Blogs > The last thing the Church needs is a bunch of yes-men around the Pope

20 December 2013 | by Ken Phelan

The last thing the Church needs is a bunch of yes-men around the Pope

The best run companies understand the importance of diversity in their leadership, the Executive Suite and the Board of Directors. A broad range of perspectives and experience leads to better decision-making and minimises risk. The Catholic Church needs to learn this lesson.

As Pope Francis considers possible reforms of the Curia, I would strongly argue in favour of increasing diversity in its leadership. Pope Francis has talked a lot about reform but he has also already ruled out women being allowed to be ordained priests or made cardinals. And while he has made some changes among senior Vatican figures, he has generally swapped bishops for other bishops. In his recent document he talked about needing to promote decentralisation, ie consulting with bishops more. He might want to reach out even further.

For the past 20 years I’ve helped manage risk for some of the largest financial institutions in the world. One of the clear lessons I’ve learned is the importance of diversity of thought – and diversity of thought is clearly enhanced by diversity of people.

If everyone around a table grappling with a difficult issue has the same background, schooling and yes, even gender, the range of the debate is limited. A carbon copy Executive Suite and Board is a recipe for disaster. Successful institutions now understand this. Currently, 72 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies have at least one woman in the Executive Suite, and nearly 90 per cent have at least one woman on the Board of Directors.

When I look at the Curia, I see many of the danger signals that recently brought down the world financial markets.

While it is important for the Church to align with its basic tenants of doctrine, running an institution well has very little to do with doctrine. It’s about getting the right people around a table, looking at issues from many angles and perspectives and doing the right thing.

And although church law restricts women from performing the Sacraments, there is no reason that women and lay people cannot be involved in the Curia at the highest levels. Few of the responsibilities of the Curia are related in any way to the performance of the Sacraments.

For example, in addition to the office of the Secretary of State, which oversees the management of the Vatican, there are nine major Congregations or departments that form the Curia – all of these are headed by Cardinals. There is no reason that priesthood should be a requirement to head a department on Catholic Education, Causes of the Saints or even Doctrine of the Faith – not to mention the opaque Vatican Bank. Not only is this an issue at the Curia; this lack of diversity model is replicated at regional and local levels of the Church.

Diversity enhances performance. It contributes to better decision-making. It lowers risk. Not only is our Church leadership a male bastion but, moreover, it limits itself to priests who, for the most part, have all come from identical training programmes. This limited perspective and experience creates unacceptable risk.

Our church has undergone a number of scandals in the past few decades; especially the abuse of children by priests, and the failure to take appropriate action once the issue was uncovered. Do we really believe that the decisions would have been identical if those around the table included Sisters as well as lay men and women, mothers and fathers?

Ken Phelan is senior risk management officer based in tbe US

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User Comments (2)

Comment by: mapleleafman41
Posted: 22/12/2013 19:21:16

The Church is largely governed by cutout bishops from the same bolt of cloth. They not only look alike, sound alike, they think alike. Jesus did not found the Church upon yes men and automatons.

Perhaps, at long last we should abolish the office of monarchical bishop and replace him with a college of presbyters elected by the laity for fixed terms of office. Terms lasting no longer than 15 years and then off to the mission fields to bring in the sheaves..

Comment by: John-Paul
Posted: 20/12/2013 13:55:24

I am really quite skeptical as to the efficacy of diversity in solving questions of governance. The understanding of human psychology necessary for a complete answer to this question is provided by Hannah Arendt in her seminal work "Eichmann in Jerusalem" (I have no space to elucidate).
Most of our western governments have good diversity in their ranks but still cannot think their way out of the paper bag marked "growth". Our church needs to think its way out of the paper bag marked "CDF", but that work will be done - if at all - by the Holy Spirit, not the composition of ecumenical councils.

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