“Clericalism is the enemy.” The famous remark made by Léon Gambetta in 1877 sums up Pope Francis’s recent letter to the Roman clergy. It is a spiritual exhortation written against the backdrop of the reform process of the Vicariate of Rome, which began last January, causing much gnashing of teeth.
It was in the middle of summer, on August 5, 2023, in memory of the miracle of St. Mary of the Snows, that the priests and deacons of the Eternal City – of which the Pope is the bishop – received a letter which set many a reader’s on edge.
Indeed, in that letter, the Pope develops what has become a commonplace topic of his preaching: the denunciation of “spiritual worldliness” - a concept taken from the Jesuit Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), which Francis has reworked and synthesized in this way:
“A way of life that reduces spirituality to appearance, when we allow ourselves to be fascinated by the seductions of the ephemeral, mediocrity and habit, the temptations of power and social influence, and also by vanity, narcissism, doctrinal intransigence and a form of liturgical aestheticism…”
Within this catch-all phrase wherein the entire opposition to the current pope can be easily stored – especially those emanating from the vast traditionalist world – one may also find a “hypocritical formalism” and especially a “clericalism” which consists in “living one’s vocation in an elitist way, shutting oneself up in one's own group and erecting walls.”
For the Pontiff, “The symptoms are precisely the loss of the spirit of praise and of joyful gratuity, while the devil insinuates himself, feeding complaint, negativity, and chronic dissatisfaction with what is wrong, irony that becomes cynicism.”
It is a spiritual exhortation that should be read while bearing in mind the vicariate reform process set in motion by the current pope last January by means of the apostolic constitution In Ecclesiarum Communione, a document that engenders reluctance, and for good reason.
Because in doing this, Pope Francis clearly intends to take charge of the current affairs of the Roman diocese. The authority of the episcopal council is reinforced, to make it “the main organ of synodality” of the vicariate. The cardinal vicar, who since 1988 has exercised “the high and effective direction of the vicariate,” is now designated as the “auxiliary” of the Pope.
The diocesan council for economic affairs, which assists the pope in the management of the finances and the patrimony of the diocese, is also renewed, while an Independent Supervisory Commission has been instituted composed of six members “of legal, civil and canonical competence, financial and administratively certified, free of any conflicts of interest” – all appointed by the Pope.
In the aftermath, on May 22, the Roman clergy learned of the appointments of Gianmarco Capra to the management of the Office of Patrimony – i.e., the management of finances - and of Cristiana Odoardi as head of human resources.
It was an audit carried out last year - entrusted to Alessandro Cassinis Righini, a former member of the Deloitte audit firm - that convinced the Sovereign Pontiff to carry out profound changes in the organization of the vicariate, bringing it more under his control, and putting lay people in key positions.
This is an approach that is more broadly in line with Pope Francis’s recent actions to regain control over Opus Dei, Caritas Internationalis, the Order of Malta, and the Communion and Liberation movement.