December 22, 2014;Washington Post

Pope Francis met with the leaders of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy, for an annual pre-Christmas event. Instead of the usual pre-holiday goodwill and fellowship, Francis took the opportunity to criticize the cardinals and bishops for weaknesses and shortcomings which can affect “any administrative organization, community, congregation, parish, ecclesial movement, etc., and can strike at both the individual and the corporate level.”

The list of 15 “ailments of the Curia” may be familiar to nonprofit staffs and volunteer leaders looking at their own organizations. Francis sees some leaders as seeing themselves as immortal and indispensible and working without coordination (what some would call “working in silos”). Several of the ailments are related to a loss of sense of mission: becoming “spiritually and mentally hardened,” having “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” “existential schizophrenia,” and seeking worldly profit and recognition.

Here are some of the 15 ailments as he describes them. Each is worth considering when reflecting on our own practice:

#6. Having “spiritual Alzheimer’s.” “We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord…in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias, in those who build walls around themselves and become enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.”

#8. Suffering from “existential schizophrenia.” “It’s the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of hypocrisy that is typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that academic degrees cannot fill. It’s a sickness that often affects those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic work, losing contact with reality and concrete people.”

#9. Committing the “terrorism of gossip.” “It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.”

#12. Having a “funereal face.” “In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity. The apostle must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy and transmit joy wherever he goes.”

#14. Forming “closed circles” that seek to be stronger than the whole. “This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad—scandals—especially to our younger brothers.”

Given the centuries-old fame of the Curia for intrigue, one of the most interesting criticisms in the list is “the terrorism of gossip.” Francis is direct in referring to engaging in gossip as the cowardice of people afraid to speak with each other directly.

It’s no secret that the Pope has had problems with the Vatican bureaucracy, and that the Curia has been in need of reform for some time. (An investigative report on the Curia awaited Francis when he became Pope because his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, felt the report’s recommendations would take a long time to implement.) Francis presented his list in the hope that the Vatican leaders would reflect upon it over the Christmas holiday. How many other nonprofit organizations would benefit from a forthright discussion of similar concerns related to their leaders’ dedication to mission and the temptation to allow personal weaknesses to get in the way of the organization and its service to the community?—Michael Wyland