… I remember you said to the group from Latin America that there are many saints working in the Vatican, but also people who are rather less saintly, didn’t you?.. You live in a very austere manner, you have remained at Santa Marta, and so on... Would you like your collaborators, including the Cardinals, to follow this example, and perhaps to live in community, or is this something for you alone?
You mention the fact that I remained at Santa Marta. But I could not live alone in the Palace, and it is not luxurious. The Papal apartment is not particularly luxurious! It is a fair size, but it is not luxurious. But I cannot live alone or with just a few people! I need people, I need to meet people, to talk to people... it was for psychological reasons, simply, because psychologically I can’t do otherwise. Everyone has to lead his own life, everyone has his own way of living and being.
The Cardinals who work in the Curia do not live wealthy, opulent lives: they live in small apartments, they really are austere… But austerity – general austerity – I think it is necessary for all of us who work in the service of the Church. There are many shades of austerity; everyone must seek his own path.
With regard to the saints, it’s true, there are saints: cardinals, priests, bishops, sisters, laypersons; people who pray, people who work hard, and who also help the poor, in hidden ways. I know of some who take trouble to give food to the poor, and then, in their free time, go to minister in this or that church. They are priests. There are saints in the Curia. And there are some who are not so saintly, and these are the ones you tend to hear about. You know that one tree falling makes more noise than a whole forest growing. And it pains me when these things happen.
Press Conference on Plane Returning from WYD Rio
Reflection – I realize I’ve got quite a long excerpt here from the press conference, but I was struck by this exchange, and thought it was a good corrective for all of us, myself included. Long as it is (and I cut quite a bit of it down), it’s worth the space given it here.
It is so easy for us to get cynical, judgmental, censorious and just plain nasty about the Vatican and the people who work there. I am not free of that myself, to be quite honest. So it’s good to have someone who certainly does know what poverty looks like and whose personal commitment to poverty is unassailable set the record straight. The living quarters of cardinals and the papal apartments in the Vatican are not luxurious, but are ‘really austere.’ Sez who? Sez Pope Francis, who presumably knows more about the subject from, like, first hand observation than you or me.
And there are lots of saints working in Rome. Good to know! You’d never guess it from the public image many of us have of the place. It is really worthwhile to confront this attitude in ourselves, which like I say I am not innocent of myself, of a certain ecclesiastical cynicism, a tendency to see the worst, look for the worst, discount or minimize the best, the presence of real virtue and holiness in Church officials, and blow up every offense or failure, real or imagined, to the greatest severity and importance.
Now, why do we do that? What is it about people in red hats or cassocks that makes us break out the magnifying glass and the brass knuckles, searching out every example of wickedness and pummelling all within reach when we find it? What drives that kind of punitive, pejorative, puritanical propensity in us, to judge and condemn our brothers just because they happen to live and work in Vatican City?
There are good and bad people everywhere, in every line of work, in every field of human existence. And most of us (let’s be real here) are neither very good nor very bad but just ordinary stiffs muddling along. Why do we want to judge and criticize people we don’t even know?
I have my own suspicions on the matter, but would prefer to leave it there, as a matter for examination of conscience. Pope Francis tells us that people in the Vatican actually live fairly austerely, and that there are quite a few saints among them. That’s good news, right? Let’s leave it there for now.