Pope’s reform of Vatican includes honest dialogue


Frank Fear January 3, 2015

Pope Francis is at it again. He is continuing his unprecedented (and very public) effort to reform the Vatican bureaucracy.

In his Christmas Week address to The Curia he called bishops and cardinals “Lords of the Manor – (sometimes feeling) superior to everyone and everything.” “A Curia that does not criticize itself, that does not bring itself up to date, that does not to improve, is a sick body,” Francis proclaimed.

The administrative body of the Church needs to change, says the Pope, and he offered The Curia a framework for reform. Likening it to a diseased body, Francis described what he called “15 ailments of The Curia.” What’s ailing the Church’s top brass? Feeling indispensable. Being boastful. Gossiping. Forming closed circles. Showing off. Focusing excessively on career. Being opportunists. …

Most institutions talk a good game. They “brand” well. And they let the public know the great things they’re doing. But Francis brings to attention something else: what often goes on inside institutions. There you can often find a different storyline, one that’s almost always hidden from public view.

The prevailing approach is “impression management.” Only talk about what’s working well. Focus on highlights. Don’t air “dirty laundry.” Protect the Brand.

Some of that certainly makes sense, but an insular organizational culture emerges when institutional self-enhancement is taken to an extreme. Issues get papered-over. Employees feel they can’t bring up problems. It’s a matter of “going along to get along.”

None of this matters to the public most of the time, but that’s certainly not a hard and fast rule. Consider what happened at General Motors (ignition switch); The Veteran’s Administration (vets’ medical treatment); and Penn State University (sexual predation). And not too long ago the Pope cleaned-up money laundering at The Vatican Bank.

In calling-out the Curia, Francis made public what he believes is happening inside The Vatican. By extrapolation he invites us to ask a parallel question: What’s going on inside our organizations? As The Chicago Tribune wrote last week about the Pope’s talk: “This wasn’t an exclusively Roman Catholic message, or even a particularly religious message. It’s advice to all of us on how to lead our lives.”

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