Catholicism WOW!

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If there’s ever been a pope who has behaved like the present one, I’m quite sure we have no evidence of it. To call up a notorious atheist newspaper publisher and have him over for a friendly discussion about what’s wrong with the Vatican and how the world would be a better place if we all just did what we think is right — well, it feels like we’ve entered an alternative universe.

The closest parallel I know to the exchange between Francis and Eugenio Scalfari, published today in La Repubblica, is the conversation the ecclesiastical bureaucrat John of Salisbury reports having with Pope Adrian IV some time in the late 1150s. Adrian, the only Englishman ever to become pope, asks his countryman to tell him what people really think of him and the papacy. Reports John:

For it was said by many that the Roman Church, which is the mother of all the churches, shows herself to be not so much a mother to the rest as a very stepmother. Scribes and Pharisees sit in her seats, and place on the shoulders of men unbearable burdens which they themselves do not deign to touch with even the tip of their finger. They lord it over the clergy instead of making their own lives an example to lead the flock to life by the straight and narrow path; they pile up costly furniture, they load their tables with gold and silver, sparing themselves overmuch even out of their own avarice. A poor man is seldom or never admitted to their number, and then rather as a result of his own vainglorious ambition than for the love of Christ. They oppress the churches with extortion, stir up strife, bring the clergy and people into conflict, never take compassion on the sufferings and misery of the afflicted, rejoice in the spoils of churches, and count all gain as godliness. They give judgment not for the truth but for money…

“These are the things, father, which the people are saying,” I told him, “since you wish me to bring their opinions to your knowledge.”

Adrian then asks John for his own opinion, which he tenders circumspectly but clearly enough to indicate that he thinks that the people have a point. “The pontiff laughed and congratulated me upon having spoken with such frankness, enjoining me as often as anything unfavorable concerning him came to my ears, to inform him thereof without delay. And, after urging many things in his favor as well as much against himself by way of reply, he finally put before me an apology.”

Now here’s Pope Francis, as reported by Scalfari:

“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.”

The leprosy of the papacy, those were his exact words. But what is the court? Perhaps he is alluding to the curia?
“No, there are sometimes courtiers in the curia, but the curia as a whole is another thing. It is what in an army is called the quartermaster’s office, it manages the services that serve the Holy See. But it has one defect: it is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I’ll do everything I can to change it.

The pope did not exactly make clear how he distinguished “the court” (la corta) from “the curia” (la curia), given that curia means court in Latin. But what he clearly has no use for are courtiers…cortigianicuriales. As he told Scalfari, the eight cardinal-advisers who are now in Rome advising him on how to reform the curia are “not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings.”

Somewhere, John of Salisbury is smiling. Courtiers, beware.

  • tony

    Pope Francis ‏@Pontifex 27 Sep

    We do not become Christians by ourselves. Faith is above all a gift from God which is given to us in and through the Church.

  • Kay Goodnow

    Mark, this is very interesting. I concur with your opinions. Thanks for this.

  • I’m not Roman Catholic, nor any of the other Catholic denominations, and I am a believer. I fully in support the things Francisco is saying in this interview about any Christian denomination. And Tony, I don’t think faith is limited in conduits to the Roman Catholic Church or any other Church. I believe the Holy Spirit, divine transporter of faith, moves freely throughout the known and unknown universe.

  • tony

    Deb, I didn’t write that quote. Pope Francis did. Just like he said that gay marriage is promoted by the “father of lies”. Apparently the prof is big believer in rules for radicals and only quotes parts of the Pope’s statements that advance his agenda. I am here to present the full perspective.

  • Ed

    Great article, Mark, and wonderful to have some historical context. The Curia, necessary as it is, has often been a thorn in the side of the popes since Constantine’s day.

    It’s worth noting that Francis’ namesake, the Poverello, was keenly aware of the vices of some of the clergy in his day and spoke out passionately against their worldliness and lack of respect for the Eucharist. He attended the Fourth Lateran Council which, among other matters, required annual regional councils for the reform of morals of the clergy.

    Tony – I’m not sure what “agenda” is advanced by noting the obvious about the curia and Francis’ evident desire to reform it.

  • Thanks, Mark, for your several insightful columns about Pope Francis.

    You may, however, be swallowing the Argentinian Holy Water a bit too quickly.

    Look to your co-author, Bill Lindsey’s analysis for example.

    And look at my short piece, “Pope Francis and the Council of Cardinals Fail First Test” at:


  • Angie

    Great article and great comments. I think that all the “others” that are criticizing the pope or asking for “more”, is because they don’t understand. They should be send to a third country and live in a poor town for a month, maybe then they will get it. Also they should read comments from the past 3 popes and read between the lines how the curia has ostracized them. Pope Francis is working around the clock to reform the church in all directions, the bank, the curia, the evangelization, he is putting himself as a model for the rest of us of the things we all should be doing.

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