Editorial: Pope delivers a welcome season’s scolding

Last modified: Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Now that’s what we call remembering the reason for the season. In the second of his Christmas addresses, Pope Francis chastised a Vatican leadership in which he said too many prelates preach a Christ-like selflessness but practice a life of backstabbing, power grabs and political maneuvering.

“Brothers, let’s guard ourselves from the terrorism of gossip,” Francis told cardinals and bishops gathered at the Apostolic Palace, the New York Times reports. “The ailment of close circles enslaves their members and becomes a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body.”

Francis’ call to conscience provides the latest, and most dramatic, evidence that the first Latin American pope plans to devote his time at the Holy See to a gospel of inclusion rather than one that has too often excluded the weak, the scorned, the fallen-from-favor. What better message to deliver at this time of year when many celebrate a man who devoted his life to embracing the least among us?

Since taking over the Holy See, Francis has made his home in humble quarters rather than the luxurious papal residence, reminded the church of its duty to the poor, called for acceptance of gay people and pushed for an end to the Cold War between the United States and Cuba. While those moves undoubtedly caused ripples of discomfort among the Vatican leadership and bureaucracy, none revealed his mind or pierced the heart like Monday’s Christmas address.

Saying that too many cardinals, bishops and priests suffer from “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” Francis called on them to reflect on the reasons they entered the priesthood.

Those reasons, he said, should not include a self-admiring “pathology of power,” a lack of spiritual empathy and a form of “existential schizophrenia.”

The time has come, Francis said, for a raw self-examination that will lead them away from hypocritical double lives and back to serving ordinary people and their God. Francis did not exclude himself from guilt in his speech, and in a later meeting with Vatican employees, Francis asked the laypeople to forgive the sins of himself and his fellow churchmen.

Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, who covers the Vatican, told the Times the pope “is not starting a witch hunt; he is asking everyone — himself included — for an evangelical mea culpa.” He continued: “He is trying to reform hearts and behaviors. It’s something deeper than a structural reform of the Curia.”

Although the pope’s message was addressed to the church elite, it should hearten — and challenge — ordinary clergy and churchgoers in Hampshire County and around the globe. Those who stuck with the church, and those who turned away, during the sex abuse scandals and other travails can now see in Rome a leader who calls them to a redemptive mission.

Although Francis’s stern message will likely not endear him to all of its targets, it signals that he plans concrete steps to move the culture of the Catholic Church from one that has too often protected corrupt insiders to one focused on helping the least powerful. For an institution looking to regain its foundation, that signals a holy return to roots.


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