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 Andrew Medichini

VATICAN CITY, December 21, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has renewed his attack on members of Vatican bureaucracy who object to the theological novelties being forced on the Church. Some of the novelties arising in the crisis, he said, come from the Holy Spirit.

In his annual Christmas greeting to the Curia, the 84-year-old Argentinian pontiff said today that the crisis in the Church “is a necessary moment.” Crises should not be confused with conflicts, he stated. 

“Crisis generally has a positive outcome, whereas conflict always creates discord and competition, an apparently irreconcilable antagonism that separates others into friends to love and enemies to fight. In such a situation, only one side can win,” Pope Francis said. (Official English translation here.)

The pontiff said that “conflict” seeks to divide people into the “guilty” and the “righteous,” leading to a loss of the sense of “common belonging”, the growth of “certain elitist attitudes” and “‘cliques’ that permit narrow and partial mindsets, which weaken the universality of our mission.” 

Pope Francis emphasized that crisis is normal, whereas conflict is bad. 

“When the Church is viewed in terms of conflict—right versus left, progressive versus traditional—she becomes fragmented and polarized, distorting and betraying her real true nature. She is […] a body perennially in crisis, precisely because [the body] is alive. She must never become a body in conflict, with victors and vanquished,” he said. 

“For in this way she would spread apprehension, become more rigid and less synodal, and impose a uniformity far removed from the riches and plurality that the Spirit has bestowed to His Church.”

The pontiff then stated that the Holy Spirit is introducing “novelties” (or, in the official translation, “newness”) through the crisis in the Church. He seemed to suggest that new teachings were being germinated from the death of the old.

“The newness born of crisis and willed by the Spirit is never a newness opposed to the old, but one that springs from the old and makes it continually fruitful,” he said. 

“Jesus explains this process in a simple and clear image: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit' (Jn 12:24),” he continued.  

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[N.B. In this passage Jesus was describing, not His teachings, but His death.]

Pope Francis added: “The dying of a seed is ambivalent: it is both an end and the beginning of something new. It can be called both ‘death and decay’ and ‘birth and blossoming,’ for the two are one. We see an end, while at the same time, in that end a new beginning is taking shape.”

It follows, for Pope Francis, that those who resist the novelties of the crisis in the Church are condemned to be “alone” and “sterile.”

“By shielding ourselves from crisis, we hinder the work of God’s grace, which would manifest itself in us and through us,” he said.

The pontiff stated that the Vatican bureaucracy should not be frightened by “realism” that sees them as the sum of their failures and sins, nor deny that there is much in them and their communities in need of “conversion.” However, by using ambiguous language, he seemed to confuse real evil with an adherence to traditional doctrine.

“Everything evil, wrong, weak and unhealthy that comes to light serves as a forceful reminder of our need to die to a way of living, thinking and acting that does not reflect the Gospel,” Pope Francis said, and then continued: “Only by dying to a certain mentality will we be able to make room for the newness that the Spirit constantly awakens in the heart of the Church. 

“The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this, and they called it 'metanoia’.”

Lactantius, an advisor to Emperor Constantine, defined metanoia as “a return to right understanding” or conversion in a work he wrote in the early 4thcentury. 

The metanoia Pope Francis called for includes a radical reformation of the Catholic Church, which he said, cannot be like sewing a patch on an old garment. He envisions a whole new dress for the Church, and suggests that Jesus’s remarks about sewing old cloth on a new, or filling old wineskins with new wines applies to His Church in 2020. 

“In times of crisis, Jesus warns us against certain attempts to emerge from it that are doomed from the start,” Francis said. 

“If someone ‘tears a piece from a new garment to put it upon an old garment’; the result is predictable: he will tear the new, because ‘the piece from the new will not match the old’. Similarly, ‘no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. New wine must be put into new wineskins (Lk. 5:36-38)’.”

Pope Francis also applied a parable from the Gospel of Matthew to his plans to give the Bride of Christ a thorough makeover, saying that the “correct behaviour” is like the “scribe trained for the kingdom of God who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old (Matt. 13:52).”  

“That treasure is Tradition, which, as Benedict XVI recalled, ‘is the living river that links us to the origins, the living river in which the origins are ever present, the great river that leads us to the gates of eternity’ (Catechesis, 26 April 2006),” he said. 

“The ‘old’ is the truth and grace we already possess. The ‘new’ are those different aspects of the truth that we gradually come to understand,” he continued. 

“No historical form of living the Gospel can exhaust its full comprehension.”

Then, as he has done several times before, the pontiff repeated a Latin tag ascribed to St. Vincent of Lerins, meaning that doctrine is “solidified over the years, extended with time, and refined with age.”  According to the pontiff, this is how tradition “grows.” 

“No historical form of living the Gospel can exhaust its full comprehension,” he said.

Pope Francis also spoke of the need of being guided “by the Holy Spirit” to “daily draw closer to ‘all the truth’ Jesus promised in the Gospel of John (16:13). He intimated that his view of “synodality” involves “communion with the presence of the Spirit,” not a “democratic assembly of majorities and minorities.” 

In the concluding section of his speech, Pope Francis encouraged the members of the Curia to stop “living in conflict” and to feel that they are “journeying together, open to crisis.” 

“A crisis is itself movement, a part of our journey. Conflict, on the other hand, is a false trail leading us astray, aimless, directionless and trapped in a labyrinth; it is a waste of energy and an occasion for evil,” he said. 

As usual, he decried “gossip”, which he said traps Curial officials in “an unpleasant, sad and stifling state of self-absorption” and “turns crisis into conflict.” Here he compared the shepherds, who heard the “angel’s message” and went to visit Jesus, to King Herod, who heard the Magi’s story and turned to “deceit and violence.” 

In the context of his condemnation about gossip, the pontiff seemed to ask those who have reservations about powerful people in the Curia to keep their opinions to themselves. 

“Each of us, no matter what our place in the Church, should ask whether we want to follow Jesus with the docility of the shepherds or with the defensiveness of Herod, to follow him amid crisis or to keep Him at bay in conflict,” he said. 

Pope Francis also seemed to reflect on his own reputation in the Church when he spoke of the poor and quoted the Brazilian liberation theologian Archbishop Halder Camera, saying: “When I am concerned for the poor, they call me a saint; but when I keep asking why such great poverty exists, they call me a communist.”

Pope Francis has been the subject of frequent criticism in the past two years for the Vatican’s secret accord with the communist government of the People’s Republic of China, and his silence in the face of abuse by the Chinese communists of Christians and other religious minorities in China. 

However, the pontiff once again underscored that nobody should speak up against such novelties, saying “Let no one wilfully hinder the work that the Lord is accomplishing at this moment, and let us ask for the gift to serve in humility, so that He can increase and we decrease (cf.Jn 3:30).”

As an afterthought, he told members of the Curia that he was going to give them two books, one by Charles de la Foucauld (1858-1916) and another by a “disciple of Cardinal Martini.”

Cardinal Martini, who died in 2012, was a former Archbishop of Milan and a darling of liberal Catholics. In an interview he gave shortly before he died, he stated that the Church was “200 years out of date.”

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,” Martini said in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Citing the criminal abuse of children by priests to further his agenda, Martini said that “the Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops.”

“The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.” 

Pope Francis’ annual Christmas greetings to the Curia has been the subject of mingled amusement and chagrin since 2014, when he first used the festive event as a platform to berate the assembled Vatican bureaucrats for their sins.