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Pope Francis urges Roman Curia to confront the ‘ecclesial crisis’

By Courtney Mares for CNA

Pope Francis greets people as he holds his traditional pre-Christmas meeting with Vatican employees and their family members in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 21, 2020. Pope Francis told the workers that while the COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial problems for the Vatican, he would do everything possible to save their jobs. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Vatican City, Dec 21, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis urged the Roman Curia Monday not to view the Church in terms of conflict, but to see the current “ecclesial crisis” as a call to renewal.

In his annual Christmas speech to the bishops and cardinals of the Roman Curia, the pope stressed that this Christmas marks a time of crisis for society and for the Church.

“The Church is always an earthen vessel, precious for what it contains and not for the way it may appear. … This is a time when it seems evident that the clay of which we are made is chipped, damaged and cracked,” Pope Francis said Dec. 21.

The pope told the Roman Curia gathered in the Apostolic Palace: “If a certain realism leads us to see our recent history only as a series of mishaps, scandals and failings, sins and contradictions, short-circuits and setbacks in our witness, we should not fear. Nor should we deny the evidence of everything in ourselves and in our communities that is evidently tainted by death and calls for conversion.”

“Everything evil, wrong, weak and unhealthy that comes to light serves as a forceful reminder of our need to die to a way of living, thinking and acting that does not reflect the Gospel. Only by dying to a certain mentality will we be able to make room for the newness that the Spirit constantly awakens in the heart of the Church,” he said.

The pope has often used his annual Christmas address to the curia to give his perspective on the implementation of curial reform thus far and his vision for the coming year. This year, he stressed that there is a crisis that is calling the Church to renewal. The pope used the word “crisis” 44 times in his speech to the Roman Curia.

“Every crisis contains a rightful demand for renewal,” Pope Francis said.

“If we really desire renewal, though, we must have the courage to be completely open. We need to stop seeing the reform of the Church as putting a patch on an old garment, or simply drafting a new Apostolic Constitution. The reform of the Church is something else.”

Pope Francis said that throughout the history of the Church there has been a “newness born of crisis and willed by the Spirit” that is best explained by the words of Jesus: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

He added that it is “never a newness opposed to the old, but one that springs from the old and makes it continually fruitful.”

“We are not called to change or reform the Body of Christ – ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever’  – but we are called to clothe that Body with a new garment, so that it is clear that the grace we possess does not come from ourselves but from God.”

The pope warned that crisis must not be confused with conflict, which he said “always creates discord and competition, an apparently irreconcilable antagonism that separates others into friends to love and enemies to fight.”

He said: “Conflict always tries to find ‘guilty’ parties to scorn and stigmatize, and ‘righteous”’ parties to defend, as a means of inducing … a sense that certain situations have nothing to do with us.”

“When the Church is viewed in terms of conflict – right versus left, progressive versus traditionalist – she becomes fragmented and polarized, distorting and betraying her true nature,” Pope Francis said.

At another point in the speech, Pope Francis added as an aside: “I am reminded of what that holy Brazilian bishop said: ‘When I take care of the poor, they say of me that I am a saint; but when I ask and I question: ‘Why so much poverty?’ They call me ‘Communist’’.

“Conflict … is a false trail leading us astray … aimless, directionless and trapped in a labyrinth; it is a waste of energy and an occasion for evil,” he said. “The first evil that conflict leads us to, and which we must try to avoid, is gossip … idle chatter, which traps us in an unpleasant, sad and stifling state of self-absorption, and transforms every crisis into conflict.”

The pope said that the right approach to renewal is “like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old,” quoting chapter 13 of the Gospel of Matthew.

“That treasure is Tradition, which, as Benedict XVI recalled, ‘is the living river that links us to the origins, the living river in which the origins are ever-present, the great river that leads us to the gates of eternity,’” Pope Francis said.

“The ‘old’ is the truth and grace we already possess. The ‘new’ are those different aspects of the truth that we gradually come to understand … No historical form of living the Gospel can exhaust its full comprehension. If we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, we will daily draw closer to ‘the whole truth’”.

“Without the grace of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, we can even start to imagine a ‘synodal’ Church that, rather than being inspired by communion, ends up being seen as just another democratic assembly made up of majorities and minorities — like a parliament, for example, and this is not synodality — Only the presence of the Holy Spirit makes the difference,” he added.

Pope Francis said that in this “Christmas of the pandemic” there is a health crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis, and “an ecclesial crisis.”

“What should we do during a crisis? First, accept it as a time of grace granted us to discern God’s will for each of us and for the whole Church. We need to enter into the apparent paradoxical notion that ‘when I am weak, then I am strong,’” he said.

Pope Francis urged that “we must not tire of praying constantly” during a time of crisis. “We know of no other solution to the problems we are experiencing than that of praying more fervently and at the same time doing everything in our power with greater confidence. Prayer will allow us to ‘hope against all hope.’”

He said: “The voice of God is never the tumultuous voice of the crisis, but rather the quiet voice that speaks in the crisis.”

Pope Francis spoke to the cardinals and supervisors of the departments in the Roman Curia inside the Vatican’s Hall of Blessing, a location chosen to provide more space for social distancing. The pope spoke in front of a large tapestry depicting the nativity of Christ in the Apostolic Palace. Poinsettia arrangements and Christmas trees with large wooden ornaments flanked him on either side.

He said: “God continues to make the seeds of his kingdom grow in our midst. Here in the Curia, there are many people bearing quiet witness by their discreet, unassuming, faithful, honest and professional work. There are many of you, thank you.”

“Our times have their own problems, yet they also have a living witness to the fact that the Lord has not abandoned his people. The only difference is that problems immediately end up in the newspapers … while signs of hope only make the news much later, if at all.”

The pope announced that he will give each member of the Roman Curia a biography of Blessed Charles de Foucauld as a Christmas gift, along with another book by Biblical scholar Gabriele M. Corini.

He added: “Allow me to ask expressly of all of you, who join me in the service of the Gospel, for the Christmas gift of your generous and whole-hearted cooperation in proclaiming the Good News above all to the poor.”

Pope Francis said that the hope for the world found “its most glorious and most succinct expression in the few words with which the Gospels announced their glad tidings: ‘A child has been born unto us.’”

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  1. A merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2021 to all at the Roman Curia. God bless. Blessed Charles de Foucauld – Pray for us.

  2. We read: “Without the grace of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, we can even start to imagine a ‘synodal’ Church that, rather than being inspired by communion, ends up being seen as just another democratic assembly made up of majorities and minorities — like a parliament, for example, and this is not synodality — Only the presence of the Holy Spirit makes the difference,” [Pope Francis] added.

    In an admittedly different context, Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI had this to say about aspirations and institutions (both together): “Faith does not create a better world, but it awakens and strengthens those ethical forces that construct embankments and bulwarks against the tide of evil” (ecumenical speech at Bayeux Cathedral, June 6, 2004; included in Western Culture: Today and Tomorrow, Ignatius, 2019).

    May the impending reform of the curia retain a most prominent place for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), as the bulwark/backbone to spirited Church synods. that is, as the assurance against what Pope Francis now warns against as a parliamentary/synodal Church.

    Councils and synods are what the Church does, not what the Church is. Therefore, synodality meaning apostolic Church “synods”, rather than an inverted synodal “Church.”

  3. The crisis that he has singlehandedly created by his studied ambiguity, Pachamama, and endorsement of things contrary to Catholic faith? I think some self-awareness would do this pope a lot of good.

  4. Ecclesial Crisis? IMHO, our Jesuit Engineer needs to take a good look in the mirror!
    “The Lord has not abandoned his people.” No, but, too many of the upper echelons of the hierarchy have. Before Francis was elected, I wanted Cardinal Pell to be our next pope. But, “they” road him out of town. Well, he is back and I hope he cleans house even if he isn’t Pope.

  5. The Pope exhibits a degree of insincerity which is scandalous. In the hands of Cardinal Parolin is a call for authentic reform on one particular issue upon which the Bergoglian pontificate chooses not to honestly critique. Arthur Tane, the Founder and Executive Director of the Council of Middle East Relations wrote to Parolin on 16 October: “To the chagrin and embarrassment of Christians worldwide, the CCP-Vatican pact puts the church, especially Pope Francis, who is primarily responsible for it, on the wrong side of history. It reinforces the widespread perception that this first Jesuit pope is not only ignorantly arrogant, but is also spiritually bankrupt. His shameful refused to meet Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen, who made the trip to External City to discuss renewal of the pact, speaks of a man who has little humility.”
    The Sino/Vatican “conundrum” is emblematic of innumerable instances of foul play presently operative in ecclesial and socio-political matters emanating from this pontificate.
    We need neither committees, think tanks or, God forbid “councils” to clean up the catastrophe we endure. We require Catholic common sense being brought to bear upon a Church experiencing advanced decomposition for six decades with exponential acceleration as we move into the ninth year of the Bergoglian pontificate.
    A call to fidelity to the perennial Magisterium Church and an unwavering insistence upon honesty and transparency from the episcopate, beginning with the Chair of Saint Peter, would go far to resolve the crisis. It starts with the Pope, who tragically is unwilling to take upon himself the ascesis of self-examination. There will be nothing but further metastasis until he walks the walk.

  6. Did Christ make the world a better place? Let’s start with the negation: “A better world is rooted in heresy. You will search in vain for the notion of making a better world prior to the 16th century. So where did the Modern Project derive its notion of progress? The Reformation sowed the myth of progress. The Puritan movement in England carried its vision to America. The Plymouth Bay Colony was a City on a Hill, an American vision that continues to fuel the imagination” (Fr Stephen Freeman in Glory to God in All things 2014). Next the opposing view: “Now the Christian community begins with a baptismal formula, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free. This is a sociological formula that defines a new community that makes you an equal with all other members. It gives even the lowliest slave personal dignity and status. The commandment of love is decisive, taking people out of isolation.” (Helmut Koester John H. Morison Professor of New Testament Studies and Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History Harvard Divinity School). “What we really see in the second and the third centuries is that Christianity is defining its identity precisely in terms of the values of Roman society at large” (L Michael White Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin). Professor White perceives the Christian incorporation into the current system as a benefit balancing identity with Catholic specificity. Professor Koester identifies the Commandment of Love as communal and culturally decisive. Now my contention is that Christ’s commandment of love isolated by Prof Koester is bound to have results. Outside of the individual’s sphere. Since the 16th century we’ve had Papal Bulls condemning slavery, the social justice enclyclicals. Even an adversary to Catholicism like Prof Paul Kurtz former president on the Council for Secular Humanism admitted to a better world due to Christianity during the centuries building hospitals and schools encouraging “the spirit of love and charity” (Kurtz in Ethics Based on Critical Intelligence 4). Times have changed and with that Catholicism’s imputed significant world impact. Crux of the issue isn’t the benevolent effect on the world. Rather it’s the modus operandi in which it is sought. Therein lies the fear of betraying the Gospel and acquiescing to the world’s values. Fratelli Tutti the bulletin The Bishop and Christian Unity seek to incorporate Christianity into the secular humanist world absent of Christ’s command to repent and be converted.

  7. Your Holiness, do mean the ecclesial crisis in China, which you created? Or the ecclesial crisis in the Americas, which you exacerbated? Or the ecclesial crisis in Europe, which you deny exists? Or the ecclesial crisis in Africa, of which you seem oblivious?

  8. We have to remember, Jesus was born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died a Jew. This where are faith religion stems from, the apostles where Jews and the very early church continued in the way Jesus intended. When the Romans gave the forming church its status as the national religion and the name Roman Catholic Church the rot started then with the introduction of ceremonies, rites, norms, sacraments, rituals, language and traditions. These where and have been changed, modified updated to the church we have today. Let us stop and look at what Jesus said, did told informed us. Jesus was born in a poor impoverished country his mother Mary the same his step dad also. He lived an impoverished live style with and among the low live, sinners the sick poor and down trodden. When Jesus fed the 5000, it wasn’t did or didn’t he the real message that comes out is they where all fed from what little they had nobody went hungry, they shared what they had with those who had nothing. Jesus didn’t go and bless the loaves and fishes and suddenly there where 5000 of each that is missing the point. They shared what little they had and no one went hungry. When I read this story I wonder where the 12 baskets came from, Jesus didn’t tell the apostles, O by the way bring 12 baskets/ hampers with you today. There is always a message but seeing it or recognising it is so often missed.

  9. You are still the Pope and most of us pray for you every day, but, ¡please!, do not mistake your personal private tastes and friends with your task as follower of Peter.
    Please, try to hear and pay some attention to other criteria and people of the Church, even if you do not like them. May be you should refrain some “spontaneus” comments like “rabbits”,”rigids”,usw…
    We will go on praying for you every day. Peter was not very perfect or prudent, but was never ambiguous.

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