PopeWatch: Turnaround CEO

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The Economist has an article that concisely paints Pope Francis as a turn around CEO of a troubled corporation:

When Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter as CEO, just after being appointed, the world’s oldest multinational was in crisis. Pentecostal competitors were stealing market share in the emerging world, including in Latin America, where Francis ran the Argentine office. In its traditional markets, scandals were scaring off customers and demoralising the salesforce. Recruitment was difficult, despite the offer of lifetime employment in a tough economy. The firm’s finances were also a mess. Leaked documents revealed the Vatican bank as a vortex of corruption and incompetence. The board was divided and weak. Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, was the first pope to resign for 600 years, amid dark rumours that the founder and chairman, a rarely seen elderly bearded figure whose portrait adorns the Sistine boardroom, had intervened.

Operating prophet

In just a year, the business has recovered a lot of its self-confidence. The CEO is popular: 85% of American Catholics—a tough audience—approve of him. Footfall in RC Global’s retail outlets is rising again. The salesforce now talks about a “Francis effect”. How has a septuagenarian Argentine succeeded in galvanising one of the world’s stodgiest outfits? Essentially by grasping three management principles.

The first is a classic lesson in core competences. Francis has refocused his organisation on one mission: helping the poor. One of his first decisions was to forsake the papal apartments in favour of a boarding house which he shares with 50 other priests and sundry visitors. He took the name of a saint who is famous for looking after the poor and animals. He washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates of a juvenile-detention centre. He got rid of the fur-trimmed velvet capes that popes have worn since the Renaissance, swapped Benedict’s red shoes for plain black ones and ignored his fully loaded Mercedes in favour of a battered Ford.

This new focus has allowed the company to spend fewer resources on ancillary businesses, such as engaging in doctrinal disputes or staging elaborate ceremonies. The “poor-first strategy” is also aimed squarely at emerging markets, where the potential for growth is greatest but competition fiercest.

Go here to read the rest.  The article is long on glibness but short on substance.  Just one example is that a focus on the poor will allow the Church to gain converts.  Actually in Latin America Evangelicals have made quite a bit of headway at precisely the same time as the Church there has often been focused on economic issues with a preferential option for the poor strategy on steroids to the detriment of preaching the basics of the Faith and redemption from sins.  The Evangelicals have provided the religious fervor and appeals for personal reformation that have traditionally been hallmarks of Catholicism, especially in Latin America, but which have been ignored since the Sixties in too much of that continent by the Church.  However this article reflects how much of the secular world views Pope Francis:  as a breath of fresh air to a sclerotic Church.

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  1. The article is long on glibness but short on substance.

    An unfortunate hallmark of the magazine since around 2004. What was once a must-read publication has become a shadow of itself.

  2. Caring for the economically poor is a winning focus for a “company” in this age where the masses really do see life dialectic materialism.
    But the Tradition of the company has been the Whole Gospel- emphasizing corporal and spiritual works of mercy present a pretty comprehensive catechism – emphasizing in one part might be to thedetriment of the whole.

    If the modus operandi flows from the Founder’s vision, the first commandment – right relationship with The One Holy God, and the first beatitude- poverty in spirit, meaning that we recognize our complete whole dependence on Him….Then spiritual and corporal works of mercy flow more readily from our hearts.
    Teaching the ignorant is as important as ever. If we are to teach out of love, because we care about the quality of life now and hereafter, we have to know the body of information to be imparted… Doctrine. The Company would do itself no favor by focusing on worldly wealth which will not satisfy and ceasing to present even difficult truths.

  3. If Francis were prioritizing service to the poor over Catholic teaching, I could understand people being worried. He’s not. I trust his instinct over my own about how to message the Faith to the Third World. I’m more concerned about how the First World hears his message.

  4. Thanks Pinky I hope you are right about the emphasis and the willingness to vocalize doctrine. esp I am hoping for clear enunciation concerning marriage and family. . In some ways it seems our pope has to mount and ride an already bucking horse.

  5. This thought isn’t unique to me, but I wonder if Francis doesn’t get how messed up the post-modern West is. They used to say that John Paul came from a culture that embraced the vernacular Mass and saw it as a rallying cry for their national identity and Catholicism. So it took him a while to understand where the Latin Mass crowd was coming from. When Francis tells people that the Faith doesn’t have to be oppressive, he may be picturing the old moneyed South American church which needs that message, not realizing that the average person in the US equates religious oppression with opposition to abortion.

    There’s another story, I don’t know if it’s true, about a synod of bishops in which the Europeans were trying to make the case for divorce and remarriage. Some African bishops led the defense of the Church’s position, to the relief of John Paul. They won the day. Then the leader of the African bishops said to the Holy Father, now that that’s settled, is there any chance we can allow polygamy? The moral of the story is that the universal Church envelops a lot of cultures, each messed up in a different way. It’s not easy to tell each of them the message they need to get themselves right.

  6. The corollary to that is that since the Pope has to address the whole Church, and the whole world, we have no right to expect the message to always be tailored to us. We have to be the ones proclaiming the message that our society needs to hear.

  7. Glibness is the order of the day for a popular culture that thinks the tweet is an improvement upon the sound-bite.

  8. Where Pope Benedict appeared unable to handle the multiple pressures of scandals, and being seen as a doctrinaire enforcer, Pope Francis has deftly sidestepped all that with his humble Joe act. A preferential option for the poor, if nothing else will save the Mother Church from getting tangled with the business of the age. I was dreading what he would come up with on Maundy Thursday, but it is a small price to pay to see the tables turned on all those who thought that the Church was going to buckle under the lavender mafia.

    The truth is the majority of Catholics prefer the style of the present Pope. It is a different age and all that matters is that the message of salvation is received by one and all.

  9. I like what our Pope is doing. However, I do have a concern. It seems like his method of reform…appointing people, forming advisory bodies, etc. might all work under an honest Pope. But what happens years down the line when a new Pope takes command? He might be corrupt, and either ignore or destroy said bodies. Said bodies might simply cease to function after a while. In the end, in terms of fighting corruption, the reforms that have been passed or are being worked on work best under the right Pope….but like with any monarchy, the good can be undone when an orthodox but bad guy takes command.

    Honestly, I favor a bit more of a radical step. I honestly think there should be a network of lay councils that parallel our church’s ecclesiastical structure. Parish councils electing representatives (who can be male or female) to a higher up body, which elects representatives to the next level up, etc. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? Why not have a parallel body called the U.S. Conference of Catholic Laity?

    I am not suggesting taking anything related to doctrine away from the Pope or his Bishops. Let them keep (with a couple of minor exceptions I will get to in a second) all authority related to Catholic teaching and the education and appointment of priests. Rather, let this network of lay councils be in charge of overseeing Church financial transactions, and determining and enforcing the procedures related to investigating and punishing corruption and criminal activity in the Church. One exception to what I said about doctrine could be letting the highest of the lay councils elect members to a House of the Laity whenever a great council of the Church meets (what better way to ensure the Church doesn’t change too much than by having a two-house Council?) Plus, His Holiness has stated he wants to get women more involved in the Church, while feeling that the door to women’s ordination should remain closed. Letting women serve in this House of the Laity and the lay councils below would be a great way to let that happen. Finally, I would suggest that, as old cardinals die, a policy be instituted that either said House of the Laity or the highest of the lay councils could elect 50% of the College of Cardinals.

    In short, you get to transform the Church into a democratic republic without fundamentally changing it, giving the laity the power to battle corruption without compromising the ability of the Pope, Bishops, and Priests to say what may be right but unpopular.

  10. “Where Pope Benedict appeared unable to handle the multiple pressures of scandals, and being seen as a doctrinaire enforcer, Pope Francis has deftly sidestepped all that with his humble Joe act.”
    Double jeopardy is unconstitutional. The innumerable times the clerical abuse scandal is being hammered and hammered is criminal.

  11. “Who am I to judge” the pope. Though he may have meant it innocently enough, it has been used by politicians to justify the pro gay marriage stance. I understand that we all hear his message from our own position- and that he has to represent the Truth to people in different cultures, even the shifting sands of Catholicism in the West. I want him to be careful.

  12. It is hard to tell if J.S.Person’s solution to the Church’s problem –having a governing parallel universe with the laity–is a joke, or if he/she is in deadly earnest. Perhaps Person has not experienced the mighty lay “pastoral” councils drunk with power turn the screws on many a hapless pastor. This would be like inviting abortion doctors to take charge of the newborn nurseries. Person could walk in the classroom of any students to take stock of their knowledge of the Faith to beg off his/her solution. (Or any group of females “wanna be priests” movement.) What we need is priests/Bishops who believe in their ordination, who are, in the words of Benedict XVI, “believers first…who live with and from God”: true and faithful leaders of the Church.

  13. My response is that the solution I proposed would leave matters of faith in the hands of the clergy anyway. What is more….yes having priests with the attitude Pope Benedict described is important. BUT you are not always going to have that. Corruption will always (well, till the end of the world) be part of our church, because its part of every institution. You could appoint 1000 good, honest priests tomorrow, but eventually, they will die and be replaced by at least a few corrupt ones. It is not enough to just expect an organization to keep itself pure. That’s why we have democracy in the first place….humans cannot be trusted with absolute power. This way, there is a democratic body that will root out those priests who do become corrupt. And there ARE checks on the councils I proposed…not only would faith matters stay with the clergy but elections would prove the means to control lay representatives.

  14. “The new focus has allowed the company to spend fewer resources on ancillary businesses, such as engaging in doctrinal disputes or staging elaborate ceremonies”…

    Or paying out victims of sexual abuse by clergy. I didn’t link to the full article, but that’s a big issue worthy of mention.

    The publication seems rather focused on the velvet and fur as being the cause of the Churches financial woes. Quite amusing that the author has no idea.

  15. JS Person notes: “I do have a concern. It seems like his method of reform…appointing people, forming advisory bodies, etc. —might all work under an honest Pope. But what happens years down the line when a new Pope takes command?”
    – and I agree.

    P Francis has explicitly said he has adopted a Jesuit-style system of management — a system in which each province has a set of province-wide consultors, and then each Jesuit house or foundation has separate consultors—usually 6-8. The Jesuit General has consultors for the entire order as well: and there are also usually separate consultor boards for Formation, Education, the Social Justice apostolate, and so on (same as at the province level). Some people serve on several consultors’ boards.

    The problem with this arrangement is that the consultors eventually become the powers-that-be, and because they are screened from public scrutiny and criticism, they become even more powerful. There is a lot of input from the consultors and they expect their input to be heard and realized in actual change. It is not a good situation, because as JS Person implicitly observes, people arent as honest or altruistically motivated “as they used to be” “for the good of the Church.”

    I once asked a Jesuit Provincial whom I knew well enough to explain about a particular serious problem at a Jesuit institution: “Why is a particular situation going on?” He replied with a cowed look, “Well, the consultors wouldnt allow a different decision, and I can’t really go against their recommendation, or else…” Or else they would undermine him within the Jesuit structure further up the line and his situation would be entirely untenable. And so he was a Provincial in title only.

    Francis, who has already shown in his first year as Pontiff, that he is a weak management-leader, preferring personalities like Card Muller and Card Kasper and Card Vincent Nichols of Westminster to run the events of the Church, would be reliably expected to fall back on the Jesuit consultor-type model. After all, his many foolish comments betray a lack of an organized systematic thinking about what to do with the Church, and, using Evangelii Gaudium as blue-print, he is disorganized and all-over-the-place with his agenda. In time, as his executive weakness becomes more pronounced, expect the wolves to assume more control and more command over the sectors of the Church they wish to take over (Kasper has already done a good job of this on the marriage-divorce issue). I predict an Avignon-type papacy where the pope has less control than ever over even his own office and the Princes of the Church rule instead.

  16. J.S.Person: Alas, what I suspected is true: it was NOT a joke. First, the Church is NOT a democracy: it has a divinely-given hierarchical structure (though many would want it otherwise.) And secondly, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: i.e., if there is corruption presumably in clerics, such exists–and in good measure–in the laity. The call to “be perfect as My heavenly Father is perfect” is one that applies to clerics and laity alike. It behooves all to be perfect in the very state in life they are called to, helping one another as Christ has enjoined.

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