Earlier this year, Pope Francis denounced careerism in the Vatican's diplomatic corps as a leprosy. Concerned that this would reinforce the strong negative associations with the disease, the Goodwill Ambassador wrote to His Holiness to ask that he refrain from such usage in future. In reply, he received a courteous letter from the Vatican assuring that the Church was committed to caring for people affected by leprosy and working to end the discrimination that they face.
"Courteous" would not be the word to describe the vast majority of the comments that appeared online when the story of the Goodwill Ambassador's "dismay" at the Pope's use of terminology was picked up by the media. Many who posted their thoughts apparently found it difficult to see what the problem was (or why, for that matter, there was a need for a Goodwill Ambassador for leprosy elimination).
Once again, the Pope has turned to leprosy to make a point about something he wishes to reform, this time describing the papal court as the "leprosy of the papacy." Once more, the Goodwill Ambassador has written to Rome - this time out of the public spotlight - in hopes of encouraging Pope Francis to avoid using the disease as a symbol of something rotten or corrupt.
Leprosy still stigmatizes. Legislation that discriminates against people on the grounds of leprosy still exists in some countries. Marriages break up; healthy children are turned away from school because a parent has the disease. As we work to end the stigma and discrimination, using leprosy as a label - even with the best of intentions - makes that process much harder.