CEO of the Church

The Economist has taken an irreverent look at the upcoming conclave. The piece opens “as the cardinals gather in Rome to elect a new boss the church is in turmoil. The pope has no shortage of crisis-management tools at his disposal, including the doctrine of papal infallibility. But Benedict XVI spent his papacy either provoking unnecessary crises (such as welcoming back Bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust downplayer) or struggling with the sex scandals that are racking the church. This is partly because he was the wrong man for the job: a scholar where an administrator was required and an old man—78 when he was appointed, 85 today—where youthful vigour was needed. It is also because the problems tearing the church apart require sweeping structural reform of the sort that only a great leader can deliver. To be fair, Benedict has laid the foundations for just such a reform. His decision to retire establishes the revolutionary principle that being pope is a job, rather like being the boss of a company, that demands that you have all your wits about you”.

Yet the author ignores the fact the Benedict was elected to do more than just “administer”, although it could be argued that it was certainly a reason why he was elected, not appointed, in the first place. It ignores his fablous speeches and the great learning he brought to the papacy, his respect for the older liturgy and his challenge to modern individualistic society swept up in itself. He also ignores the point that Benedict had to speak his message through a media that was more or less relentlessly hostile, even if it ended up benefiting society as a whole.

The piece goes on to mention unfairly, that “Benedict has characteristically fumbled a good idea by insisting that he will continue to live in the Vatican and share his private secretary, Georg Gänswein, with his successor. But his decision is pregnant with possibilities. The next pope needs to be equally radical in reconsidering everything from the church’s core mission to its customer base”. The writer misunderstands the roles that Archbishop Ganswein has. Firstly his job as private secretary to Benedict, Roman pontiff emeritus has not changed but is quite minor and not at all significant due to Benedict’s obvious decision to stay away from commenting on the job of his successor. Secondly, that of prefect of the Pontifical Household is important but technical in that he organises the audiences of the pope and is not generally a close adviser, per se.

The writer the goes on to say “could learn from the private sector about how to manage the workforce he has”. Again the irrevence is grating and the comparison can be taken too far but there is some small amount of truth in what he writes. He adds, “you need to punish errant employees rather than protecting them or shuffling them about. The best companies are quick to ‘proactively outplace’ wrongdoers. Second, you need to treat your reputation as your most precious asset by drawing up clear rules on ethical behaviour, insisting staff adhere to them and conducting aggressive public-relations campaigns. Companies that have been caught lapsing, such as Tyco International, devote a lot of effort to telling their customers and employees what they are doing to fix their problems. Third, you have to keep looking ahead. Companies hold meetings of senior leaders to review their strategies every year, rather than every century or so. The church’s core competence lies in providing spiritual goods. Yet it devotes a lot of its energy to running an earthly operation. Some of this makes sense—schools and hospitals help fulfil Jesus’s mandate while promoting customer stickiness”.

His notion that the Church holds meetings “every century or so”, an obvious reference to the Vatican Council is again mistaken. The heads of the Roman Curia meet often, though admittedly not all together at once to provide “strategy” to the Church. This also ignores the regular synods that take palce every two to three years. He mentions “Big companies like IBM and Ford have got out of non-core businesses and contracted out as much as possible to specialist companies. The church should do likewise”. What he is suggesting is the Church basically abandon 2,000 years of Christianity in Europe and focus on “core businesses”, by which he means presumably Africa and Asia and Latin America despite all of what Benedict has done in the last eight years.

He goes on in a similar vein “the church remains Europe-focused. Its concession to globalisation has been to broaden the recruitment funnel for the papacy from Italy, which had an unbroken run for 456 years, to Mittel-europa. Seventy-five of the church’s 140 or so cardinals live in Rome”. While he is correct to say that the “recruitment funnel” has been widened there are not 140 cardinals, over 200 in fact and far fewer than 75 live in Rome. The fact that he gets this basic information so wrong does not bode well for his specific point.

He ends “The case for appointing a non-European pope is strong. But the church needs to go much further. Cisco created a second headquarters in Bangalore—Cisco East—that spearheads much of the company’s emerging-markets strategy. The least the church could do is to move the pope’s summer residence to Latin America. Many global companies establish centres of excellence across the world. The church should likewise move some of the Vatican’s departments, such as the ones that oversee missionaries or development, to developing countries. This would not only allow the church to plug into new ideas from Latin America and Africa; it would also help to discipline the introverted, back-biting, scandal-plagued and generally dysfunctional culture of the Curia”.

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One Response to “CEO of the Church”

  1. A year of Francis | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] frugality. But is there anything more to this shift in papal style than a cosmetic rebranding of a global corporation that has undergone massive reputational damage in recent decades? There is a carefully cultivated […]

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