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Be ‘conscientious objectors’ to gossip, Francis urges curial officials

Pope Francis addresses the Roman Curia on Saturday (AP)

Pope Francis has asked Vatican officials to serve the Universal Church with professionalism and holiness, and to shun gossip.

The Pope made his remarks on Saturday in his Christmas address to cardinals and officials of the Roman Curia, the Church’s central administration at the Vatican. The annual speech is traditionally an occasion for popes to review important events of the previous year and lay out their priorities for the future, but in his first such address, Pope Francis focused on the qualities he seeks in his closest collaborators.

Pope Francis said the most important quality for Vatican officials is “holiness of life”, expressed by “constant prayer, deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers”, as well as “discreet and faithful pastoral service, zealously carried out in direct contact with God’s people”.

The Pope said holiness entails resistance to gossip, which he called an “unwritten law of our surroundings”. Using a term that ordinarily refers to religiously based exemptions from civil laws, he urged officials to exercise their right of “conscientious objection to gossip”. a vice he said is “harmful to people, harmful to our work and our surroundings”. As a model for Vatican officials, he pointed to St Joseph, “who was so silent yet so necessary” in his care for Mary and Jesus.

Pope Francis was elected in March amid widespread criticism of the Curia, based largely on the 2012 “VatiLeaks” of confidential correspondence documenting corruption and incompetence in Vatican City State and the Holy See. A month later, the Pope named a panel of eight cardinals to advise him on a major overhaul of the Vatican bureaucracy.

In his Christmas speech, the Pope stressed the importance for Vatican officials of professionalism and a spirit of service.

Without professionalism, which he described as “competence, study, keeping abreast of things”, work follows a “slow drift downward toward mediocrity”, the Pope said. “Dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information, and incapable of opening up lofty perspectives.”

Pope Francis stressed that curial officials must serve not only the Pope but also the needs of dioceses around the world.

“When the attitude is no longer one of service to the particular churches and their bishops, the structure of the Curia turns into a ponderous, bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of God’s people,” he said.

The Pope acknowledged that “there have been, and still are, saints” among Vatican officials, and thanked retiring officials “who have worked here for so many years with immense dedication, hidden from the eyes of the world”.

“I have such high regard for these monsignors who are cut from the same mold as the curial officials of olden times, exemplary persons. We need them today, too,” the Pope said. “I would like to mention some of them by name, as a way of expressing my esteem and my gratitude, but we know that, in any list, the first names people notice are the ones that are missing.”