There is an old business saying it is easier to make organizational changes if the organization is on top of a burning platform. The thesis is it is much harder to change an organization that is running OK and it is far easier when the deck is ablaze as you know you must do something. The black smoke/ white smoke analogy of letting people know about the status of the Cardinals’ decision to elect a new Pope is apropos. Yet, I do not believe the Cardinals are cognizant of the burning platform they are sitting on. Nor do the American Catholics, at least per the surveys that have been recently conducted. I presume the Americans are not outliers on this issue either.
From my vantage point, the Catholic Church is very close to being in a death spiral. Per the post I wrote a two months ago before the Pope’s decision to resign called “Mea Maxima Culpa – Piety does not trump Criminality” I referenced the movie “Mea Maxima Culpa” which breaks your heart and trust in the church leadership. This breach of trust by the leadership of the church (which went to the very top) is the greatest issue facing the church. The only thing that can save the church is its membership and leaders who care about its members more so than the preserving a dinosaur of an institution.
But, this is not just my opinion. A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University of American Catholics said largely the same thing. The survey spokesperson said “Looking at adult Catholics, we see a conflicted group.” As will be noted below, these Catholics disagree with the church leadership on a number of issues. And, the response of the church to say “we do things the way we do, as we have always done them that way” is not necessarily true.
It would be judicious of the Cardinals to vote for someone who can make sweeping changes, but that is unlikely to occur. To be frank, a number of the red-clad voters are less than pristine in their personal conduct and leadership. What should be changed to stave off the death spiral must include addressing the following issues.
Pedophilia – the Church leadership must address this issue in a much more abrupt way. It is past time. When the incumbents dishonor the role and are harmful to its members, you must take action. These are criminals. The church brand has been greatly harmed by the leadership’s failure to act. I believe it is a New York Times/ CBS survey that said 78% of Catholics disapprove of the church’s handling of this issue.
Married Priests – one way to address this going forward is to allow priests to be married. This will open up the market for more candidates for priests. I also think they would be better advisors if they were married. When the church says we have always done it this way, that is not true. Priests were married well into the 15th century and this is after it the marriages were made invalid in 1123 by Pope Calixtus II. I find it interesting, there was a caveat that said the priest could remain married provided he signed over his estate to the church and not his children. I will let you render your own judgment on that caveat. The Quinnipiac survey noted that 62% of American Catholics agree and believe priests should be married.
Women Priests – this issue is way overdue. Being a man, who said that priests would be better if they were male? Of course, a group of old men in red suits said that. Women are well deserving of being priests and would bring a different and good perspective of stewardship and outreach to those in need. It is not incoincidental that the “Nuns on the Bus” are criticized by the church leadership for “being too focused on helping the poor, while remaining silent on abortion.” On CBS News last night, Victoria Fleming, a cantor for Our Lady of the Brook Church in Northbrook, Illinois said “I think women are highly capable and able to manage the emotional and practical needs of the organization.” The Quinnipiac survey said 62% of American Catholics agree and support female priests.
Birth Control – Dr. Everett Koop, who just passed away, as Surgeon General of the US set his personal feelings aside, and made a campaign for the use of condoms and other birth control. He said he is doctor first and saw this as a means to save lives.To be frank, the Church’s position on birth control has actually resulted in more deaths around the world. The posturing has prevented the wide-spread distribution of condoms and AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases have gone up when the Pope has made this an issue. This is important in its own right, but most people support the use of birth control and many Catholics ignore the church on this. The Quinnipiac survey said 64% of American Catholics believe the church should overturn in its ban on birth control. I would like to see the demographic breakdown on this issue, as I would guess it is much higher with women in child-bearing ages.
Inclusion – This is my pet peeve for all religions to do better at. Religions have to be inclusive and not exclusive. They have to embrace the diversity of others. Of all churches, the Catholic church should understand this. If you look at the racial and ethnic diversity of its global membership, it is very impressive. Yet, they need to not push people away with postures that do not jive with the membership. They need to embrace all and not shun people away because of their sexual preferences or other contrarian beliefs to those of the church.
Lack of Transparency – This final issue would get at some other major problems. The church has done itself a disservice by being so opaque in its dealings. They come across as Machiavellian more so than St. Peteresque. More transparency would do this organization wonders and would let some of the bad eggs be weeded out. And, from what we have witnessed, there are some bad eggs voting on the new Pope.
So, I hope the Cardinals can come to a conclusion that will help them make the changes necessary for them to survive. If they choose someone like the retired pope who embraced the history and institution more than the members, then they will continue the approaching death spiral. As the church membership does so much good for many, I pray they come to a decision that will anoint a change agent. And, he will need a lot of water to put out the burning platform.