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When the Bishop of Rome speaks to his diocese, people should listen

Robert Mickens, Rome - La Croix International - Fri, May 31st 2019

Pope Francis' most recent address to Rome's diocesan assembly did not make many headlines. But it should have. And here's why.

Pope Francis during the ecclesial conference of Rome's dioceses at Saint John Lateran's Basilica in Rome, Italy, June 19, 2017. (Photo by EPA/GIORGIO ONORATI/MaxPPP)

Francis, Bishop of Rome

This is all a rather long preface to the May 9 visit Pope Francis made to St. John Lateran, where he gave an important – but somewhat overlooked – address to Rome's diocesan assembly. Unfortunately, the Vatican has not yet made available any translations from the original Italian.

It really is a pity. Because this was another one of those talks where the pope spoke freely and prophetically about his vision for a renewed, missionary Church.

First, he listened to several people involved with pastoral work in the Diocese of Rome. He took notes as they told him about the many difficult issues and problems people of the diocese are facing.

Then, after the people spoke, it was the bishop's turn.

Francis' words, which were mostly unscripted, probably upset more than a few people in the assembly (and further afield) – especially those who are "professional" clerics and efficient organizers.

"The first temptation one can face after hearing about so many difficulties, so many problems and so many things that are lacking is to say: 'No, we must fix the city, fix the diocese, put everything right, get it all in order,'" he said.

But he said this was too inward-looking and would only lead to "domesticating" people and their hearts. "Yes, things would be fixed and we will have tidied up the 'museum,' the ecclesiastical museum of the city, everything will be squared away," he said.

But Francis warned that this would be the "greatest sin of worldliness" and "anti-evangelicalism." Rather, he said, people of the Church needed to deal with "disequilibrium" present in the city, in young people, the elderly and in families, rather than try to "domesticate" or tidy up the problems.

Francis used the word squilibrio, which can have other meanings besides disequilibrium – such as insanity or craziness.

"We cannot do something good and evangelical if we are afraid of the squilibrio. We must take it in our hands: that's what the Lord tells us, because the Gospel – I think you'll understand this – is 'crazy teaching' (dottrina squilibrata)," he said.

"Take the Beatitudes: they merit a Nobel Prize for craziness! That's how the Gospel is!" he exclaimed.

The dictatorship of functionalism

Pope Francis said the penchant that many priests and Church workers have to try to "fix things" rather than embrace the imbalances often leads to something he called the "dictatorship of functionalism," which he also said is a form of clericalism.

He said there's a diocese in Italy – which, "out of charity," he refused to name – that had fallen into the trap of functionalism.

"There is a department for this, that and the other thing; and each department has four, five or six specialists that study things… That diocese has more employees than the Vatican! And each day that diocese strays further away from Jesus Christ because it has begun to worship 'harmony'; not the harmony of beauty, but of functional worldliness," the pope said.

Everyone in the cathedral had a pretty good idea which Italian diocese he was talking about. It sure seemed to be Milan under the direction of the recently retired Cardinal Angelo Scola.

Runner-up to Francis in the last conclave, Scola is famous for having been a bricks-and-mortar bishop who spent a lot of cash on trying to revive old structures and setting up lots of new committees and research institutes.

But Francis said this form of functionalism is a "new ideological colonization that tries to convince people that the Gospel is a type of wisdom or doctrine, but not a proclamation or kerygma."

"And there are many who leave behind the kerygma, inventing synods and counter-synods… which are not really synods at all, but just 'fixes.' Why? Because a synod requires the presences of the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirits kicks over the table and starts all over," he said.

Francis said in order to really listen to the cry of the people of the diocese it's not enough to "live with ideas, pastoral plans and pre-established solutions." Instead, he said, "We must live with the heart."

There were many other important things the Bishop of Rome told his people. One of themwas that there are two very important texts that they should mediate on and put in practice: the speech he gave in Florence in 2015 during the Fifth National Convention of the Italian Church and his 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.

"Here is the plan for the Church in Italy and the plan for the Church of Rome," he said of the two texts.

But what Francis spelled out in his address in Florence, as well as in Evangelii Gaudium, is actually valid for Churches in every place.

When the Bishop of Rome speaks to his diocese, he often says things that can be applied to Catholics in other parts of the world, too. In this most recent case, the message was aimed at those everywhere who are tempted by functionalism.

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