Friday, December 26, 2014

Yes, the Pope did issue "a blistering critique" to the Curia

Did the Pope issue a "blistering critique" of the Curia? Yes says RNS writer Josephine McKenna. But Dawn Eden of "Get Religion" doesn't think so. She cites a read of the Papal statement in Zenit and another by Rocco Palmo who notes that the Pope began by a call for forgiveness and concludes with a statement that the critique could be aimed at all Catholics.

You be the judge. We need the Italian text from the Vatican first. Here is the English version also from the Vatican.

The text addresses: "Cari fratelli..." that is "Dear Brothers" hence intended for the Curia not for all Catholics although of course the papal address has been widely read. "Fratelli, brothers" i.e. Cardinals is repeated at the conclusion. I thus disagree with Rocco Palmo's reading: the admonition is addressed to the immediate audience.

An opening paragraph states that the Curia is called to improve to fully realize its mission. Yet like every human body it is exposed to "malattie, al malfunzionamento, all'infermita." This is rendered as "sickness, malfunction and infirmity" in the Vatican English version. But the Italian uses stronger language: "disease, malfunction and infirmity." In fact where the Italian word repeats the word "disease" as in "Curial diseases, malattie curiale," and "diseases more frequent in the life of the Curia," the English translation consistently prefers the less forceful "Curial illnesses" or "ailments."

Since the body of the address identifies the 15 spiritual conditions, it is important to know how to designate the Italian "malatia or malattie." The English text uses "ailment" or "illness" except in four cases: Spiritual Alzheimer's disease; the disease of indifference, accumulation, worldly profit and exhibitionism. The Italian uses the same word all the way through. My judgement is that the English has weakened the Italian.

The English translation omits considerable text. Here is the the first disease:
The first is “the sickness of considering oneself 'immortal', 'immune' or 'indispensable', neglecting the necessary and habitual controls. A Curia that is not self-critical, that does not stay up-to-date, that does not seek to better itself, is an ailing body. … It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service”.

But the Italian is more detailed and contains descriptions and even diagnoses of pathologies:

1. La malattia del sentirsi “immortale”, “immune” o addirittura “indispensabile”, trascurando i necessari e abituali controlli. Una Curia che non si autocritica, che non si aggiorna, che non cerca di migliorarsi è un corpo infermo. Un’ordinaria visita ai cimiteri ci potrebbe aiutare a vedere i nomi di tante persone, delle quale alcuni forse pensavano di essere immortali, immuni e indispensabili! È la malattia del ricco stolto del Vangelo che pensava di vivere eternamente (cfrLc 12,13-21), e anche di coloro che si trasformano in padroni e si sentono superiori a tutti e non al servizio di tutti. Essa deriva spesso dalla patologia del potere, dal “complesso degli Eletti”, dal narcisismo che guarda appassionatamente la propria immagine e non vede l’immagine di Dio impressa sul volto degli altri, specialmente dei più deboli e bisognosi[8]. L’antidoto a questa epidemia è la grazia di sentirci peccatori e di dire con tutto il cuore: «Siamo servi inutili. Abbiamo fatto quanto dovevamo fare» (Lc 17,10).

The missing text could be rendered into English thus: It is the disease of those who become masters and who feel superior and not at the service of all. It often stems from the pathology of power, the "complex of the Chosen," the narcissism that looks passionately at its own image and does not see the image of God stamped on the face of others, especially the weak and needy. The antidote to this epidemic is to feel as sinners and say with all the heart, "We are unprofitable servants, we did what we had to do" (Luke 17:10).

The English translation of Curial disease #3 omits the connection of Christians to the humility, selflessness, detachment and generosity as seen the mind of Christ in the description of Philippians 2.

Narcissism is something about which Pope Francis has had a good deal to say. In 2013 in an interview he spoke of it:

However, as we said, Jesus told us that love for one's neighbor is equal to what we have for ourselves. So what many call narcissism is recognized as valid, positive, to the same extent as the other. We've talked a lot about this aspect.

"I don't like the word narcissism", the Pope said, "it indicates an excessive love for oneself and this is not good, it can produce serious damage not only to the soul of those affected but also in relationship with others, with the society in which one lives. The real trouble is that those most affected by this  -  which is actually a kind of mental disorder  -  are people who have a lot of power. Often bosses are narcissists".

Many church leaders have been."You know what I think about this? Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy."

On another occasion Pope Francis described narcissism as an "ecclesiastical sickness:"

"The theologian who is satisfied with his complete and conclusive thought is mediocre. A good theologian and philosopher is open, or incomplete in thought, always open to the ‘maius’ of God and of the truth, always in development. And the theologian who does not pray or does not adore God ends up sinking into the most repugnant narcissism. And this is an ecclesiastical sickness. Narcissism in theologians and in thinkers is harmful and repugnant.”

It is clear that Pope Francis has given much thought to the ecclesiastical disease of narcissism. It is clear that the Italian text describing diseases in several cases contains more details than the official English text and in the first disease a diagnosis of narcissism. To omit this element of his address is to miss the continuity and development of his thought.

Vatican insiders think the Pope's address was unique. Cardinal Lajolo, the former Vatican governor and foreign minister expresses surprise and says

To be honest, nothing like this has ever happened before'. 'It is the first time this has happened; never before had a Pope set us in the Curia a series of pathologies that we must examine ourselves on.' 
All along, says the cardinal who has been head of some of the most important offices of the Holy See for many years,  'the exchange of Christmas wishes has been a customary occasion, that follows a usual pattern'.

Lajolo points out that for the first time the Pope asks the Curia to examine itself on a number of issues.

In the Pope's address to the Curia we are indeed seeing a strongly worded diagnosis, and critique calling for healing. The force of the Pope's address can be seen in a "tepid reaction" of the assembled Curia in this video from France 24 at 56-59 seconds here.