Last 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.