Pope warns Vatican staff an 'elegant demon' lurks among them

Pope warns Vatican staff an ‘elegant demon’ lurks among them

  • Pope Francis warned staff in Christmas speech to be wary of ‘elegant demon’
  • He traditionally uses annual speech to rebuke bureaucrats to help them repent
  • Aimed to address conservative Catholic critics who are his biggest opponents  

The Pope told Vatican staff to beware the ‘elegant demon’ that lurks in self-righteous Catholics in his traditional Christmas speech. 

Francis used his annual Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia to again put the cardinals, bishops and priests who work in the Holy See on notice that they are particularly vulnerable to evil. 

Pope Francis has long used the annual speech as a chance to rebuke bureaucrats in an examination of conscience to help them repent before Christmas.  

Francis told attendees that by living in the heart of the Catholic Church, ‘we could easily fall into the temptation of thinking we are safe, better than others, no longer in need of conversion.’

Pope Francis talks with faithful dressed as the Three Wise Men at the end of his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on Wednesday

Pope Francis looks at a nativity scene as he leaves after his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican

‘Yet we are in greater danger than all others, because we are beset by the ‘elegant demon’, who does not make a loud entrance, but comes with flowers in his hand,’ Francis told the churchmen in the Hall of Blessings of the Apostolic Palace.

But the speech was relatively gentle compared to previous Jesuit-style examinations.  

Pope Francis’ most blistering critique came in 2014, when he listed the ’15 ailments of the Curia’ that some suffered, including the ‘terrorism of gossip’, ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s’ and of living ‘hypocritical’ double lives. 

The following year, Francis offered an antidote to the sins by listing the ‘catalogue of virtues’ he hoped they would instead follow, including honesty, humility and sobriety.

Francis appeared to also want to take broader aim in this year’s speech at arch-conservatives and traditionalists who have become his biggest critics. 

Francis blasted their way of living the faith, insisting that being Catholic doesn’t mean following a never-changing set of strict rules but is rather a ‘process of understanding Christ´s message that never ends, but constantly challenges us’.

‘True heresy consists not only in preaching another gospel, as Saint Paul told us, but also in ceasing to translate its message into today’s languages and ways of thinking,’ Francis said.

Traditionalist Catholics have denounced Francis’ emphasis on mercy and openness to doctrinal wiggle room on issues such as sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. 

Pope Francis arrives for an audience with Vatican’s employees in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican

Some have even gone so far as to accuse him of heresy for some of his gestures and preaching, including allowing ‘pagan’ statues in the Vatican.

Francis dedicated the bulk of his speech this year to the need to be vigilant about the work of the devil, picking up a theme he recently discussed during his weekly catechism lessons with the general public.

He told the Vatican bureaucrats it’s not enough to merely condemn evil or root it out, since it often comes back in different guises, stronger than before. 

Francis used the term ‘we’ repeatedly, suggesting he includes himself among those in the Vatican who must remain mindful of the devil in their midst.

‘Before, it appeared rough and violent, now it shows up as elegant and refined,’ he warned. 

‘We need to realise that and once again to unmask it. That is how these elegant demons are: they enter smoothly, without our even being conscious of them.’

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, whom Francis fired in 2020 and stripped of his rights as a cardinal over financial misconduct claims, was in the audience (file image)

Francis told the story of a 17th century convent where the superior, Mother Angelica, had charismatically reformed herself and her monastery after evil crept in, but the devil came back in the form of a rigid faith.

‘They had cast out the demon, but he had returned seven times stronger, and under the guise of austerity and rigor, he had introduced rigidity and the presumption that they were better than others,’ Francis said.

Some of Francis’ critics themselves were in the audience along with his supporters. 

Returning to the annual Christmas ceremony was Cardinal Angelo Becciu, whom Francis fired in 2020 and stripped of his rights as a cardinal after the pope accused him of financial misconduct.

Becciu is currently on trial, along with nine other people, in the Vatican criminal court and denies wrongdoing. 

Francis recently allowed him to resume participating in Vatican ceremonies, a sign the pope thinks he perhaps jumped the gun in sanctioning Becciu before a court ruled on his guilt or innocence.

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