The newspaper headline regarding the desired skill set for the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church intoned, “Charisma, Management Skills Sought in New Pope”. I’m sorry, but this headline and the article itself was less than groundbreaking. Anybody who has ever served on or tried to lead a board, sacred or secular, knows that there are personalities to be navigated, egos to be soothed and differences to be resolved, reconciled or temporarily tamed.
The Vatican is looking for somebody who can manage, meld and lead the Roman Curia? So is the Smithville Water Authority, the Directors of the Megamega Mining Company, the volunteer board of the Museum of Hard Boiled Eggs and the local church in the largest metropolis and the smallest rural village.
Every religious institution has a governing body and roughly 99% of those bodies can be on the rowdy side every once in awhile. In the United Methodist Church we call this group the Administrative Board or the Administrative Council. Presbyterians have the Session, Episcopalians have the Vestry, Baptists have the Deacons, the Vatican has the Curia. The church jargon changes according to each denominational background but the issue is exactly the same: personalities and management.
So Wall Street Journal reporter Stacy Meichtry’s description (2/15/2013) of “…years of infighting in the Curia…factionalism among the cardinals…a disconnect between the pope and many of his bishops and cardinals…a culture clash in the Vatican…” could fit just as well for a description — at one time or another — of just about every leadership group — from the neighborhood garden club to President Obama’s cabinet to the United States Congress.
I once served on the board of trustees of a highly respected church college during a bitter, behind the scenes power play within the administration of that school. Every member of that board was an active, committed layperson or clergy in the church. Every member of that board wanted what was best for the college, but there was sharp disagreement as to what that meant, disagreement that became personal and vitriolic. Those things happen to the best of people and the finest of groups. Sad, but no surprise.
So the bishops and cardinals of the Catholic Church don’t always see eye to eye? Hardly newsworthy. The Vatican needs a “turnaround expert”, according to one well-informed Catholic? Get in line with many other boards and agencies, profit and not for profit.
I am not minimizing the shameful nature (we call it “sin” in the church) of power plays, self-serving decisions and personal animosity in the church. I wish we were a little more different from Fortune 500 Boards, and I hope that we are. But ever since the 12 disciples contended with each other over who was the greatest disciple the church has needed a good manager and a strong leader.
One of the cardinals is quoted as saying, “The Curia is in crisis.” Maybe so, but maybe not. Every leadership group founders from time to time, often of its own making. That doesn’t mean the ship has run aground.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.