There were widespread reports in the secular media that in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia on 22 December, Pope Francis trenchantly criticised the conduct of the priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals who comprise the central administration of the Church in the Vatican.
A close reading of his speech, extracts of which are printed on this page, shows that he was in fact giving a different message: a very practical homily which bluntly warns against the common bureaucratic disorders of complacency and arrogance, and insists that members of the Curia must have deep personal holiness, humility and a life centred on prayer and the sacraments.
At the end of Advent, we meet for our traditional greetings. Before all else, I would like to offer all of you – co-workers, brothers and sisters, papal representatives throughout the world, and all your dear ones – my prayerful good wishes for a holy Christmas and a happy New Year.
I want to thank you most heartily for your daily commitment in the service of the Holy See, the Catholic Church, the particular Churches and the Successor of Peter.
Together with you, I want to lift up to the Lord a lively and heartfelt thanksgiving for the year now ending, for all we have experienced, and for all the good which he has graciously willed to accomplish through our service of the Holy See, while at the same time humbly begging his forgiveness for our failings committed "in our thoughts and words, in what we have done and what we have failed to do".
As I thought about this meeting, there came to mind the image of the Church as the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.
This is an expression which, as Pope Pius XII explained, "springs up and in some way blossoms from the frequent teaching of sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church".
As Saint Paul wrote: "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (1 Cor 12:12).
It is attractive to think of the Roman Curia as a small-scale model of the Church, in other words, as a "body" which strives seriously every day to be more alive, more healthy, more harmonious and more united in itself and with Christ.
In fact, though, the Roman Curia is a complex body, made up of a number of Congregations, Councils, Offices, Tribunals, Commissions, as of numerous elements which do not all have the same task but are coordinated in view of an effective, edifying, disciplined and exemplary functioning, notwithstanding the cultural, linguistic and national differences of its members.
However, since the Curia is a dynamic body, it cannot live without nourishment and care. In fact, the Curia – like the Church – cannot live without a vital, personal, authentic and solid relationship with Christ.
A member of the Curia who is not daily nourished by that Food will become a bureaucrat (a formalist, a functionalist, a mere employee): a branch which withers, slowly dies and is then cast off.
Daily prayer, assiduous reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation, daily contact with the word of God and a spirituality which translates into lived charity – these are vital nourishment for each of us.
Let it be clear to all of us that apart from him we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:8).
As a result, a living relationship with God also nourishes and strengthens our communion with others. In other words, the more closely we are joined to God, the more we are united among ourselves, since the Spirit of God unites and the spirit of evil divides.
The Curia is called constantly to improve and to grow in communion, holiness and wisdom, in order to carry out fully its mission.
And yet, like any body, like any human body, it is also exposed to diseases, malfunctioning, infirmity.
Here I would like to mention some of these probable diseases, "curial diseases". They are the more common diseases in our life in the Curia.
At this point, Pope Francis listed 15 "diseases and temptations which weaken our service to the Lord". He also pointed to the remedies to be applied in each case.
Brothers, these diseases and these temptations are naturally a danger for each Christian and for every curia, community, congregation, parish and ecclesial movement and they can strike at the individual and the community levels.
We need to be clear that it is only the Holy Spirit who can heal all our infirmities. He is the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ as the Nicene Creed says: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life".
It is the Holy Spirit who sustains every sincere effort at purification and in every effort at conversion. It is he who makes us realise that every member participates in the sanctification of the Body and its weakening.
He is the promoter of harmony: "Ipse harmonia est", as Saint Basil says. Saint Augustine tells us that "as long as a member is still part of the body, its healing can be hoped for. But once it is removed, it can be neither cured nor healed".
Healing also comes about through an awareness of our sickness and of a personal and communal decision to be cured by patiently and perseveringly accepting the remedy.
Therefore, so as not to fall in these days when we are preparing ourselves for Confession, let us ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, to heal the wounds of sin which each of us bears in his heart, and to sustain the Church and the Curia so that they can be healthy and health-giving holy and sanctifying, to the glory of her Son and for our salvation and that of the entire world.
Let us ask her to make us love the Church as Christ, her Son and our Lord, loves her, to have the courage to acknowledge that we are sinners in need of his mercy, and not to fear surrendering our hands into her maternal hands.