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How seriously does the Roman Curia need ‘cleansing’?

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For those paying attention, it is reported in a few reliable places that the 300-page report prepared by three Cardinals to investigate the “Vatileaks” scandals has to do with the need to “reform the Roman Curia” and the election of Pope Francis, who is thought (by some) to be the right (Jesuit) man for the job.

Please, gentle reader, do not be scandalized by this fact. After all, the Church exists because men are sinners. But of course it does not stop there. She exists because she is God’s hospital, as the Church Fathers describe her: the place where the healing medicine of heaven is to be applied “on earth as it is in heaven” by God’s physicians. Those physicians are the clergy.

Which is to say, they are supposed to be the one’s who apply God’s healing to men’s souls, wracked by ignorance of intellect and vice of will. The problem today, which is in a certain sense a definition of the crisis, is that no one, or at any rate far too few, of the clergy have themselves been cured of what ails them — and all of us: fallen human nature — to heal the rest of the mortally wounded in the hospital.

That is the real scandal. Indeed, the cause of every crisis is the ordination of men who are not prepared for the priesthood, who are not themselves cured of the ignorance and passions of their souls, and who in turn — like ‘quack doctors’ — do not cure the faithful of what ails them. In fact, the diseases spread.

In the instructions given to his personal legate to the ‘German monks’ and people protesting, here is how Pope Adrian VI described the crisis afflicting the members of the Church in his time, during the Protestant revolt.

“You are also to say,” so run the legate’s (Chieregati) express instructions, “that we frankly acknowledge that God permits this persecution of His Church on account of the sins of men, and especially of prelates and clergy; of a surety the Lord’s arm is not shortened that He cannot save us, but our sins separate us from Him, so that He does not hear. Holy Scripture declares aloud that the sins of the people are the outcome of the sins of the priesthood; therefore, as Chrysostom declares, when our Saviour wished to cleanse the city of Jerusalem of its sickness, He went first to the Temple to punish the sins of the priests before those of others, like a good physician who heals a disease at it roots. We know well that for many years things deserving of abhorrence have gathered round the Holy See; sacred things have been misused, ordinances transgressed, so that in everything there has been change for the worse. Thus it is not surprising that the malady has crept down from the head to the members, from the Popes to the hierarchy.

We all, prelates and clergy, have gone astray from the right way, and for long there is none that has done good; no, not one. To God, therefore, we must give all the glory and humble ourselves before Him; each one of us must consider how he has fallen and be more ready to judge himself than to be judged by God in the day of His wrath. Therefore, in our name, give promises that we shall use all diligence to reform before all things the Roman Curia, whence, perhaps, all these evils have had their origin; thus healing will begin at the source of sickness. We deem this to be all the more our duty, as the whole world is longing for such reform. The Papal dignity was not the object of our ambition, and we would rather have closed our days in the solitude of private life; willingly would we have put aside the tiara; the fear of God alone, the validity of our election, and the dread of schism, decided us to assume the position of Chief Shepherd. We desire to wield our power not as seeking dominion or means for enriching our kindred, but in order to restore to Christ’s bride, the Church, her former beauty, to give help to the oppressed, to uplift men of virtue and learning, above all, to do all that beseems a good shepherd and a successor of the blessed Peter. (Instruction given to Nuncio, Francesco Chieregati, and read out by him in Pope Adrian’s name at the Diet of Nuremberg on 3 January 1523.)

Note, he does not ascribe the crisis to the ones protesting, but to the object of their protesting; namely, bad Catholics. Principally among the princes of the Church, in and of the Roman curia. Though the protesters were at the time wrong about ‘the solutions’, and probably because they got the causes wrong, still they were not all that wrong about who was to blame for the mess, at the top: bad Catholics. Again, this is not to say those protesting were right. There is enough blame to assign to everyone, just as today. The point is that the protesters were not the only ‘bad Catholics’. (And it does us well to remember that, for a serious dose of ‘reality check’ about today’s crisis.)

There is historical precedent for such needs. In fact, it is not uncommon for the Curia and the clergy in general to need “reforming”. And if by “reform” one understands the need foremost to convert, it should hardly surprise anyone that a pope or anyone insists that we all repent and believe.

In other words, the Curia always needs reforming.

The question then is, has a reform of the Curia ever been accomplished? It would seem so. But not by ‘ordinary’ means. In fact, quite remarkably by divine chastisement. That is, the Roman Curia has been reformed a few times.

When Rome is sacked.

Has there ever been a successful reform of the Roman Curia that has not come with a ‘good sacking’? Not an historian, I leave it to them to answer. One does not have to be a scholar or historian, however, to know there is no such thing as a good sacking, certainly not of Rome. Each time, from 410 to 1527, the city was devasted: prelates murdered, princes enslaved, monks tortured, men & women of Rome exiled or decimated by execution, rape, famine or plague.

By the prayers of our fathers, and of our holy mother Catherine of Siena, oh Lord Christ, have mercy on us and avert that end for us!

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