Why Francis kicked the Curia’s butt

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Pope Honorius III confirms St. Francis' rule, by Ghirlandaio

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Pope Honorius III confirms St. Francis' rule, by Ghirlandaio

Pope Honorius III confirms St. Francis' rule, by Ghirlandaio

Pope Honorius III confirms St. Francis’ rule, by Ghirlandaio

So far as I can tell, it’s unprecedented for a pope to chastise the Curia publicly. When Pope Francis administered those 15 Merry Christmas whacks heard round the world on Monday, he was doing something new under the Roman sun.

That’s not to say that popes have always been happy with the world’s oldest continuously functioning bureaucracy. Martin V, the Italian aristocrat whose election ended the Great Schism in 1417, reduced the cardinals to “quivering, stammering children in his presence,” writes Eamon Duffy in his History of the Popes. One hundred years later, when Leo X discovered cardinals plotting against him, he executed the ringleader and created 31 new ones in a single day.

“How many people work at the Vatican?” a journalist once asked Pope John XXIII. “About half of them,” he famously replied. Francis, who came into office with a mandate to get the Curia working properly, has by word and deed made clear that he means to do just that.

At the end of the 19th century, Leo XIII found his efforts to resolve tensions with the Orthodox and Eastern Rite churches frustrated by hardliners in the Curia. Francis may occupy the papal throne as a humble man of the people, but he’s also a tough old Jesuit. He wants the Curia — and the world — to know that bureaucratic foot-dragging and sabotage will no longer be tolerated.



  • Because he’s lousy in the realm of institutional leadership, knows nothing of motivating work forces, and plays to the international press corps.

  • Allen

    I disagree. 1. He’s profoundly on target in terms of institutional leadership (which includes a very, very, very Catholic very, very, very long historical view) 2. He’s not interested in motivating the existing workforce but setting in motion the chaning of the culture. 3. Jesuit that he is, he is masterfully using the international press corps to play to those parts of international Catholic community (lay, priestly, bishop and cardinal levels), who are completely and utterly fed up with the mom and pop operations of the curia.
    If he’s successful (which we won’t know really for at least 30 years) his work will be a case study for transforming, in Christ, a moribund institution.

  • samuel Johnston

    “moribund institution”
    Funny how God gets all credit but none of the blame. Perhaps it is time for a new God.

  • Allen

    “Moribund” was descriptive.

  • In an intelligently run organization, the gripes travel up, not down. Problem employees are dealt with privately and replaced as needed. The Pope’s behavior indicates he’s unfit for institutional leadership and your apologia indicates you are too.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    First of all, Best wishes, Mark, for a peaceful, healthy and prayerful holiday season.

    Ah, yes, the CURIA, certainly am curious about the CURIA………what a very special group, indeed.

    Each and every one of us need a “tune-up” now and again, just to keep us honest and on the right track. Of course, in this instance, it’s just a “tune-up” (these days, called a “smackdown”) and nothing will ever change with these religious leaders. Pathetic, hopeless, entrenched, dazed, confused, blinded, and hubris-ridden (and driven) are just a few of the descriptors that come to mind.

    Certainly Mark, you don’t have any of these kind of issues and concerns in your faith. Have a wonderful and happy New Year, and please keep “stirring the pot.”

  • Allen

    Well, first of all you are the first person I’ve ever heard, “traditionalist”, “progressive”, non-Catholic, or anti-Catholic who has characterized the Curia as intelligently run. So, that’s interesting. Where did you get that idea? We’ve only heard, from multiple, multiple sources that the Curia has been a mess for decades, at least. So, the issue is not running an intelligent organization but cleaning house in order to hopefully (again over decades) replace it with a more or less intelligently run organization.

  • Art Critic

    The fact he is bringing fresh air into an institution full of fire breathing — sexless or suppressed sexual identity self righteous careerist clerics, mirror hugging — all dressed in colorful theater garb — Francis brings hope to the church Christ built with Peter —- giving it oxygen for the next millennium. That is if humanity is not destroyed by right wing politics — and their humanist colleagues on the left.

  • Thé problem of the Catholic Church is not the internal politics or bureaucratic obstructionism of its apparatchiks. The main problem is its intellectual decline. And in that regard, the often applauded breath of fresh air this Pope is supposed to represent will not offer any remedies. On the contrary. His public lashing out to the Curia fits well within a pattern of Peronist (He’s from Argentina after all) populist moves he’s made. And while not apparent in this specific instance, the main objective of those moves seems to be the promotion of a Social Gospel-type distortion of Christianity.

    While God’s commandment says “Thou shalt not steal,” Pope Francis has been actively pushing the message “Thou shalt not steal directly, but thou shalt demand that your politicians steal from your neighbors and give to you.”

    What the Church needs is a Scholastic revival. Christians need to reacquaint themselves with Thomas Aquinas and they’ll recognize this Pope for what he truly is: A man who thinks he’s God. A man who arrogantly believes his moral judgements can alter the immutable laws of nature. A man who promotes the idea that poverty, scarcity,… will disappear from this world if only we give enough power to politicians who promise to enforce redistributionary policies.

  • Betty Clermont

    Trashing your managers by making headlines advancing your own image is not the sign of a good leader. Especially when the top managers are already your own men. Especially when most of the admonishments can be applied to yourself.

  • drwho13

    By their behavior they trashed themselves; the Pope is just turning over the rocks and showing the people what’s living under the surface.

  • drwho13

    “…redistributionary policies”, that’s fair and balanced right wing TV nonsence.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    According to some analysts the pope’s speech was more along the lines of urging an examination of conscience rather than a “smackdown”. It also read as more directed at all Catholics (including college professors and deacons) than just the convenient curia scapegoat.