The best fit for office?
Choosing the next popeBrendan McCarthy
- 9 March 2013Many are now calling for the next pope to have a proven capacity for governance and what in management-speak is known as ‘global fluency’. So the electing cardinals might look to the business world for lessons on how to choose their man
O n its management blog, the magazine Business Week recently had an entry that compared the Catholic Church’s selection of a new pope to a multi-national company’s search for a chief executive. Both business and the Church, the blog’s author suggested, had suffered comparable reputational damage; business in its financial excesses, the Church in its inept handling of the child sex-abuse scandals. Succession planning for both a pope and a CEO in these circumstances means a search for a figure of unusual gifts who can “get a grip”. One Vatican official even told The Wall Street Journal that the Church needed a turnaround expert, “a Carlos Ghosn”, the chief executive who rescued the fortunes of Nissan cars.
The Church’s problems have been greatly exacerbated by the fact that it has not had an administratively gifted pope in its recent history. The last ones were Pius XII and his protégé Paul VI. John XXIII and John Paul II were charismatic leaders, the latter, in Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s words, a “world evangelist” with a style unlike any previous pope, while Benedict XVI’s approach harked back to such previous scholar popes as Pius XI.
The lack of an instinct for governance in both John Paul II and Benedict XVI became a serious problem for the Church, leaving it flat-footed and exposed when it was faced with the full force of the child sex-abuse scandals, the Vatican’s own finances and the VatiLeaks affair.
Neither Pope had at his side a Cardinal Benelli, a figure of administrative genius, who ran the Roman Curia for Paul VI. Under John Paul and Benedict, the tidal flow of collegiality so desired by the Second Vatican Council was checked. The primacy of the Curia reasserted itself with vigour, even as the Curia’s serious flaws became glaringly evident.
At most conclaves there is some inevitability about the progress to a final vote. This time the cardinals have no straightforward options. An “ideal type” candidate might have Pius XII or Paul VI’s instincts for governance, John XXIII’s warmth, John Paul II’s evangelical charisma, coupled with Benedict XVI’s intellectual qualities. Such a candidate is unavailable. But there are boxes the next pope will need to tick, and the management sciences might help in defining them.
Governance will be key. In Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s words, the Vatican has to be “put in order”. This means choosing a pope who has a demonstrable administrative record and who can impose discipline, efficiency and business-like conduct in the Curia. But if Vatican II’s desired collegiality is ever to have a chance, the new pope has to be guileful enough to overcome resistance in the Curia, while preserving a creative tension between the Vatican and bishops around the world.
If the capacity to govern is an essential requirement for the next pope, it becomes hard to make a case for several of the candidates thought of as papabile, for instance Cardinals Ravasi, Turkson, Braz de Aviz, and many of the mooted figures from the developing world. But if governance is just one element in what the business world calls a “balanced scorecard”, it makes sense to look at the other desirable elements.
The quality of “global fluency” is a key requirement of a multinational CEO and also a twenty-first-century pope. A globally fluent leader can engage comfortably with a great range of cultural experiences. In some ways, John Paul II has been the Pope who has most nearly done this. But his global fluency was more gestural than a fluency of intellect or language – and perhaps the more effective for that. In contrast, Benedict XVI had a “regional fluency”, a sharp grasp of the crisis facing Catholicism in Western Europe, but without the same ready instincts for the wider world. The new pope’s curial cardinals must also share his fluency.
It is common ground in the business world that leaders learn “global fluency”, or cultural intelligence, by living in countries where the language spoken is not their own. There is a lack of such fluency at the Church’s very centre and instead an over-Italianised Curia. Conventional wisdom has it that Italians best understand the papacy and can use its levers to best effect, a view most recently expressed by Cardinal George Pell. This assumes a versatility in managerial and cultural skills notable by its absence in the Curia’s recent history, and indeed in the ambient (and not irrelevant) realities of Italian political culture. The gene pool is simply too small.
Global business leaders are expected to be self-aware and self-assured. A healthy, resilient ego is also vital in the person of the pope. John Paul I, and self-confessedly Benedict XVI in his remarks explaining why he was resigning, struggled with the demands of office. The College of Cardinals will want assurance that its chosen candidate is “up for the job” and unlikely to wilt under its strains. It may also want to ensure that there are no reputational issues down the line, in either the re-emergence of a mishandled controversy or personal complications (as in the case of Cardinal Keith O’Brien).
The memory of John Paul II’s charisma is likely to influence the choice. Charisma is not always essential in a leader, but several cardinals have expressed a desire for someone who with his personal qualities can dramatise – and bring alive – the real essential, faith. The job description therefore is for a candidate who is orthodox, resilient, energetic, charismatic (or at least with a degree of personal “presence”), administratively capable and culturally sensitive, with an acute – and judicious – sense of how to use the levers of Vatican power (with a sense of its limits) and who can communicate the Church’s message. In other times, this job spec might have favoured a curial candidate, but if the Curia has become part of the problem, the case for looking outside it is a strong one.
The following list includes cardinals who might feature if the electors are determined on a combination of cultural and managerial abilities. Two are cardinals who have shown rare qualities in the face of the scandals of clerical sex abuse.
Leonardo Sandri: Cultural breadth and huge administrative competence. Affable, but not charismatic and lacks pastoral experience. He is Argentine-Italian and speaks English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Spent three years in the Vatican’s Washington embassy. Now prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Sostituto (chief of staff) in the Secretariat of State, a post once held by Paul VI marking him as the fastest of the Vatican’s diplomatic fast stream. Major drawback is perceived to be past closeness to Legionaries of Christ founder Marcial Maciel.
Angelo Scola: Personal charm, pastorally gifted and may have more intellectual heft than any of the others. Along with cultural breadth, he has energy and resilience. One-time rector of the Lateran University. Proved himself a decisive and vigorous Patriarch of Venice, setting up cultural and educational projects and opening new routes to dialogue with Eastern Christians and the Islamic world. But an outsider among the Italian cardinals, some of whom may distrust his links to Comunione et Liberazione, and a dense thinker. Likely to be Benedict XVI’s preferred candidate. The question is whether he can communicate a clear, globally fluent vision of the Church.
Christoph Schönborn: The Archbishop of Vienna was reportedly a king-maker at the last conclave and will be a likely decisive figure at the next. A man of intellect and sophistication, he has shown flair in managing the tensions of his own troubled Church, communicating the Roman line while keeping contact open to dissenting Austrian Catholics. In an election in which all will be mindful of the Vatican’s management of the clerical sex scandals, Schönborn, who has shown sure-footedness and emotional intelligence in the face of specific scandals, must be a serious candidate.
Luis Antonio Tagle: Emerging Filipino star of the College of Cardinals and a figure of immense charisma. Has studied in the US and is associated with the School of Bologna’s assessment of the Second Vatican Council, which has been out of favour in the recent pontificate. Has been a forceful Archbishop of Manila. Ticks many cultural boxes and might be the strongest of the developing world candidates. But not much evidence of being tested to manage adversity.
Odilo Pedro Scherer: Archbishop of São Paulo, one of the world’s largest dioceses, and a man of German immigrant extraction. He has Roman experience having worked at the Congregation of Bishops, and administrative experience from his time as secretary general of the Brazilian bishops’ conference. But not enough evidence that he has been an effective leader. Failed to stem Pentecostalist and secularist tides in his own diocese. Being backed strongly by members of the Curia.
Marc Ouellet: Witnessed at first hand the fracturing and marginalisation of the Church in his native Quebec. Has cultural breadth, and is an intellectual, but his greatest experience was as a seminary professor. Has made a marginal impact as Archbishop of Quebec. Recently was prefect for the Congregation of Bishops but if capacity and taste for governance is a defining quality, he may not feature in the eventual reckoning.
Sean O’Malley: The Cardinal Archbishop of Boston is appearing on lists of papabili with subtle tide of approval running in the Italian press. His Franciscan habit somehow negates his Americanness, making him a more global figure. Has shown leadership and rare courage in the face of scandals in the US Church. Culturally versatile, speaks Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese and has a strong knowledge of both the Latin American Church and his own country’s Latino communities. He embodies qualities of governance and of global awareness. Questions may be asked about his resilience and ability to endure if appointed.