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Cardinals searching for a CEO pope who can clean up the mess

March 13, 2013

WASHINGTON

Editor’s note: As this story was being published, white smoke appeared from the Sistine Chapel chimney, signaling the election of a new pope. At press time he had not been identified. ― Jerry L. Van Marter

WASHINGTON ― With the voting now underway in the election of a new pope, the College of Cardinals will seek a prayerful, joyful pastor ― and a savvy enough manager who could bring order to the medieval chaos of church bureaucracy.

A CEO pope, if you will.

There are three things any bishop ― including the next pope, the Bishop of Rome ― needs to know, said the Rev. James Martin, a graduate of the Wharton School of Business and a veteran of six years in the business world before he became a Jesuit priest.

“They have to know how to hire, know how to fire and know you can learn from the world of business. Too often, business has been seen as beneath our dignity as churchmen,” Martin said.

The Roman Catholic Church is structured like a franchise organization, with an overall headquarters in Rome that guides ― and guards ― the brand and the fairly autonomous branches, the local dioceses, said Charles Zech, director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University.

The new pope need not be an accountant or a financial wizard but, Zech said, he does have to “provide better leadership in protecting the brand name and clean up the headquarters to make it more effective and rid it of its reputation for scandal.”

In the 2005 conclave, the leading candidate, theologian Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, warned electors that he was no manager. They chose him anyway, and Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican with its administrative wheels broken down and mired in the mud.

“They can’t do that again. Good governance is essential to a vital church,” said Francis Butler, an expert in church governance and philanthropy.

“The church can’t take another bad administration. It cannot tolerate any more scandals,” said Butler, who headed Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities Inc. for decades before retiring to his own philanthropy consulting firm last year.

“Little by little,” Butler said, church leaders have begun to “appreciate the connection between transparency, openness and participation of the lay faithful” with the strength and viability of the church.

So, which cardinals have management chops? Experts claimed no inside knowledge of cardinals’ deliberations, but they did name some standouts in their observation.

Several mentioned Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who came into a dire situation in 2003 when Boston was the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse crisis and in financial shambles.

“O’Malley did a splendid job bringing dramatic administrative changes in the archdiocese,” Butler said. He called in an autonomous group of lay experts who conducted a full audit of the archdiocese and he quietly and effectively turned around public perception that funds had been misused, Butler said: “He is an innovator who is totally devoted to disclosure. He knows about building trust.”

But Jason Berry, author of The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, said that while O’Malley is pastoral and spiritual, his severe parish-and-school consolidation plan may have cost the archdiocese millions in donations and incalculable good will.   

Others cited for managerial skills:

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, formerly the archbishop of Quebec and now head of the Congregation for Bishops, “knows the abilities of the world’s bishops” because that office recommends names to the pope for appointment, Zech said. It’s high risk to make a change in the Curia, the bureaucracy, “like firing a family member,” but it might be essential.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and former bishop of Pittsburgh, “doesn’t have the flash of some people, but he has the whole package: He’s faced administrative challenges, done a good job organizationally and I have lot of respect for him as a prelate and a manager,” Zech said.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, an archdiocese with substantial oil industry wealth, could be seen as representative of younger, newer leadership with stronger managerial experience. “He may not be known for charisma or in the front ranks of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” but he understands modern administration, Berry said.

Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, would bring the papacy back to the Italians, and may be the strong voice who can “bring discipline to the church,” Berry said. He’s a theological conservative and a serious intellectual, and he comes from the largest archdiocese in the world. Even if Scola did not personally crack the whip, he might name a secretary of state who would, Berry said.

“All the cardinals want someone to restore the image of the papacy and the persona of the pope as a symbol of peace and a moral statesman on the global stage,” Berry said. “(What) they want is someone who will do the deep surgery needed to deliver that.”

Cathy Lynn Grossman writes for “USA Today.”

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