SHAFAQNA – Pope Francis launched a savage attack on Vatican bureaucrats yesterday, accusing them of becoming power-seeking, hypocritical schemers who believe themselves to be “immortal”, but suffer from “spiritual Alzheimer’s”.
At his Christmas address to the cardinals and priests who run the Roman Curia, Francis listed 15 “illnesses” he said they were prone to, ranging from excessive pride and indifference to the “terrorism” of gossip — a “cowardly” disease which can “kill in cold blood” the reputation of a colleague.
Warning his senior officials not to feel too important, he advised a visit to a cemetery to “see the names of lots of people, some of whom thought they were immortal, immune and indispensible”.
The speech follows a year in which the Pope has tried to shake up the Vatican’s famously secretive bureaucracy, allegedly staffed by jealous prelates whose infighting was revealed by the leaking of letters sent to the Pope’s predecessor, Pope Benedict.
The Argentinian has also pushed on with efforts launched by Pope Benedict to clean up the Vatican’s scandal-ridden bank, which was reportedly a haven for tax dodgers and money launderers.
Although the Pope’s list of sins was partly an updated Ten Commandments, it also had the feel of a modern list of do’s and don’ts for office workers.
He warned his bureaucrats to work as a team, and avoid inflexible planning. Nor should they overwork, becoming “procedural machines” and hiding under piles of paperwork.
A few warnings appeared to be aimed at specific Vatican staffers. The Pope complained about people with a “funereal face” who seek to be taken seriously by treating others with “rigidity, hardness and arrogance”, a warning linked by some to his decision to end the mandate of a Swiss Guard commander seen as being too tough.
“Let’s not lose that joyous spirit, full of humour and even self-irony, that makes us likeable, even in difficult situations,” he said.
The Pope also criticised the accumulation of possessions, recounting the story of a young Jesuit who filled a lorry with bags, books and presents when he moved house – a possible reference to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s former secretary of state, who has recently renovated a large apartment with roof terrace at the Vatican, only yards from the smaller quarters occupied by Francis.
After lambasting his officials, the Pope was positively glowing in his speech of thanks to the Vatican’s gardeners, cleaners and lay office workers.
“I don’t want to finish this speech without asking your forgiveness for the shortcomings of my colleagues and myself, as well as for some scandals, which do great harm,” he told them. “Forgive me.”