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Catholic cardinals try to soften Pope Francis’ harsh message

Cardinal Walter Kasper, called Pope Francis "a pope of surprises" in a lecture Nov. 6, 2014 at Catholic University. Photo by Julia Malakie
Cardinal Walter Kasper, called Pope Francis "a pope of surprises" in a lecture Nov. 6, 2014 at Catholic University. Photo by Julia Malakie

Cardinal Walter Kasper, one of Pope Francis’ closest advisers, has sought to downplay the pontiff’s scathing critique of the Curia earlier this week. Photo by Julia Malakie

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Cardinal Walter Kasper, one of Pope Francis’ closest advisers, has sought to downplay the pontiff’s scathing critique of the Curia earlier this week.

Kasper, who previously led the Vatican body responsible for promoting Christian unity, said the pope was asking the Curia, or Vatican administration, to examine their conscience in a bid to promote spiritual renewal.

The German cardinal, joined by Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, said Francis was asking the Curia to set an example.

“The fundamental thing is he wants spiritual reform of the Curia,” Kasper told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Wednesday (Dec. 24).

“Certainly also reform of the structures is important and he is working on that. But the basis of the problem is spiritual.”

The pope announced what he termed 15 illnesses affecting the Curia at his Christmas greetings on Monday, including “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and gossipy cliques.

Francis said too many suffered from careerism, hypocrisy and back-stabbing, referring to ailments including “existential schizophrenia,” and the “terrorism of gossip.”

Kasper said the pope was like “a Jesuit spiritual guide” and wanted senior clerics to reactivate their “evangelical spirit.”

Sandri, who was also quoted in the Italian daily, said Francis told him that prelates should recall “the austerity of life” and “evangelical ideals.”

Sandri said the Curia had to be “a model for living, not a topic of scandal that creates upset or, even worse, incredulity.”

Criticism of the Vatican bureaucracy is not new. The final months of Benedict XVI’s papacy were shrouded in scandal after his personal butler Paolo Gabriele leaked confidential documents to the media about discord in the Vatican in the so-called Vatileaks scandal.


About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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    Jesus’ Coloring Book
    Breaking news! Jesus last seen coloring in a child’s coloring book. Inquiring minds want to know of Jesus’ whereabouts and the latest news of who, what, where, and why?
    I always liked Jesus’ openness to those left out because of their religion, skin color, race, gender-related bias, physical ailments, sins, class status, or their age, whether it be old or young. Jesus showed His love to many of these outcasts.
    One such encounter in the Bible is that of the little children who were told not to bother Jesus. Can you see those little children in your mind? The joy in their voices, love in their hearts, jumping like little kangaroos to get close to Jesus. They, the children, knew Jesus was someone special. They could feel the radiating love from Jesus, even for them. Can you see them all around Jesus, wanting to attach themselves to Him, the Son of God? “Let them be!” Jesus spoke out to the disciples. “BLESSED ARE THE CHILDREN! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children” Matthew 19:14.
    We adults do our best to turn children into old men and women like us. Many times I have forgotten the child that I was, the one who believed that angels walked with me, Jesus talked to me. Can you find your coloring book, the one you had when you were that Crayola-eating little munchkin? Can you see Jesus with the children all around Him? Do you see the colors: the red, blue, green, black, yellow all together? What a mess! Did you color in the lines? “What lines?” you say, as you look up and unequivocally say, “I like it!” Bravo! You do see Jesus as a child does. For a moment, close your adult eyes, your adult mind with all its worries, problems, needs and wants. For a moment, be one of those little boys or girls. Do you think they were fearful of Jesus? NO, a thousand times NO! Their little hearts raced with joy that showed on their faces, in their beautiful eyes that lit up like stars in the night.
    Can you be one of those children hugging Jesus, holding on, not wanting to let go? Knowing that you are truly loved in the arms of the Son of God? Do you think children really see Jesus before we adults show them, teach them, role model for them how to color in Jesus’ coloring book?
    Blessed are the children, for they have not learned to be adults!
    Blessed are the adults who have learned to love like children!

  • HALLELUYAH for Pope Francis! What he said about the Curia is right on the mark. Historically, the Curia has acted in a non-Christian manner for CENTURIES and other Popes were too afraid to speak up or they just considered the Curia officials as conducting “business” as usual.
    He could clean house and replace them with men who truly love the Church and the Christian people, who ARE the Church!
    A blessed Christ-Mass to all and a happy New Year, especially to Pope Francis!

  • **Kasper** again? I wish some news organization (whatever that means these days) would actually do an investigative journalism piece on this guy.

    This spinmeister is driving Mr. Francis’s own beliefs and actions, this Kasper is actually driving Catholicism’s bus, and yet nobody wants to (or is able to) nail this guy down on what he (Kasper) actually believes and doesn’t believe.

    This situation is borderline creepy. Who’s the real Pope around here?

    Baby, I don’t hop into black sedans driven by friendly strangers. Very unhealthy practice. So I urge all Catholics to STOP letting this Kasper dude take them for a ride !!!!

  • There is no reason to soften the message. It is urgently needed (and not for the Roman Catholic church alone: to all Christian churches). In Rev 17 there is a woman in scarlet (the Christian churches .. plural) who are apostate. In Rev 18 she (the church) has been servicing the earthly kings and merchants (not God and not Christians) The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her and the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her .. she was owned by them. Pope Francis is tell the Roman hierarchy (but all churches need to take heed .. have been losing Christians in droves).. STOP IT. Serve God (not mammon). Wake up. Become Christian again (learn how to be Christian again) because you have not been Christian in more than 10 centuries! AND it is killing off the churches. Wake up. My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away

  • Amen! … [ the Curia has acted in a non-Christian manner for CENTURIES and other Popes were too afraid to speak up or they just considered the Curia officials as conducting “business” as usual ] AMEN!!! It CAUSED the Reformation (but the Reformation slipped right into the same rut!).. it caused the east/west split to become a chasm. The apostasy has been deepening since 325 A.D. (wake up!) Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. WAKE UP! Mark 8: the leaven of the Pharisees.

  • Gee, I love how every time the Pope says something that diverges even a little bit from past papal practice or which even remotely appears to fly in the face of Vatican custom, someone comes out to explain how it’s no big deal, it doesn’t mean anything, the media are making more of it than there is, there’s-nothing-to-see-here-move-on-everyone.

    Well, sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. If, during the course of delivering his address (as was reported in this case), the cardinals and other functionaries who heard it were visibly uncomfortable, then clearly there IS something to it and it DOES mean something.

    It occurs to me it’d be better for these guys just to swallow their pride, own up to whatever was reported, and take the Pope’s criticism or departure from past practice with some maturity, and just move on already, instead of doing this song and dance about how nothing really happened. They’re all FAR too old to be acting like little scolded children, trying to make excuses for why their parents just scolded them over something, attempting to justify their bad behavior rather than accept it as the bad behavior it was.

  • Thank you, Philip, that was AWESOME!! Oh my goodness, I can indeed see it! I tell people all the time: The reason the people flocked to the Saviour was because they could sense, feel His healing LOVE reaching out to them; think of the poor woman with the issue of blood;…”If I could but touch the hem of His garment, I shall be healed”…HOW could she POSSIBLY know that? Even now, and I’ve read that story many, many times, it brings tears to my eyes. And yes, you called it, Brother Philip: little children get excited when someone they love is coming; they are instinctively drawn to it; they sense that here is someone safe, tender, warm, someone they can trust, can climb up into their lap (I love the picture you painted of them jumping up and down like little kangaroos in their innocent excitement–that is so cute!)-You nailed it, Bro ☺ It would be harder to find a better picture of Almighty God’s love for us.That is what the”religious establishment can’t seem to get, then and now: …”GOD SO LOVED”…!!!–Thank you, Philip, and God bless you, my brother.

  • Kasper defends Frank just as ABC, NBC, CBS, and the rest of the liberal media defend 1600 Penn. And the liberal media will defend both Kasper and Frank because the liberal media want to have an un-Catholic Catholicism.

  • My Mother used to say that more often than not people get mad at you because what you are saying is the truth, a truth they don’t want to face.

  • It’s about time someone took on the hive of scum and villainy that the Vatican has become. That the man doing so was elected from within it’s own ranks is just sweet, delicious irony.

  • Conversion is an ongoing process. Inviting cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, religious, nuns and the faithful to conduct examination of conscience is a very thoughtful move. Such exercises of prayer, penance, fasting and humility are sure to add vitality and spiritual stamina to our lives.

  • If body language and facial expressions are reliable, then I am concerned for Francis. The sour looks on the faces of the Curia officials hearing the Pope’s scolding told the story: we don’t appreciate your criticism. My greatest concern is that Francis not feel alone. I suspect the Vatican can be a very isolating and cold place. People of good will, and especially people who love and follow Christ, should express a communal voice of support. This guy will need it.