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Who Is the Pope?

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Casa Rosada

nybooks.com | Article Link | Eamon Duffy

On December 22, 2014, Pope Francis delivered the traditional papal Christmas speech to the assembled ranks of the Roman Curia. This annual meeting with the staff of the church’s central administration offers popes the opportunity for a stock-taking “state of the union” address. In 2005, his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI had used the occasion to deliver a momentous analysis of the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” that he believed had distorted understanding of the Second Vatican Council by presenting it as a revolutionary event, and to which he attributed many of the ills of the modern church. The phrase “hermeneutic of rupture” was eagerly seized on by those seeking a “reform of the reform,” and became a weapon in the struggle to roll back some of the most distinctive developments in the church following the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965, which had been presided over first by John XXIII and then by Paul VI.

The scope of Pope Francis’s 2014 address, however, was far more local and specific. Having briefly thanked his hearers for their hard work during the previous year, the pope launched into an excruciating fifteen-point dissection of the spiritual ailments to which people in their position might be prone. It was a dismaying catalog of “curial diseases”—the spiritual “narcissism” that, as part of the “pathology of power,” encouraged some to behave like “lords and masters” (in Italian, padroni); the “Martha complex” of excessive activity, which squeezes out human sympathy and renders men incapable of “weeping with those who weep”; the “spiritual Alzheimer’s” that besets those “who build walls and routines around themselves” and forget the spirit of the Gospel.

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  • Nathandwyer Dwyer