Pope Francis urged Vatican cardinals, bishops and bureaucrats Thursday to embrace humility this Christmas season, saying their pride, self-interest and the "glitter of our armor" was perverting their spiritual lives and corrupting the church’s mission.
As he has in the past, Francis used his annual Christmas address to take Vatican administrators to task for their perceived moral and personal failings, denouncing in particular those pride-filled clerics who "rigidly" hide behind Catholic Church traditions rather than seek out the neediest with humility.
As they have in the past, cardinals and bishops sat stone-faced as they listened to Francis lecture them in the Hall of Blessings, which was otherwise decked out in jolly twinkling Christmas trees and poinsettias.
"The humble are those who are concerned not simply with the past but also with the future, since they know how to look ahead, to spread their branches, remembering the past with gratitude," Francis told them. "The proud, on the other hand, simply repeat, grow rigid and enclose themselves in that repetition, feeling certain about what they know and fearful of anything new because they cannot control it."
The proud who are so inward-looking are consumed with their own interests, the pontiff said.
"As a consequence, they neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness. This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good. We need to avoid it," he added.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has used his Christmas address to rail against the Curia, as the Holy See's bureaucracy is known, denouncing the "spiritual Alzheimer’s" that some members suffer and the resistance he had encountered to his efforts to reform and revitalize the institution and the broader Catholic Church.
Those reforms kicked into high gear this year, and some of the top Catholic hierarchy bore the brunt as Francis ordered a 10% pay cut for cardinals, imposed a 40-euro ($45) gift cap for Holy See personnel and passed a law allowing cardinals and bishops to be criminally prosecuted by the Vatican’s own tribunal.
On top of that, Francis added his Christmas greetings in the form of another public brow-beating of Vatican clerics, who normally are treated with the utmost deference by their underling and the faithful at large.
Francis told them to stop hiding behind the "armor" of their titles and to recognize that they, like the Biblical figure of Naaman, a wealthy and decorated general, were lepers in need of healing.
"The story of Naaman reminds us that Christmas is the time when each of us needs to find the courage to take off our armor, discard the trappings of our roles, our social recognition and the glitter of this world and adopt the humility of Naaman," he said.
Francis also repeated his call for tradition-minded clerics to stop living in the past, saying their obsession with old doctrine and liturgy concealed a "spiritual worldliness" that was corrupting.
"Seeking those kinds of reassurance is the most perverse fruit of spiritual worldliness, for it reveals a lack of faith, hope and love; it leads to an inability to discern the truth of things," he said.
Francis this year took his biggest step yet to rein in the traditionalist wing of the church, reimposing restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass that Pope Benedict XVI had relaxed in 2007.
He intensified those restrictions last weekend with a new set of rules that forbids even the publication of Tridentine Mass times in parish bulletins.
Francis said the proud who remain stuck in the past, "enclosed in their little world, have neither past nor future, roots or branches, and live with the bitter taste of a melancholy that weighs on their hearts as the most precious of the devil’s potions."
"All of us are called to humility, because all of us are called to remember and to give life. We are called to find a right relationship with our roots and our branches. Without those two things, we become sick, destined to disappear," he warned