Francis decries 'terrorism of gossip,' priests and religious influenced by money

Pope Francis speaks during a meeting Saturday with religious at the cathedral in Naples, Italy. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis speaks during a meeting Saturday with religious at the cathedral in Naples, Italy. (CNS/Paul Haring)

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has again warned priests and religious against living too closely attached to money, saying during a visit here Saturday that it affects how and who they choose to interact with.

The pontiff has also decried what he called a "terrorism of gossip" in church circles and again spoke out against what he has termed "ideological colonization" of the family, identifying particularly gender theory as "an error of the human mind."

Speaking in a meeting with members of the clergy of this southern Italian city, which the pope visited in a breakneck 10-hour day Saturday, Francis tossed aside his prepared text, calling it "boring," to offer a wide-ranging series of testimonies on the scope and role of the religious life.

Repeating several times over his 30-minute talk that he wanted to talk about "the spirit of poverty," the pontiff addressed that topic first by saying that "when profiteering enters the church, may it be in the priests or in the religious, it is ugly."

Francis then told a story of a "great religious woman" he had known who was the treasurer of her order and did her job well. But, said Francis, "her heart was attached to money and selected people according to the money they had."

"How many scandals in the church and how much loss of liberty for money!" the pontiff exclaimed later in the meeting.

Giving an example of a priest talking to a benefactor who needs to be told a harsh truth, Francis imitated the priest, saying: "To this person I should say something, but since it is a great benefactor and the great benefactors make the life they want, I am not at liberty."

Francis spoke out against gossip while speaking about how priests and religious are called to find fraternity in their individual communities, rhetorically asking what he sees as some signs of division in religious institutes.

Saying he wanted to give an expression, the pope answered: "It is the terrorism of the gossip."

"Who gossips is a terrorist that throws a bomb and destroys," he exclaimed loudly. "Gossip destroys. Speak of differences face-to-face."

Francis was making his comments on religious life Saturday as part of a visit to the Italian cities of Pompeii and Naples, both about 150 miles south of Rome. He was speaking in Naples at the city's cathedral.

Earlier in the day, the pope addressed many of the difficulties facing people in Naples, a historic city that is among the oldest and most visited in Europe but also has been plagued by violence and political influence from the local Camorra mafia.

Addressing members of the mafia directly during his homily at an open-air Mass, Francis said: "To the criminals and all their accomplices, today, I humbly, like a brother, repeat: Convert to love and to justice! Let yourself be found by God’s mercy. Know that Jesus is looking for you to embrace you, kiss you and love you.”

The pontiff addressed the idea of "ideological colonization" during his last meeting in Naples, where he responded to testimonies from a young person, an older person, and a married couple.

Answering a question from the couple about how married Catholics can respond to secularization, Francis said bluntly: "The family is in crisis. It's a social fact."

Identifying several problems facing the family -- from lack of young people wanting to marry, from cohabitation, to gender theory -- the pontiff said there was also the problem of "ideological colonization," a term he first used when addressing families in the Philippines in January.

Directly addressing gender theory, a school of academic thought that considers that people's gender identities may exist along a spectrum, Francis said such theory "is an error of the human mind" and "makes much, much confusion."

Earlier in that meeting, Francis answered a question from a young woman about why God sometimes does not respond to our needs or prayers. The pontiff said God is a God of words, gestures, and silence.

"Our God is a God of silence," said the pope, saying there are no answers to some tough questions, like why children are made to suffer.

"Where do you find the reason from God of why children suffer?" he asked. "It is a great silence from God. We have to get closer to the silence of God, looking at the cross of Christ."

During his trip to Naples, Francis also met for lunch with 90 prisoners from two nearby institutions, including 10 from a prison ward for transgender and gay prisoners and those who suffer from AIDS.

That event was not open to the public or televised. While the pontiff had prepared remarks for that occasion, officials said he did not use them, preferring to speak one-on-one with the detainees.

Francis' trip to Naples was also marked by an unexpected exchange between the pontiff and the city's archbishop, Cardinal Cresenczio Sepe.

As the pope finished his remarks in the cathedral, Sepe brought forward a relic of the city's patron saint, Januarius, for the pontiff to kiss. Referencing a tradition that the relic, a vial of dried blood of the saint, liquefies on significant occasions in Naples, Sepe declared to the congregation: "The blood is already half liquefied!"

Francis responded: "We see that the saint takes the half; we must convert ourselves because he wants us to be better."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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