By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis exchanged Christmas greetings with members of the Roman Curia on Friday, taking the occasion to explore the joys and afflictions facing the Catholic Church in this particular moment.
Church on path of renewal
“Christmas”, the Holy Father said, “fills us with joy and makes us certain that no sin will ever be greater than God’s mercy”. He took St. Paul’s words to the Romans (13:12) as his focus: “The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.”
The Pope warned that being Christian “does not mean acting like an élite group who think they have God in their pocket”. He said the Church always walks a path of penance and renewal and is “at once holy and always in need of purification”.
Turning to the afflictions facing the Church, Pope Francis said she “has been buffeted by strong winds and tempests” this year. Some people, he said, have been disheartened by news reports and have abandoned the Church. Others have attacked her out of fear or personal interest, while others express “glee at seeing her hard hit.” But others, he said, remain faithful.
First, the Holy Father noted the afflictions immigrants face, including poverty, violence, and brutality in their home countries, as well as fear and prejudice in their host countries. Many other Christians face persecution, he added, “yet they continue courageously to embrace death rather than deny Christ.”
Pope Francis then spoke at length about the “scourges of abuse and infidelity”.
“The Church has for some time been firmly committed to eliminating the evil of abuse, which cries for vengeance to the Lord, to the God who is always mindful of the suffering experienced by many minors because of clerics and consecrated persons: abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse.”
Abusers are more afraid of being found out than of “God or His judgment”, he said. “The sins and crimes of consecrated persons are further tainted by infidelity and shame; they disfigure the countenance of the Church and undermine her credibility.”
Pope Francis emphatically said the Church “will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes.” He pointed to the February meeting of presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on the protection of minors, saying “the Church will restate her resolve to pursue unstintingly the path of purification.” The event will seek to turn past mistakes into “opportunities for eliminating this scourge” of sexual abuse.
The Pope said some people accuse the media of ignoring abuse in wider society and of seeking to give the “false impression” that it only affects the Catholic Church. For his part, Pope Francis offered his “heartfelt thanks” to journalists “who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims’ voices heard.”
“The greater scandal in this matter is that of cloaking the truth,” he said.
The Holy Father appealed to members of the Roman Curia to help the Church “in her difficult task of recognizing real from false cases, accusations from slander, grievances from insinuations, gossip from defamation.” He also begged those who abuse minors to convert and to hand themselves “over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”
Another affliction Pope Francis listed is “the infidelity of those who betray their vocation” and “hide behind good intentions in order to stab their brothers and sisters in the back and to sow weeds, division, and bewilderment.” He said they resemble Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus but did not repent, as they find intellectual and spiritual excuses to continue on their “path to perdition”.
All of us, said the Pope, have the duty to fight spiritual corruption.
Pope Francis then turned to the many joys of the past year. He praised the Synod of Bishops on young people, progress made to reform the Curia, efforts towards clarity and transparency in the Vatican’s financial affairs, and a new Decree on labour in the Vatican.
He also spoke approvingly of the 19 recently beatified martyrs of Algeria, the many faithful added to the Church in Baptism, and the witness of young people who dedicate their lives to service in the consecrated life and priesthood.
Pope Francis made special mention of the Church’s many ministers who “daily live their calling in fidelity, silence, holiness, and self-denial.” Speaking especially of parish priests, the Holy Father said they are ignored by the mass media, “but were it not for them, darkness would reign.”
Finally, Pope Francis invited the members of the Roman Curia to open their hearts to Jesus Christ, “the light of goodness that conquers evil”.
“Christmas,” the Pope concluded, “gives us the certainty that God’s light will continue to shine, despite our human misery” and that “the Church will emerge from these tribulations all the more beautiful, purified, and radiant.”