“You Are Distancing Yourself From Wisdom”
On November 27, 2015, the German-language magazine, FOCUS, published an open letter [Issue 49/2015; pp. 46-48] to Pope Francis from a former high-ranking member of the Roman Curia. The author claims to have drawn his inspiration to “omit to speak about all the good that you are doing and are speaking and … only list those aspects of your exercise of the papal office which seem to me to be problematic” from the pope’s own scorching address to the Roman Curia last Christmas.
FOCUS Editor’s Introduction:
Among some Catholic ecclesiastical dignitaries, indignation about Pope Francis is increasing. A former member of the Roman Curia speaks out sharply here in an Open Letter during this Advent Season.
[A Picture of Pope Francis giving an address to the Roman Curia is featured. The caption explains: In his Christmas Allocution of 2014 in the Sala Clementina, inside the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican, Pope Francis rebuked his employees by listing for them some “15 illnesses” of the Curia. This castigation by the Head of the Church caught the attention of the world.]
Two and a half years ago, 115 cardinals elected the Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio to be the next pope. The outcome of this pontificate turns out to be mixed; while Francis receives much praise in the realm of politics and the media, the current atmosphere in the Vatican is as bad as it has ever been. Employees complain that the pope enjoys his role as Francis Superstar and that he does not care about the Church’s teaching. They also complain that he is a populist and an authoritarian and that he only takes counsel with those people who share his own opinions. There is talk about a “climate of fear.” A former, long-standing member of the Curia sums up the critique in his own open Advent Letter to the Pope – which is itself a grave form of dissonance, because the servants of the Church owe to the pope a complete obedience. FOCUS herewith publishes the text. The author (who is known to the editors) has decided to remain anonymous since he – according to his own words – would otherwise have to fear grave consequences, not only for himself, but also for his superiors and for his former colleagues in Rome.
[The Open Letter Itself:]
On the occasion of your Christmas Allocution in 2014, you called on your curial employees to make first an examination of conscience. Indeed, Advent is an occasion to reflect upon the promises of God and what He expects from us. You claimed that your employees had to be an example for the whole Church, and you then listed a several “illnesses” from which, in your view, the Curia is now suffering. At the time, I had considered this statement to be rather harsh – yes, even unjust – against so many in the Vatican whom I know personally – while you were talking, instead, as if you knew the Vatican, but either only from the outside or only from above. Nevertheless, this speech of yours has actually inspired me to write this letter to you. Following your own example, I shall omit to speak about all the good that you are doing and are speaking and I shall thus only list those aspects of your exercise of the papal office which seem to me to be problematic:
1. An emotional and anti-intellectual attitude of yours which is often tangible and which has difficulties in dealing with theories and doctrines
The alternative to the Teaching Church is the Arbitrary Church, and not the Merciful Church. Among not a few of your own chosen employees and close counselors, there is to be found a true lack of competence, both in teaching and in theology; these men often have behind them a career within the Church’s government or in a university’s administration, and they think rather all too often in pragmatic and political terms. You, as the Supreme Teacher of the Church, thus have to make clearer the primacy of the Faith – for your own sake, and for the sake of all Catholics. Faith without doctrine does not exist.
You are distancing yourself from the wisdom which is preserved in the Church’s traditional discipline, in Canon Law, and also in the historical practices of the Curia. Together with your disdain for (supposedly) theoretical teaching, this propensity leads to an authoritarianism of which even the founder of your Order of Jesuits, St. Ignatius himself, would not approve. Do you really accept those admonitory voices who say what you, personally, do not immediately see nor understand? What would happen if you were now to know my own name? It would be helpful to act in a less authoritarian way in order to change the current climate of fear.
3. A populism of change
Today, it is popular to call for change. However, especially the Successor of Peter has to remind himself and others of that which changes only slowly, and even more so of that which does not change at all. Do you really believe that the approval which you receive from the opinion-makers in the realm of politics and of the media is a good sign? Christ did not promise or prophesy to Peter popularity in the media and status in a star cult (John 21:18). A great many of your statements awaken wrong expectations and give the harmful impression that the teaching and discipline of the Church could and should be adapted to the changing opinions of the majority. The Apostle Paul is here of another opinion (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:14)
4. Your own conduct is seen as a critique of how your (often canonized) predecessors have lived, talked, and acted
I cannot recognize how this attitude comports with the humility which you have so many times invoked and demanded. Such humility is indeed needed, especially when it is about continuing the tradition which goes back to the Apostle Peter. Your conduct implicitly proposes the idea that you intend to re-invent somehow the Petrine Office. Instead of preserving faithfully the heritage of your predecessors, you want to acquire it [the heritage] in a quite creative way. But, did Saint John not say: “He (Christ) must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30)?
Only recently, you said that you especially like those parts of the papacy where you can act like a pastor. Of course, neither a pope nor a pastor should raise any doubts as to whether the Church is following the teaching of Christ in everything she currently does (Pastoral Care, Sacraments, Liturgy, Catechesis, Theology, Caritas); finally, everything depends upon the revealed Faith as it comes to us in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and which is thus binding upon the consciences of the faithful. We cannot even live the Faith and pass it on to others, if we do not know it. Without a good theory, we are – in the long run – not able to act in a good manner. Without teaching in the field of pastoral care, we shall only have emotional and largely adventitious successes.
6. Exaggerated display of the simplicity of your own way of life
Of course, you want to set an example – but is it better for you yourself to take care of all kinds of daily chores? In ascetical questions, the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing (Mt 6:3); otherwise, the whole thing appears somehow to be insincere. If you really want to drive cars that are ecological, you have to invest, by the way, much more, or to ask someone to give you as a gift the more expensive technology that is thus needed: for. ecology has its price.
7. A particularism which often subjugates the goals and purposes of the Universal Church under the viewpoints of only a part of the Church
This attitude appears nearly comical with regard to a pope. Additionally, our world is now much more interconnected, more mobile, and more proximate than ever. Especially today, it is a treasure that the Catholic Church is throughout the whole world always the same. It corresponds to the global life realities that Catholics in all countries live, pray, and think in a similar vein (and with each other together).
8. An urge for constant spontaneity
A lack of professionalism is not a sign for the working of the Holy Ghost. Expressions like “to breed like rabbits,” or “Who am I to judge…?” might possibly impress some kinds of people, but, in reality, they lead to grave misunderstandings. Constantly, others have to explain what you really meant to say. To act without a plan and outside of the protocol has its time and place – but it should not become the standard. You owe this respect to your employees (in Rome and in the whole world). The measure of spontaneity is much smaller among popes than among pastors.
9. Lack of clarity about the interconnectedness of religious, political, and economic freedom
Many of your statements indicate that the state should rule more, control more, and be responsible for more areas, especially in the economic and social field. We in Europe are used to very strong states. However, history has proven wrong the idea that the state can take care of everything. The Church has to defend non-governmental institutions which can provide things that the state could not provide (in that way). Against the tendency to expect everything from the state, the Church has to help people to take care of their own lives. The welfare state can also become too powerful, and with it, too paternalistic, authoritarian, and illiberal.
On the one hand, you show very little interest in the clergy, on the other hand, you criticize a clericalism which is more of a phantom than something that is real. One cannot compensate for this lack of interest with a good intention or with statements in front of smaller groups. The bishops and priests have to know again that the pope stands behind them when they defend the Gospels “in season and out of season,” even if it is done in a way that does not personally please the pope. It is not good that some think that the pope sees many things quite differently from the Catechism, and that others then imitate him in order to make a career under this pontificate. As a pope, you of necessity have to serve the continuity and Tradition of the Church – even non-Catholic Christians are of this opinion. It may well be better for you to cut back on your innovations and provocations; we anyway already have many people who do that. Your Magisterium, as such, is already in itself the ultimate provocation and innovation – after all, you are the Representative of Christ and the supreme teacher of our supernatural Faith. “Grace, Mercy, and Peace” are coming “from God, the Father, and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in Truth and Love” (2 John 1:3); and they only come together in a complete package. If, during this coming Year of Mercy, you are now preparing yourself for Christmas, please take this occasion as an incentive to find out for yourself what you have yourself neglected in the recent past. Let yourself be helped by your own employees who will only learn from you if you are willing to learn something from them. Like me, many others have difficulties with the way you sometimes talk and act. But that can be fixed, if it becomes clear that you listen to what others have to tell you. Unfortunately, I know that you are not yet capable of dealing well with such criticism – that is why I do not put my name on this letter. I want to protect my superiors against your wrath, especially the priests and bishops with whom I have worked for many years in Rome and from whom I have learned so much. You might want to work on taking away such fears – from me and from others – or, even better, to make such letters as this one superfluous, namely, by learning something from others.
In this spirit, may you have a blessed and contemplative Season of Advent!
A Chaplain of Your Holiness
[1P5 Editor’s note: some formatting changes were made to adapt this article for easier online reading.]