I doubt many members of the Vatican bureaucracy will agree right now but the Catholic Church should count itself lucky that it is led by a man with the intelligence and courage to openly admit the failings of his organisation.
Having settled down to what they expected to be a cosy bout of Christmas well-wishing from the Pope, the Church officials found themselves subjected to a forensic account of their misdemeanours which numbered no less than fifteen according to the pontiff. Clearly frustrated by the inability of the Curia to reform itself, the Pope has, with remarkable courage, staked his and the Church’s credibility on the prospect that by publicly calling out the mess in the Vatican, the impulse to genuine reform will be irresistible.
Notably, Francis was clear in his speech that the failings he identified could be applied to all Church bodies and not just the Curia. But his fifteen organisational “diseases” could well stand as a check list of failure across any number of secular organisations. There is particular resonance, however, with contemporary politics. Stripped of the theological allusions, six of the diseases particularly caught my eye when applied in the party political context. (I have slightly paraphrased the summaries of the Pope’s analysis from La Stampa.)
The disease of feeling ‘immortal’ or ‘essential’
‘A curia that does not practice self-criticism, does not keep up to date, does not try to better itself, is an infirm Body’. It is the disease of those who ‘turn into masters and feel superior to everyone rather than in the service of all people. It often comes from the pathology of power, the “Messiah complex” and narcissism’.
The disease of existential schizophrenia
It is the disease of those who live ‘a double life, a result of the hypocrisy typical of mediocre people’. It often strikes us that some lose ‘touch with reality and real people. They thus create their own parallel world, where they set aside all that the others harshly teach’ and live a ‘hidden’ and often ‘dissolute’ life.
The disease of gossip and chatter
‘It takes hold of a person making them “sowers of discord”, and, in many cases, “cold-blooded murderers” of the reputation of their colleagues and brothers. It is the disease of cowards, who do not have the courage to speak upfront and so talk behind one’s back… Watch out against the terrorism of gossip!’.
The disease of deifying the leaders
It is the disease of those who ‘court their superiors’, becoming victims of ‘careerism and opportunism’ and ‘live their vocation thinking only of what they must gain and not of what they must give’. It might also affect the superiors ‘when they court some of their collaborators in order to gain their submission, loyalty and psychological dependence, but the final result is real complicity’.
The disease of closed circles
When belonging to a clique becomes more important than belonging to the Body. Even this disease starts from good intentions, but in time it enslaves all its members becoming “a cancer”‘.
The disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism
When the individual ‘turns his service into power, and his power into a commodity to gain worldly profits, or even more powers. It is the disease of those people who relentlessly seek to increase their powers. To achieve that, they may defame, slander and discredit others, even on newspapers and magazines. Naturally, that is in order to show off and exhibit their superiority to others’. A disease that ‘badly hurts the Body because it leads people to justify the use of any means in order to fulfill their aim, often in the name of transparency and justice!’
Of course, the problem is there is no-one of the necessary credibility, seniority and quite possibly courage within the body politic to adopt the role of Francis. Sadly, those who claim to be carrying out this task by ‘taking on’ the political establishment are just as subject to the above ‘diseases’ as those they attack. Maybe in time someone and/or some movement will do the job but for now the Westminster Curia will struggle on unwilling to acknowledge or address its own failings.
My book Small is Powerful: Why the era of big business, big government and big culture is over is due for publication in late 2015. You can pre-order a copy here.