Pope Francis has issued a Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See, the bureaucracy of the Vatican.

The Pope’s greeting, however, is short on warm cuddly Christmas card sentiment. It has been called a “blistering critique of Vatican bureaucracy.”

Pope Francis’ list of “ailments” in the Vatican Curia is a sobering warning to anyone involved in leadership in any institution, but particularly for leaders in the church. Anyone who cares about the church, of whatever denomination, would do well to heed the Pope’s strong admonition to his church.

Here, with a few comments, are the first 5 sins of leadership the Pope has identified in his church:

1) Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable. “A Curia that doesn’t criticize itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.”

Any organization that does not engage in open, honest, forthright self-criticism is in danger of losing its way. Self-awareness and honesty lie at the heart of healthy institutional life. Self-protection and fear of the truth are always a source of danger. All members of any organization must be encouraged to speak the truth as they perceive it in any area of organizational life in which they are actively involved.

2) Working too hard. “Rest for those who have done their work is necessary, good and should be taken seriously.”

This is one of the most radical things Pope Francis has said. We worship at the altar of hard work. We wear our exhaustion like a badge of honour and drop into the conversation pointed references to our 60-hour work week, certain that our efforts demonstrate our value as human beings. The Pope’s call for “rest” as a “necessary good” that “should be taken seriously” is a radical call to find a new source of identity in our lives. The Pope is challenging us all to shift our centre if identity away from what we do, to who we are as children created in the image of God.

3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened. “It’s dangerous to lose that human sensibility that lets you cry with those who are crying, and celebrate those who are joyful.”

When a group of religious people lose their capacity for compassion they cease to function as a church. Jesus entered into deep relationship with all people. He was always experienced as a source of healing and hope in the lives of those whose hearts were open to his presence. The church exists in part to encourage all people to open and soften to the work of gentleness and kindness that is the calling of all followers of Jesus.

4) Planning too much. “Preparing things well is necessary, but don’t fall into the temptation of trying to close or direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is bigger and more generous than any human plan.”

Healthy skepticism about the value and merit of “any human plan” needs to be a hall-mark of all spiritual leadership. The church is an organic body that needs to be able to adapt to the changing winds of reality and stay open to the radical newness and unexpected turns of God’s surprising Holy Spirit. We need to have the humility to acknowledge that we do not know what is coming around the next corner. The wind of God’s Spirit “blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8)

5) Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise. “When the foot tells the hand, ‘I don’t need you’ or the hand tells the head ‘I’m in charge.'”

Pope Francis is determined to bring a new Reformation to his church. He is striving to return the church to the people, reminding those who feel they are in privileged positions of power that every person is a vital component in the Body of Christ. A church that starts to exist for the benefit of those in leadership, is no longer an institution that is following the master who washed his disciples feet saying, “I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27)


I will post the remaining points of the Pope’s critique when I get a chance.