope Francis lashed out at “malicious” opponents of Church reform, in a December 22 address to the leaders of the Roman Curia.

The Pope had stunned Rome in 2014 when he used his December address to the Roman Curia, traditionally an exchange of Christmas greetings, to discuss the spiritual “diseases” that afflict Vatican staff workers. He referred to that address this year, saying that it was necessary to speak bluntly about the problems facing the Roman Curia “because every surgical operation, if it is to be successful, must be preceded by detailed diagnosis and careful analysis.”

Continuing on that theme this year, the Pontiff said that reform is “not an end unto itself, but rather a process of growth and above all of conversion.” He said that resistance to reform is normal, but some forms of resistance may be inspired by Satan:

There can be cases of open resistance, often born of goodwill and sincere dialogue, and cases of hidden resistance, born of fearful or hardened hearts content with the empty rhetoric of ‘spiritual window-dressing’ typical of those who say they are ready for change, yet want everything to remain as it was before. There are also cases of malicious resistance, which spring up in misguided minds and come to the fore when the devil inspires ill intentions (often cloaked in sheep’s clothing). This last kind of resistance hides behind words of self-justification and often accusation; it takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, failing to distinguish between the act, the actor, and the action.

As in the past, Pope Francis did not identify the sources of the “malicious resistance” to his proposed reforms. He insisted, however, that reform is a necessity. Reform, he said, shows that the Church “is living and for this reason semper reformanda, in need of reform because she is alive.”

True reform, the Pontiff continued, cannot be superficial. He stressed that the transformation of the Roman Curia could not be like plastic surgery, intended to remove wrinkles. “Dear brothers and sisters,” he said; “it isn’t wrinkles we need to worry about in the Church, but stains!”

Reform also means more than replacing individuals in various positions, the Pope continued—although personnel changes are inevitable. The more important goal, he said, is “a conversion in persons.” Later in the address, he said that the time-honored practice of promoveatur ut amoveatur—giving a problem worker a promotion in order to remove him, commonly expressed in English as “kicking someone upstairs”—must stop.

In his lengthy speech, Pope Francis listed and explained twelve guiding principles of the reforms that he intends for the Vatican: individualism; pastoral concern; missionary spirit; clear organisation; improved functioning; modernisation; sobriety; subsidiarity; synodality; catholicity; professionalism, and gradualism.

Finally the Pontiff listed the steps that he has already taken to bring about reform at the Vatican:

  • the institution of the Council of Cardinals as an advisory body;
  • the reform of the Vatican bank, the Institute for Religious Works;
  • the revisions of the criminal code for the Vatican city-state;
  • the establishment of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors;
  • the series of economic reforms;
  • the founding of the Secretariat for Communications, to modernize and streamline Vatican public communications;
  • the simplification of canonical norms for annulments;
  • the effort to hold bishops accountable for negligence, particularly regarding sexual abuse;
  • the creation of two new dicasteries—combining the functions of existing offices—for Laity, Family, and Life and for Integral Human Development; and
  • the revision of the statutes of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Pope Francis began his address to the members of the Curia, assembled in the Clementine Hall, with his Christmas wishes, celebrating “the feast of the loving humility of God, of the God Who upsets our logical expectations, the established order, the order of the dialectian and the mathematician.” He ended the speech by announcing that he was presenting the Curial leaders with a Christmas gift: a new translation of a work by Claudio Aquaviva, the 5th leader of the Jesuit order, on the treatment of “illnesses of the soul.”


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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bruno - Dec. 23, 2016 11:34 PM ET USA

    The title of the article seems to suggest something broader than Vatican reform. However, in reading the article, it seems that Pope Francis is doing what many had hoped;Reforming the curia through the hard process of dismissing those who fail to take their vocation (read "job") seriously. Didn't we hear Pope Emeritus Benedict say that he lacked the strength to carry out such reforms? Isn't this what we asked and hoped for, that it wouldn't be "business as usual" in the Vatican?

  • Posted by: Ken - Dec. 23, 2016 2:17 PM ET USA

    ALC - this is the reaction liberals have to anyone who disagrees with them - they preach tolerance but lack the very quality themselves. Truly saddening, indeed.

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Dec. 23, 2016 3:09 AM ET USA

    What are the odds that he will not use these stated goals of reform to sack those loyal to doctrine.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Dec. 22, 2016 7:58 PM ET USA

    So, those who attempt to ensure that the Church continues to teach what she has always taught are, in fact, under the sway of Satan. The limits of charity are being reached when every disagreement is met with accusations of "rigidness" and "closed minds," which are (to use a term commonly bandied about these days) projections of the accuser's own shortcomings. The painting of those accused as belonging to Satan, however, is in quite another league. God help us!

  • Posted by: ALC - Dec. 22, 2016 3:59 PM ET USA

    This is truly saddening. This Pope seems to push back in the most unflattering way on anyone who dares to disagree with him in even the most respectful way. I am not judging him, but these actions do not seem to be the actions of a humble person who is open minded. They seem to be the actions of an autocrat who has no place for questions from anyone.