The case for a CEO pope

The next pope

3 minute read
When Pope Benedict resigned, he noted that frailty and old age (he is 85) had left him "with an incapacity to fulfill adequately the ministry entrusted to me."

Unlike Pope John Paul II, who soldiered on despite illness and old age, Benedict has decided to step down voluntarily from what had been traditionally viewed, like a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, as a job for life. Out of respect for his anti-contraceptive views, goes the quip, he pulled out before the job was done.

The last pope who didn't die with his boots on, so to speak, was Gregory XII who stepped down in 1415 in order to resolve the competing claims of three aspirants to the papal throne. The other eight previous resignations came about through exile, banishment, deposition, scandal, incompetence, bribery or consulting with pagan gods.

Overwhelmed by bureaucracy

Pope Celestine— who quit after only 161 days in December 1294, and was the last pope to resign without coercion before Benedict— did so because of his lack of competence for the office and because he felt he was under the control of secular politicians.

And there we have a bit of an echo, because despite being multilingual and a scholar of theology and philosophy, Benedict was a shy and retiring intellectual who never quite got the hang of dealing with the Vatican bureaucracy and with the media. He presided over a church mired in the child abuse scandals, a rigid and unyielding conservatism over such issues as contraception, women as priests, and a growing irrelevance that has left Catholic churches in Europe and North America increasingly empty.

What are the implications for his successor? The next pope will have to wrestle not only with atonement for the sex abuse scandals but also with putting in place the safeguards that will be necessary to avoid a further outbreak. He will need to look seriously at the issue of priestly celibacy, and of women in the priesthood— in other words, with a whole host of liberal issues that confront a rigidly conservative organization.

Turn-around specialist

To confront these challenges effectively, I submit, what the Church needs now is neither a saint nor a scholar but something it has really never had before: someone skilled at managing and turning around a large and moribund organization. In short, a CEO.

Yes, I know— the business model rarely works in religion or government. George W. Bush had an MBA, and we all know how that turned out.

On the other hand, Britain's newly installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spent 11 years as an oil executive before he got religion in 1989. Some of his publications explore the relationship between finance and religion. As a member of the House of Lords, he sits on the panel of the 2012 Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

Some religions, it seems, are designed to identify and encourage leadership talent. Others are designed to discourage it.

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