Pope Francis Challenges Vatican Clergy to Cease Hiding Behind Traditions, Seek Humility

Pope Francis used his yearly Christmas address to call on Vatican clergy to seek humility and cease "rigidly" hiding behind Catholic Church traditions instead of staying open to the new.

Such a lecture around Christmas time is not a first for Francis, who has repeatedly addressed any moral and individual shortcomings that he believes are among the Vatican's cardinals, bishops and bureaucrats.

Francis said that the pride and self-interest of Vatican administrators and clergy, as well as the "glitter of our armor," was compromising their spirituality and the church's goals. The stone-faced expressions of the cardinals and bishops who attended Francis' address were a contrast to the Christmas trees and poinsettias decorating the Hall of Blessings where he spoke.

"The humble are those who are concerned not simply with the past but also with the future, since they know how to look ahead, to spread their branches, remembering the past with gratitude," Francis said. "The proud, on the other hand, simply repeat, grow rigid and enclose themselves in that repetition, feeling certain about what they know and fearful of anything new because they cannot control it."

The pope warned that the proud and inward-looking members of the church could be so engrossed in their own desires and interests that they are corrupted.

"As a consequence, they neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness. This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good. We need to avoid it," he said.

Pope Urges Humility
Pope Francis used his yearly Christmas address to call on Vatican clergy to seek humility and cease "rigidly" hiding behind Catholic Church traditions instead of staying open to the new. Above, Francis delivers his blessing at the end of his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, on December 22, 2021. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has used his Christmas address to rail against the Curia, as the Holy See's bureaucracy is known, denouncing the "spiritual Alzheimer's" that some members suffer and the resistance he had encountered to his efforts to reform and revitalize the institution and the broader Catholic Church.

Those reforms kicked into high gear this year, and some of the top Catholic hierarchy bore the brunt as Francis ordered a 10 percent pay cut for cardinals, imposed a 40-euro ($45) gift cap for Holy See personnel and passed a law allowing cardinals and bishops to be criminally prosecuted by the Vatican's own tribunal.

On top of that, Francis added his Christmas greetings in the form of another public brow-beating of Vatican clerics, who normally are treated with the utmost deference by their underling and the faithful at large.

Francis told them to stop hiding behind the "armor" of their titles and to recognize that they, like the Biblical figure of Naaman, a wealthy and decorated general, were lepers in need of healing.

"The story of Naaman reminds us that Christmas is the time when each of us needs to find the courage to take off our armor, discard the trappings of our roles, our social recognition and the glitter of this world and adopt the humility of Naaman," he said.

Francis also repeated his call for tradition-minded clerics to stop living in the past, saying their obsession with old doctrine and liturgy concealed a "spiritual worldliness" that was corrupting.

"Seeking those kinds of reassurance is the most perverse fruit of spiritual worldliness, for it reveals a lack of faith, hope and love; it leads to an inability to discern the truth of things," he said.

Francis this year took his biggest step yet to rein in the traditionalist wing of the church, reimposing restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass that Pope Benedict XVI had relaxed in 2007.

He intensified those restrictions last weekend with a new set of rules that forbids even the publication of Tridentine Mass times in parish bulletins.

Francis said the proud who remain stuck in the past, "enclosed in their little world, have neither past nor future, roots or branches, and live with the bitter taste of a melancholy that weighs on their hearts as the most precious of the devil's potions."

"All of us are called to humility, because all of us are called to remember and to give life. We are called to find a right relationship with our roots and our branches. Without those two things, we become sick, destined to disappear," he warned.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis warned that the proud and inward-looking members of the church could be so engrossed in their own desires and interests that they are corrupted. Above, Francis walks toward faithful at the end of his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, on December 22, 2021. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo