Photo of Pope Francis by Korean Culture and Information Service (Jeon Han)

The Doctor is in: Pope Francis’ list of 15 diseases that ail the church


VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis held nothing back on Monday in addressing the ills of the Roman Catholic Church in a blistering critique of what ails the Curia, the church’s central bureaucracy. From the “terrorism of gossip” to “Spiritual Alzheimer’s,” Francis has a few get-healthy New Year’s Resolutions in mind for his staff:

1.The disease: Feeling ‘immortal’ or “immune” or even “indispensible”

The cure: A visit to the cemetery, Francis said, could help us see the names of those who “maybe thought they were immortal, immune and indispensible.”

2. The disease: Excessive activity

The cure: It is the disease of those who, like Martha in the Gospels, “lose themselves in their work, inevitably neglecting `what is better’: sitting at Jesus’ feet.”

3. The disease: Mental and spiritual “petrification”

The symptoms: It is the disease of those who “lose their internal peace, their vivacity and audacity, to hide under papers and become “procedural machines” instead of “men of God.”

4. The disease: Overplanning and functionalism

The symptoms: “When the apostle plans everything in minute detail and believes that, through this, things progress effectively, they are becoming an accountant. Good planning is necessary — but without falling into the temptation of wanting to enclose or steer the freedom of the Holy Spirit.”

5. The disease: bad coordination

The symptoms: It is the disease of members who “lose the community between themselves … becoming ‘an orchestra producing undisciplined noise.’”

6. The disease: Spiritual Alzheimer’s

The symptoms: A “progressive decline of spiritual faculties,” making victims live in a “state of absolute dependence on their, often imagined, views.” It’s most seen, Francis said, in those “who have ‘lost their memory’ of their encounter with the Lord.”

7. The disease: Rivalry and vainglory

The symptoms: “When the appearance, the color of vestments and honors become the first objectives of life … it is the disease that leads us to become false men and women, living a false “mysticism.”

8. The disease : Existential schizophrenia

The symptoms: It is the disease of those who live “a double life, a result of the hypocrisy typical of mediocre people and of advancing spiritual emptiness, which degrees or academic titles cannot fill.”

9. The disease: Gossip and chatter

The symptoms: A “serious illness,” the pope warned, that can begin with a simple chat and sometimes end up with “cold blooded murder.” It is the disease of cowards, who do not have the courage to speak upfront and so talk behind one’s back. “Look out for the terrorism of gossip!’

10. The disease: Deifying leaders

The symptoms: Those who “court their superior,” becoming victims of “careerism and opportunism” and “live their vocation thinking only of what they must gain and not of what they should give.”

11. The disease: Indifference

The symptoms: “When, because of jealousy or cunning, we rejoice in seeing others fall, rather than lifting them up and encouraging them.”

12. The disease: The funeral face

The symptoms: People who are “scowling and unfriendly,” with a “theatrical strictness and sterile pessimism” that are often symptoms of fear and insecurity.”

13. The disease: Hoarding

The symptoms: “When the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by hoarding material possessions, not because of necessity, but only to feel secure. In reality we can carry nothing material with us … and all our earthly treasures – even gifts – can never fill the void.”

14. The disease: Closed circles

The symptoms: “When belonging to a clique becomes more important than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, than belonging to Christ himself. Even this disease starts from good intentions, but in time it enslaves all its members becoming ‘a cancer’ that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much illness.”

15. The disease: Worldly profit and exhibitionism

The symptoms: “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.”

Josephine McKenna contributed to this story

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  1. Liv Larson Andrews

    These are amazing and useful. I feel both convicted and empowered to make some changes. And a few are just hilarious: #12!
    I might just hand these out at our next church council meeting…

  2. So good.
    I agree with #12, when did looking pissed off become pious?

    • When was the last time smiling saved peoples’ souls? Maybe in movies.

      “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: in that that is the end of all men, and the living taketh it to heart.” -Ecclesiastes 7:2

      “Blessed are they who mourn” -Jesus (Matthew 5:4)

      “…with fear and trembling work out your salvation.” -St. Paul (Philippians 2:12)

      “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into sorrow.” James 4:9

      The point isn’t in feeling good, it’s about saving your soul, and unless you’re some perfect saint who should have a statue and a church built in his honor, you should examine your life and see if you really have any reason to think that feeling good is the same as being good.

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