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We need a pope who can handle the truth


Hand holds candle in darkMuch of the pre-conclave discussion by media commentators, commenting on the comments allegedly made by various cardinals and other commentators, focuses on the qualities of the prospective pontiff and expectations about his agenda, especially a reform agenda for the Vatican bureaucracy.

Everyone has a point of view and the more a particular perspective is recycled and repeated by various media outlets the more 'authority' it has. There is an almost insatiable thirst to find something to satisfy media demands. Cardinal Pell's comment about a governance agenda for the new pontificate was quickly, and unfairly, exaggerated into a purported criticism of Benedict's qualities as a governor.

There seems to be an assumption that the next pope needs to be a first rate pastor, theologian, teacher, media personality, administrator and diplomat while being humble and holy.

No single human can be expected to be good at everything. This is why, learning a lesson from the world of corporate governance, the effective chief executive is the one who has the skills to work with collaborators who are better at most things that he or she is.

The next pope does not have to be the best theologian. He needs to be able to identify and collaborate with the best theologians, communicators, diplomats, and administrators. He needs to have the strength of character and confidence to surround himself with those who will not merely defer to his status but tell him the truth.

Awareness of the need to tell the truth, and less inclination to say what might please a superior, is at the heart of good bureaucracy. My suspicion is that some of the clerical culture that can pervade church life stumbles when confronted with this choice.

Without the checks and balances of civil bureaucratic processes, where one can appeal against a failed application for promotion and where there are set criteria and defined position descriptions, church bureaucrats feel they are at the mercy of a superior's whim. Promises of obedience inhibit giving frank and fearless advice.

Some have suggested that recent pontificates have not been good in identifying the right collaborators. From this distance it is impossible to assess such a claim. There is a well established axiom that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done, which means that process can be as important as the outcome.

In the video made in connection with the launch of the new missal, Archbishop Mark Coleridge frankly admitted that the process was not perfect and then went on to the state the obvious, that there is no perfect process.

Catholics waiting in expectation for a 'reform of the curia' would do well to keep their expectations realistic. Bureaucrats are human and prone to the usual human temptations to ambition, hubris and self-interest.

Before we run to make broad generalisations about the state of the roman curia we need to reflect on the personal perspective we bring to that exercise. A decision will not be seen in the same way by those on the 'left' or the 'right' (to use somewhat unhelpful but illustrative categories) of the Catholic theological spectrum.

The Roman curia, like local diocesan and Catholic education bureaucracies, is not an end in itself but serves the universal ministry of the Pope. The Pope's closest collaborators need to work collegially. They need to meet and talk and work towards breaking down silos. They have to trust each other.

It is said that 'knowledge is power' and this can cause different curial officials to keep things to themselves and vie for 'access' to the papal apartment. This is the paradox of hierarchical governance. Those below want to use the one above to get their way and they can manipulate that by managing the flow of information. Telling 'the boss' only the good news may make for a comfortable career, but only until the truth eventually emerges.

While I know nothing about 'Vatileaks', and do not trust the media reports, my intuition causes me to wonder if it was prompted by a frustration that communication up, down, and sideways, in the bureaucracy was being manipulated at the expense of acknowledging the true state of affairs. My prayer is that the next pope can give his collaborators permission to be honest with him and with each other.


Brian Lucas headshotBrian Lucas is general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and these are his personal views. 

Topic tags: Brian Lucas, Benedict, Conclave



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Existing comments

Sorry, Brian, but it appears that the Conclave has already failed. For an explanation, please see my remarks as a retired Harvard trained international lawyer who used to represent BNP, at: http://wp.me/P2YEZ3-EU

Jerry Slevin | 07 March 2013  

Wow Jerry, well worth reading. I can't wait to see the responses of some of our more reactionary friends.

Ginger Meggs | 07 March 2013  

Well put Brian. And although there will always be different viewpoints among the Cardinals, there will be no Left v Right or Progressive v Conservative voting as some still seem to think. The “Progressive” preoccupation with power (less for the Magisterium and more for the laity) and sex (contraception, women priests and no clerical celibacy) has been left behind. Yet, like the Malthusian Paul Ehrlich who has gotten everything wrong for fifty years but still bathes in admiration from his devotees, so too a progressive like Hans Kung still protests and, sadly, can’t see that the Church has passed him by.

Ross Howard | 07 March 2013  

Just in from VIS
Vatican City, 8 March 2013 (VIS) – The eighth General Congregation of the College of Cardinals has decided that the Conclave will begin on Tuesday, 12 March 2013. A “pro eligendo Romano Pontifice” Mass will be celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica that morning. In the afternoon, the cardinals will enter into the Conclave.

Father John George | 08 March 2013  

Why bother to have a pope, it's a man made position that most of the world don't care about? Let's face it, if the jesus person had ever existed he would be sickened by the greed and corruption of modern man made and invented churches.

Marilyn | 10 March 2013  

"Awareness of the need to tell the truth, and less inclination to say what might please a superior, is at the heart of good bureaucracy. My suspicion is that some of the clerical culture that can pervade church life stumbles when confronted with this choice." Spot on Brian. The only qualification I would add is that I think it goes beyond a suspicion. Lets hope certain Leaders in the Australian Church read this and consider what they may have been told by their "confreres".

Jennifer Herrick | 10 March 2013  

Thank you Brian. How about collaborating with the "People of God"??

George Ripon | 10 March 2013  

I nearly fell off my chair in laughter when I read Ross Howard's statement that progressives have a preoccupation with power as if the conservatives do not. I guess there's nothing wrong with power; it all depends on how it's used. The authoritarianism of the hierarchy reveals, at times, the unhealthy use/abuse of power. Ross, what is wrong with giving the lay people of God more power? I do have a preoccupation with justice; with dialogue; with listening etc. As for contraception well I think the People of God have spoken. As for women priests: Jesus didn't even ordain male ones. As for married priests, well, this is the 2000 year old tradition of the Church and there's no disputing that. There has never been a time when the Church has not had married priests - except for the first century, when it did not have priests at all.

Francis | 11 March 2013  

Who are the Catholics waiting in expectation for a reform of the Curia? Are they Catholics who try to bring friction between the left and the right? Well, they should be told there is only one Catholic! Loyal to Our Lord Jesus,to Our Blessed Mother Mary, to the Papacy and to the Magisterium.

Ron Cini | 11 March 2013  

The current Vatican bureaucracy sounds like the Australian and State Public Services, where senior managers are frightened to tell their political masters the truth, for fear of disapproval or worse, cancellation of their employment contract.

Wayne McMillan | 11 March 2013  

I think members of the institutional Australian Church need to look to their own standards of truth-handling before offering tips to the next Pope. As an instance: on May 3 2006, a nun working in the Caritas Australia-supported PNG National Catholic AIDS Office freely admitted on the ABC's "Religion Report" that "the condom has its rightful place in the prevention of HIV-AIDS", and that serodiscordant married couples may rightfully use the condom for this purpose. (www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/religionreport/catholics-and-condoms/3333228) The magazine "Fidelity" reported this admission to the Australian Bishops Conference in late 2007 and published an article criticising Caritas Australia on this issue in early 2008. While the Australian Bishops Conference assured Fidelity in correspondence of its gratitude and that it was taking the issue seriously and investigating, Caritas Australia continually insisted that it was adhering to the standards set by the Bishops' Commission for Doctrine and Morals. Unfortunately Caritas never condescended to explain to Fidelity readers how its "adherence" could possibly be squared with the damning admission of the PNG AIDS worker. Rather, it chose to scrupulously avoid any mention of the AIDS worker's reported words, even after several requests for an explanation. Moreover, senior level bureaucrats in the Church hierarchy went on the attack against Fidelity: one is reported (by Caritas) as saying "There are some publications that seek to attack Caritas but their attacks are unfounded." Again, no explanation as to exactly how the "attack" - which consisted essentially of quoting directly from a publicly broadcast interview on the ABC available even now to Eureka Street readers (see link above) - was "unfounded". Is this the standard of truth and honesty that is being held up for the next Pope to observe? Hugh Henry Editor, "Fidelity"

Hugh Henry | 11 March 2013  

I have always found Brian Lucas words to be very wise. In this article he has not failed in his delivery, particularly regarding the points made on good governance.

Greg Cantor | 11 March 2013  

Interesting to read the article of Mr B Lucas. In the `80`s, as General Secretary of an ICO (International Catholic Organisation), Each year , we had to Report to Laity Vatican Commission and to visit the Secretary of State together with the International Chaplain for his visit Ad Limina, in Rome ... Thanks God, our faith is rooted in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise the functioning of the Curia Bureaucracy is, to say the least, more like a political institution. Having been in the political field for nearly 3 decades, after my Church assignment, the power game seem to be alike ...Let`s pray that Vatican II Council concept about the Church being " god`s People on the move , on Her Way In To-day`s History..." in french :" Eglise = Peuple de Dieu en Marche dans le Monde de ce Temps..`. LET`S PRAY that this vision and concept will prevail for the Electoral College of Cardinals in Conclave. That The Holy spirit is still Coming... " Le Vent souffle ou Il Veut"for : 'My Kingdom is not of This World But Amongst You" !

Joceline Minerve | 11 March 2013  

Fr. Lucas’s points are valid and I commend him for ‘speaking the truth’. I suggest that this must be extended to all levels of the Church, with the setup of appropriate avenues for dialogue and discussion where laity are given a greater voice re Church governance etc. It requires that hierarchy, clergy, religious and laity (through a synodical process to be determined) be able to assemble regularly, to listen, discuss, express, and have input into the life of the Church together. The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium has it this way: (The laity) “are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. ..When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. ..A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfil its mission for the life of the world”. Can this truth be handled at present?

Christopher McElhinney | 12 March 2013  

Not sure how relevant Ron Cini's comment about left/right political division is to religion/Christian/Catholic church affairs.... given that the church's teaching on abortion would be considered "far right wing" yet its teaching on social equity and charity would be considered "extreme left wing".

AURELIUS | 13 March 2013  

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