VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis hinted at a toxic atmosphere as he railed against “hidden” and “malicious” resistance to his push for Vatican reforms, describing the latter as being inspired by “the devil, often dressed in sheep’s clothing.”
In his annual Christmas speech before top Vatican officials on Thursday, Francis said he did not see all resistance to his reforms as necessarily bad.
“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 a complacent spiritual reform, on the part of those who say they are ready for change, but want everything to remain as it is,” the pontiff said.
Opponents of reform could be hiding behind “traditions” and “formalities,” he claimed.
“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,” Francis said.
‘12 principles of reform’
The 80-year-old pontiff warned that the reform process he launched in 2013 had to lead to more than a cosmetic “face-lift” or plastic surgery to remove wrinkles.
“Dear brothers and sisters, it isn’t wrinkles we need to worry about in the Church, but blemishes,” Francis said.
The blistering tone will have come as no surprise to the assembled staff. In 2014 he described some of them as hypocritical, status-obsessed careerists who were suffering from “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”
This year he set out 12 principles guiding the reform he wants to see. One of those was “Catholicism” in the sense of “all embracing,” and it was under that heading that he made arguably his most significant comments.
The 12 “guiding principles” are: “individual responsibility (personal conversion), pastoral concern (pastoral conversion), missionary spirit (Christocentrism), clear organization, improved functioning, modernization (updating), sobriety, subsidiarity, synodality, Catholicity, professionalism and gradualism (discernment).”
‘More women, lay experts in Curia’
Referring to the Vatican dicasteries, or departments, that he has sought to streamline and reorganize, Francis said it would be “appropriate” to bring in more lay people, especially where their expertise made them more competent than staff drawn from the clergy.
“The development of the role of women and lay people in the Church and their appointment to leading roles in the dicasteries, with particular attention to multiculturalism, is furthermore of great importance,” Francis said.
As things stand, all the dicasteries, including those shaken up by Francis, are headed by religious figures, and the Curia has been a clerical closed shop for centuries.
A lack of professional expertise within the Vatican was notably highlighted by recent scandals centered on the Holy See’s finances, which exposed problems in ensuring transparency and reliable controls on waste and mismanagement.
Women within the Church have long campaigned for a greater role in its governance.
Francis agreed earlier this year to study the historical role of female deacons in the first centuries of the Church, a move which some have seen as potentially opening the door to women entering the clergy.
Such a move would involve a major change in Church thinking and would be hugely difficult to deliver.
But there is no such fundamental obstacle to women being given top jobs in the Curia, with the issue being one of culture and tradition rather than doctrine.
Order of Malta probed
Separately, but in a potential reflection of simmering tensions inside the Vatican, Francis announced Thursday an investigation into goings-on at the Order of Malta, a Church-linked charity body descended from the crusading knights of the Middle Ages.
The move follows the dismissal earlier this month of Albrecht Boeselager, the order’s grand chancellor, amid suggestions he was too liberal for the tastes of Cardinal Raymond Burke, who acts as the order’s liason with the Vatican.
Burke, an American, is a prominent conservative figure who has been outspoken in his criticism of Francis’s efforts to reform Church teaching on questions related to the family, marriage and divorce.