No Merry Christmas at the Vatican



One of the more obvious misinterpretations of the Pope is regarding him as some sort of jolly, smiling pontiff in the model of John XXIII.  The reality, as Father Z tells us, is somewhat different:


Pope Francis listed 15 “ailments” of the Vatican Curia during his annual Christmas greetings to the cardinals, bishops, and priests who run the central administration of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. Here’s the list.

1) Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable. “A Curia that doesn’t criticize itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.”
2) Working too hard. “Rest for those who have done their work is necessary, good and should be taken seriously.”
3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened. “It’s dangerous to lose that human sensibility that lets you cry with those who are crying, and celebrate those who are joyful.”
4) Planning too much. “Preparing things well is necessary, but don’t fall into the temptation of trying to close or direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is bigger and more generous than any human plan.”
5) Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise. “When the foot tells the hand, ‘I don’t need you’ or the hand tells the head, ‘I’m in charge.’”
6) Having ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s.’ “We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord … in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias, in those who build walls around themselves and become enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.”
7) Being rivals or boastful. “When one’s appearance, the color of one’s vestments or honorific titles become the primary objective of life.”
8) Suffering from ‘existential schizophrenia.’ “It’s the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of hypocrisy that is typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that academic degrees cannot fill. It’s a sickness that often affects those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic work, losing contact with reality and concrete people.”
9) Committing the ‘terrorism of gossip.’ “It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.”
10) Glorifying one’s bosses. “It’s the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, they honor people who aren’t God.”
11) Being indifferent to others. “When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.”
12) Having a ‘funereal face.’ “In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity. The apostle must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy and transmit joy wherever he goes.”
13) Wanting more. “When the apostle tries to fill an existential emptiness in his heart by accumulating material goods, not because he needs them but because he’ll feel more secure.”
14) Forming ‘closed circles’ that seek to be stronger than the whole. “This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad — scandals — especially to our younger brothers.”
15) Seeking worldly profit and showing off. “It’s the sickness of those who insatiably try to multiply their powers and to do so are capable of calumny, defamation and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally to show themselves as being more capable than others.”

Sort of, “Merry Christmas, you vain, hypocritical, funeral faces!”

Mind you, these are just the bullet points. Every point was explained, with citations, in the address of over 3100 words, which took about 32 minutes. There are 20 footnotes. HERE

The Holy Father then went around the room to greet all the Cardinals present.

Veteran Vatican watcher John Allen reported:

“I have to say, I didn’t feel great walking out of that room today,” one senior Vatican official said, who had been in the Vatican’s Sala Clementina for the speech and who spoke on the condition he not be identified.

“I understand that the pope wants us to live up to our ideals, but you wonder sometimes if he has anything positive to say about us at all,” the official said, who’s been in Vatican service for more than two decades.

For the record, this was an official who describes himself as an “enthusiast” over the direction being set by Pope Francis.

The body language on Monday among the cardinals and archbishops who make up the Vatican’s power structure suggest that reaction wasn’t isolated. There were few smiles as the pope spoke and only mild applause; since Francis delivered the address in Italian, it wasn’t because his audience didn’t understand.

Having watched the video, I too thought that the reception of the speech and, afterward, of the Pope himself as he went around the room, was muted and even tense.

One can only guess what fruits this examination of conscience will produce.  Time will tell.

Go here to read the rest.  Chewing out subordinates is part of a Pope’s job, but there is a time and a place for it.  In the Army we used to be told to praise publically and chew out privately.  I think that is normally a wise policy, and I think the Pope could benefit from it.

More to explorer


  1. A cursory review of the Roman Pontiff’s comments tells me that in some things, he is accurate. Ripping into your “middle management” right before Christmas is never a good idea. Praising an employee before an assembly of others is okay, but ripping into everyone never is. That should be done on a one-on-one basis, but I don’t expect that from the current Roman Pontiff.

  2. So who will hold this Pontiff to the standards he applies to the Curia? If it is God, then he will undergo a rude awakening.
    BTW, this speech was given solely for the liberal media’s benefit to show how this Latin American is cracking down on Vatican corruption. Francis thrives on this sort of thing. He is the ultimate careerist cleric.

  3. I’ve come to the conclusion Francis does nothing well. Someone who gives a speech like this to a collection of subordinates of miscellaneous performance and disposition is a fool.

  4. Surely the Holy Father was aware of the effect such a speech would have on
    the audience in that room– which makes me think that A) he doesn’t much
    care what his subordinates think and doesn’t mind them knowing it and B)
    this speech wasn’t about improving the way the curia works, but it was about
    appearing to the press and public to care about improving the curia.
    Why else say these things on stage instead of behind closed doors? Unless he
    intends to resort 24/7 to the sort of manipulation and chicanery we saw with
    the synod, he’ll have an even harder time getting what he wants from these
    staff now.
    Both in here and in the cases of Pope Francis’ treatment of Cardinal Burke and
    the FFI, this Pope seems to think that public, petty humiliations of defenseless
    subordinates is the way to encourager les autres. Good luck with that,
    Your Holiness.

  5. And I was to start in my new job after the first of the year as the pope’s food tester. I think I’ll pass on that job now.

  6. Curious. Elisha didn’t find the Lord in the strong wind nor earthquake nor fire…but in the softness of speech. There in that sweet soft voice did he hear and understand. Pondering. Just pondering.

  7. Thank you Paul. I go from memory without checking first. 53 years and the memory isn’t what it used to be.

  8. not just the pope…also in the parishes. the sermon about families ( who are in church together) failing evidenced by so many kids who leave the church — blaming the catechism teachers – all in the congregation trying to worship and offer their works joys and sorrows to God
    – lay people doing their best to teach the faith… Daily and weekly UNDERCUT by at the skepticism and doubt from the priest in the pulpit, in the lame way the mass is done.
    We pray at home, and live our faith as best we can– teaching our kids only the have the rug pulled out from under us by the seminary and the catholic college..
    The parents teach the truth and the priest tells the kid ‘well you know the church will prob change her teaching on that. You know we don’t know when christmas is it’s all made up but we celebrate it anyway at this time of year cause that’s what pagans do…”
    the preaching teaching from the pope and th priests (for all the humble reluctance to judge) is basically finger pointing and I don’t like it. It seems to tells us that everything we have earnestly tried to believe and incorporate into our lives is wrong, and we are the problem…while the “world ” is exalted.

  9. Breaking down what’s left of holiness and hearts for the Word by psychological means, not building up a renewal of that purpose, has increased his worldly popularity (see comments around) by those expressing plain old schaden-frois. Less of a chance that will pure Catholic teaching happen in a God-pleasing way from current hierarchy? Concern for the lost and wayward is missing, as he has now given them more of rejoicing in sickness of leaders to consider than faith. –Now, put the joy of what Christmas means on your face. Don’t worry about the diagnosis – you will acclimate yourselves , as do good citizens —

  10. The pope should have ended his list with a punch line…. “BUT WHO AM I TO JUDGE?” Mic drop.

    If I understand the pope, it’s okay to judge some behaviors, some of which could be described as office politics, but it’s not okay to judge behavior which will certainly affect one’s eternal destination.

    It’s good for the U.S. to surrender its principles in relations with Cuba, but it’s not okay for the Vatican to surrender its principles to the demands of China. Capitalism is bad and exploitative, except when used to open trade with tyrannical regimes like Cuba.

    This pope is really clearing things up for me. /s

  11. I see a lot of pride in all the comments I saw above.
    I don’t know if you are really catholic because any catholic should be pleased to have someone to examine your conscience specially when you think that your are already a very good person.
    Examine your conscience and humility is something very good for all catholics.
    Didn’t Jesus make strong remarques to Peter in front of all the disciples ? Or to the traditional jews ?
    i see Father Z eating and spend lots of time in his computer and in his blog, but I never see him post anything about being with poor people or helping them. He’s always on flight, travelling in France, Italy, going to conferences. In any place there are things more worthly to spend the time for and I don’t think God said I will recognise you in Heaven for blogging and attacking the Pope but rather for going to jail to visit a prisioner, charity, helping lost people.

  12. I don’t know if you are really catholic

    Nothing screams Pharisee quite like questioning the faith of your co-religionists because they dare to question the wisdom of a certain Pontifical action.

    By the way, your comment about Fr. Z is dripping with judgment and frankly calumny. It’s the sort of thing I frankly have lost all patience for. This is becoming rather all too typical of a certain class of Catholics, who will tut-tut any criticism of the Pontiff but who don’t mind engaging in the most vile of ad homimen attacks on other clergy.

  13. Dear Miguel.

    I strongly and lovingly disagree.
    What the Holy Father has done by publicly shaming the Curia is not of Christ.

    Love is not self serving. It is gentle. It is kind. I hope this is not a papal moment to showcase his “authority over others.”

  14. 11) Being indifferent to others. “When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.”

    So how do banana peels fit in to Numero 11?

  15. Have you ever noticed that people like Miguel hated Pope Benedict and never lost any opportunity for criticizing him, but they just love this Peronist Pope?
    Have you every noticed this Peronist Pope won’t judge sodomites or adulterers or fornicators or murderers (he even wants to commute their life sentences!), but he sure as heck is at home judging the very clerics who elected him?
    I hope this teaches the Curia a lesson about whom they next elect to the Papacy.
    God saved the Church from Pope Alexander VI. God will save the Church from Francis I.

  16. These times remind me of the papacy of Urban VI. From Wikipedia:

    “Immediately following his election, Urban began preaching intemperately to the cardinals (some of whom thought the delirium of power had made Urban mad and unfit for rule), insisting that the business of the Curia should be carried on without gratuities and gifts, forbidding the cardinals to accept annuities from rulers and other lay persons, condemning the luxury of their lives and retinues, and the multiplication of benefices and bishoprics in their hands. Nor would he remove again to Avignon, thus alienating King Charles V of France.

    The cardinals were mortally offended.”

    In spite of his temperament, he was right, and he was the legitimate head of the Church. Catherine of Siena spoke of the need for obedience. Unfortunately, few listened, and this led to the Great Schism

  17. In spite of his temperament, he was right,

    Castigating cardinals for excess living standards may be right. It’s also a cheap pose if your constituency is the international press corps. His is.

  18. Miguel ought to realize that in the Catholic Church there are orders who devote their lives in service to the poor of the world. Others are contemplative orders. Fr. Z’s superior is a bishop in Italy who has full knowledge of and has given his approval to Fr. Z’s activities. Fr. Z lives in Madison, Wisconsin at the service (I believe) of Bishop Morlino.

    God can judge the current Roman Pontiff. Personally, I’m tired of him and say no more today.

  19. Miguel Reis Cunha-
    project, much? Arrogant pride combined with an attempt to speak on behalf of Jesus is not improved by being selective about when you’ll pay attention to what He had to say.
    Jesus said something or other about removing logs before you start seeking out motes in the eyes of others.
    Also, before deciding that someone not writing about what a great person they are is evidence that they’re a do-nothing, you might want to check to see what Jesus had to say about standing on street corners to do your good deeds.

  20. Honestly, I can’t judge someone too harshly for being creeped out by Fr. Z. I have no idea if Miguel undermined Pope Benedict or not.

    Non-orthodox people can fall into heresy, which Dante put in Circle 6. Orthodox people can fall into schism – Circle 8. I hope we all avoid the circles entirely.

  21. What a Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia! Seems to me His Holiness is off schedule. The beginning of Advent or Lent would have been more appropriate timing with the caveat that the 15 ailments not be in the public domain. Surely the Vatican has levels of classification for its communiques?
    To reiterate what Don said….a true leader knows and practices: praise in public; admonish in private.
    Airing family dirty laundry gives scandal to the church, especially when the world media and enemies of the Church are salivating for such. How distracting, instead of concentrating on a joyous feast, attention is on the imperfections of the Curia with a new parlor game – pin the ailment on the cardinal.

  22. If he didn’t call out someone specifically then it sounds like good advice from a good manager. Can’t really read the unspoken intentions, or the occult motivation, or the imaginary subtext. I’d take it at face value and find the useful application, not just to the immediate audience, but to all of us.

  23. Mr.Kelly.

    Tis the season to call illnesses and failures about. Let’s be critical after all the infant Jesus wanted us to do this!

    Thanks Mr. Kelly…and blow your’s dripping.

  24. Merry Christmas Philip!

    We can argue protocol, but to me that’s substantially less important than content. I think the Pope provided sound advice that, wisely heeded, can help remove barriers that can separate us from Jesus. I’m not seeing the downside to the content. I’ll cede you the protocol, but I’ll take truth over affirmation any day.


  25. Truth?

    2/3rd’s of the Synod on the family did not agree to topics that our (#5 working without coordination) Holy Father sought to override, and place the topics into next years agenda…but wait, let’s see…He is all about listening…cough cough, sniffle sniffle.

  26. Three paragraphs were not approved by 2/3rd’s majority, but PF acted as if they we’re approved by majority….so what?
    He has said those paragraphs will be entered into final draft for next years synod. Why have a vote at all Mr. Kelly?

    Maybe the Curia isn’t fit to receive the direction of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s only the pontiff that can hear properly.(?)

    This is his #14…forming small circles…and he is doing a great job at it.

  27. I recall that the Gospel of St. Matthew gives some criteria for fraternal correction (Mt 18,15-17). Perhaps Pope Francis could learn a few lessons from this passage. It seems that the approach proposed by Our Lord was intended to be efficacious, that is, to truly help the other to correct what needs correcting by beginning by talking to him personally and privately, not publicly castigating him, and what is worse, in a venue which was intended to be a Christmas greeting to all those who work in various positions in the Vatican. The Pope’s litany of vices, which we could assume he considers rampant or at least frequent in the Curia could only provoke a defensive reaction from his hearers and therefore be of no practical utility in helping those who may actually have some of them.

    In general, I would suggest that bloggers find some other interesting and important matters in the life of the Church to make known and comment on, rather than every word that falls from the mouth of Pope Francis, as at this stage it would seem to be clear that some of what he has to say must be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could practice on him the norm giiven by Jesus regarding fraternal correction? In my etimation it is always better to motivate positively as it is probably certain that the vast majority of those who work in the Curia are decent people who are trying to do their best to serve the Church, with all their human failures, which no human being lacks. Especially in the case of a meeting which has the goal of communicating Christmas greetings, it is most inappropriate to castigate his audience in the manner he did.

    One wonders how Pope Francis can increase confidence between himself and this closest collaborators with this kind of shower of icy water thrown on them on the eve of Christmas. A leader needs to develop confidence in his collaborators. Without trying to develop such confidence he can only expect to discourage them and make their work more difficult.

  28. Red hats and curial officials get ready – you think this Merry Christmas was jovial and jolly? Imagine what he will say to these men, some of them real servants of the servants of God [and yes some of them not] with the backdrop of Good Friday, suffering, Passion and Death to set the tone for collegiality? How many more than 15 points will there be next Spring? Be nice to those you meet on your way up, you may encounter them again on your way down. James, that job will go begging. Guy McClung, San Antonio

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