(CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis again returned to his critique of ‘spiritual diseases’ during his annual Presentation of Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia. This year this included his analysis of what he considers ‘good’ resistance and ‘bad’ resistance to his reforms. The fact that the Holy Father gave priority to resistance to his reforms in his critique of spiritual diseases takes on particular significance in light of the cardinals’ dubia, although Pope Francis made no direct reference to the dubia submitted by Cardinals Burke, Caffara, Meisner and Brandmüller.
Pope Francis, to begin with, made it clear that his diagnosis of spiritual diseases was not just meant for the Curia but for the entire Church. Presenting them in terms of the ascetical practices of the Desert Fathers, the Holy Father said that it was necessary to talk about diseases and treatments because every successful operation must be preceded by a thorough diagnosis, by accurate analysis, and be accompanied and followed by precise prescriptions. His objective in undertaking such an analysis of spiritual diseases is to produce a reform that becomes a permanent personal and structural conversion.
Pope Francis said that it was normal, even healthy, to be faced with difficulties during the course of reform, which can be presented as different types of resistance. He went on to outline three types of resistance to his reforms, ranging from good resistance, hidden resistance, and malevolent resistance:
According to Pope Francis there is resistance that arises from good will and sincere dialogue.
Pope Francis uses the word “nascoste” to describe this type of resistance, which has the meaning of covert, underhand and stealthy. He says this resistance arises from petrified or frightened hearts that speak empty words in the spirit of the “Gattopardismo” (A reference to a character in an Italian novel and film) who verbally says he is ready to change, but wants everything to remain as before. (The Vatican translates “Gattopardismo” as ‘spiritual window dressing’). “Gatopardismo or lampedusiano” is an Italian political term that has its origin in the novel El gatopardo, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896-1957). It refers to a political approach of “changing something so that nothing changes”.
Malevolent Resistance [resistenze malevole]
Pope Francis told the Roman Curia that malevolent resistance came from distorted minds which occurs when the devil inspires “cattive” intentions, bad or wicked intentions [che germogliano in menti distorte e si presentano quando il demonio ispira intenzioni cattive]. He said that such malevolent resistance often appears “under the guise of lambs”. This last type of resistance hides behind words of self-justification, and accusations, taking refuge in traditions, in appearances, in formalities, in what is known, or wanting to make everything personal without distinguishing between the act, the actor and the action.
Pope Francis concluded his “analysis” of resistance by indicating that he welcomed all resistance, even the ones he judged less good, because the absence of a reaction was a sign of death. The Holy Father said good resistance, and even the less good, are necessary and deserve to be heard, accepted and encouraged because it is a sign that the body is alive.
Some of Pope Francis’s comments on resistance were ‘anticipated’ by Fr Antonio Spadaro, his close confidant, in his op ed for CNN about the cardinals’ dubia. He distinguished between good dialogue and bad dialogue to explain why Pope Francis responds to some debate and not others:
Fr. Antonio Spadaro: An open and interesting debate
I think that Amoris Laetitia has created an open and interesting debate within the Catholic Church thanks to Francis, a Pope who never blocks dialogue, if it is loyal and motivated by the good of the Church.
The case, however, of those who use criticism for other purposes or ask questions in order to create difficulty and division, would be different, of course.
The interesting questions of the four cardinals, in reality, were already raised during the Synod, where the dialogue was deep, extensive and most of all, frank. Amoris Laetitia is only the mature fruit of Francis’ reflection after listening to everyone and reading the Synod’s final document.
In outlining different types of ‘resistance’ it appears that Pope Francis and his inner circle are judging the motives and integrity of those who question and challenge the “reforms” which this pontificate is imposing on the Curia and entire Church. The word ‘resistance’ in itself has a negative connotation and appears to show an opposition to real dialogue. Instead of judging the actions of their critics, they appear to be judging their hearts and condemning them as coming from bad motives. Pope Francis goes so far as to suggest that some critics resisting his reforms have distorted minds inspired by the devil.
Originally published at EWTN GB. Reprinted with permission.