Doctor’s Orders: Pope Francis’ Treatment Plan for the Curia

thedoctorwillseeyounowLast year, Pope Francis made headlines by using the opportunity of the traditional papal Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia to list off 15 “curial diseases.” At today’s speech to the Curia, the doctor was in once again. Suffering from a cold himself, Francis briefly returned to those “diseases” but went further and laid out a course of “curial antibiotics,” calling for a “returning to the essentials” and reiterating

“reform will move forward with determination, clarity and firm resolve.”

Like so many treatment programs out there, Pope Francis laid his out using a mnemonic device. Noting that the Year of Mercy had just begun and saying “Christmas is truly the feast of God’s infinite mercy,” Pope Francis developed an acrostic list — based on the letters of the Latin word for mercy misericordia — of 24 “needed virtues” to heal the Curia:

           M – Missionary and pastoral spirit

            I – Idoneity (suitability) and sagacity

            S – Spirituality and humanity

            E – Example and fidelity

            R – Reasonableness and gentleness

            I – Innocuousness and determination

            C – Charity and truth

            O – Openness and maturity

            R – Respectfulness and humility

            D – Diligence and attentiveness

            I – Intrepidness and alertness

            A – Accountability and sobriety

As mnemonic devices go it might not be particularly catchy or easy to remember, but this catalogue of virtues is rightly seen as the complementary and necessary follow-up to last year’s catalogue of diseases.

The “Pope Francis Mercy Prayer for the Curia” in the style of his namesake almost writes itself:

“Lord make me an instrument of your mercy.

Where there is mental and spiritual hardening,

give me a missionary and pastoral spirit.

Where there is indifference toward others, spirituality and humanity.

Where there is chatter, grumbling and gossip; charity and truth.

Where there is rivalry and vainglory, respectfulness and humility.

Where there are closed circles, openness and maturity.

Where there is existential schizophrenia, example and fidelity.

Where there is poor coordination, innocuousness and determination.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek

to be excessively industrious as to be diligent and attentive,

to be indispensible as to be suitable and sage,

to be functional as to be intrepid and alert,

to be funereal of face as to be reasonable and gentle,

to be deified or to accumulate and profit as to be accountable and sober.

For it is in choosing mercy that we put on the heart of Christ,

It is in returning to essentials that we overcome difficulty and failure

and in reforming that we are born to new life.”

Pope Francis is well aware that last year’s speech (like any diagnosis in and of itself) did little to relieve the symptoms of disease within the Curia, which he says “became evident in the past year, causing no small pain to the entire body and harming many souls, even by scandal.” Pope Francis is also aware that bishops and cardinals all over the world are having trouble appropriating the joyful and merciful style of leadership he embodies and calls for. And he’s not letting them off the hook.

Many will note that this year’s speech sounded a little softer and Pope Doctor Francis seemed to have a different bedside manner, but by outlining a course of treatment, Francis can now hold them accountable for not following “doctor’s orders.”

Of course, this is probably the most minimally invasive treatment for the patient. But by ending his speech with a prayer commonly attributed to Blessed Oscar Romero but first pronounced by Cardinal John Dearden, Pope Francis seems to want it that way: “It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way. It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter and to do the rest.”

Francis has shown on several occasions — perhaps most notably at the Synod on the Family — that while he would rather see conversion and renewal in the institutional Church come from within and by the grace of God rather than through the exercise of his papal authority, he is willing to do what it takes to fight for the life of the Church. And it will be interesting to see what the doctor will do should the patient show no significant signs of improvement at the follow-up exam.













Ruling in Massachusetts brings Church workers one step closer to justice, highlights ongoing questions about teacher contracts



Late last week Judge Douglas H. Wilkins of Norfolk Superior Court ruled Thursday that Fontbonne Academy — an all-girls Catholic high school in Milton, MA — unlawfully discriminated against Matthew Barrett when they rescinded their offer to employ him as the school’s food services director after he listed his husband as his emergency contact. The school will be on the hook to pay damages to Barrett for lost wages and compensatory damages for discrimination, though a hearing on that has not yet been scheduled. If past judgments are any measure, though, it could be a healthy sum of money.

The judge’s decision, a major step toward protecting Church workers, is based on two important facts:

  1. that he suffered discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as well as gender
  2. that religious exemption did not apply because the school does not limit “membership, enrollment, or participation” to Catholics and only required that members of the administration and theology faculty be Catholic

The decision went further, asserting that “As an educational institution, Fontbonne retains control over its mission and message. It is not forced to allow Barrett to dilute that message, where he will not be a teacher, minister, or spokesman for Fontbonne and has not engaged in public advocacy of same-sex marriage.”

Fontbonne has not indicated whether or not it plans to appeal the ruling.

As a ruling at the state level, the decision sets legal precedent in Massachusetts, but may not be immediately applicable to similar cases in other states. Nevertheless, the decision may have broad implications for the pursuit of justice for all Church workers.

It is interesting to note that Barrett’s attorney claimed (and the judge agreed) that Barrett had been discriminated against on the basis of BOTH sexual orientation and gender. The decision reads, in part, “It is clear that, because he is a male, he suffered gender discrimination when he was denied employment for marrying a person whom a female could have married without suffering the same consequences.” While same-sex marriage is now the “law of the land,” sexual orientation is not a protected status in every state. This decision may open the door for Church employees in those states, who have been fired for being in a same sex marriage, to fight back on the basis of gender discrimination.

But this decision goes beyond the issue of same sex marriage and touches on important issues like what exactly constitutes a minister in the Church.

In a 2012 decision, the US Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevented the government from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to decide who was or wasn’t a minister within their tradition. The decision emboldened bishops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Oakland, San Francisco, and Hawaii to write the language of “minister” or “ministry” into teacher contracts. That move was widely understood to be an attempt by those bishops to exempt themselves from discrimination and labor laws and sparking a heated debate about what functions and responsibilities actually constitute a minister within Catholic Church. While the Supreme Court decision was unanimous, there his hardly unanimous agreement in the Church about who is and isn’t a minister.

The decision in Massachusetts could reignite that debate.

In this case, the judge clearly found nothing within the food services director job description or duties that would lead him – or any reasonable person for that matter – to believe that Fontbonne’s leadership understood Barrett to be a minister.

Most Catholics agree, not all Church employees fall into the category of minister. That includes food service, custodial, and administrative support personnel, and some teachers, including those who aren’t teaching religion and those who are not Catholic. Moreover, many are convinced that forcing these employees to sign teacher-minister contracts is an unfair attempt by Church and school officials to protect themselves against discrimination laws and wrongful termination lawsuits that have put them on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years.

Thursday’s decision is a ray of hope for all Church workers, giving them more tools to fight back against wrongful terminations and once again raising important, unresolved questions about the fairness of teacher-minister contracts.