leadership by shaming

popes shoes

John L. Allen Jr, of the National Catholic Reporter, writes clear, concise summaries and commentaries on the Vatican news stories that matter. He helps make sense of the head-lines and provides great behind the scenes information. This week, he gave a run down of several current stories worth following.

One particularly scandalous piece of news comes from Germany. Allen writes,

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg is currently basking in global celebrity as the “bling bishop” because of widely circulated accounts of how much he’s spent on remodeling his residence — $42 million in all, including almost $22,000 for a bathtub. Francis dispatched an investigator to Limburg in September, and this week, Tebartz-van Elst was in Rome for meetings while calls for his resignation mount.

Life-styles that exude wretched excess have plagued clerical ranks for centuries. Remember the Borgias? The disgust produced feeds the call to reform and foments revolt. Martin Luther, after all, had a valid point about the corruption in the Catholic Church of his time.

In today’s world of church scandals and sexual abuse stories, the people are becoming more and more impatient with church leaders who live the life of princes. Lavish vestments and clerical garb, expensive cars and luxury rectories have no foundation in the gospel message of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus denounced the clerical classes of his time for focusing on outward shows of extravagance rather than interior purity.

Enter Pope Francis; he of the simple cassock and black shoes. His simplicity made head-lines around the world. A person’s footwear choice shouldn’t be such big news. The fact that it was, speaks volumes. We were fed up with affectatious displays of grandeur. We were fed up with pretentious airs of superiority and exclusivity. Clothes may not make the man (or woman), but one’s style can speak volumes about one’s personality. From the moment we saw Francis on the papal balcony, we loved him. Perhaps there was hope for change.

John Allen said it perfectly. With regards to the Limburg story, “it illustrates a striking feature of Francis’ management style that we might dub ‘leadership by shaming.'” Leadership by shaming. Brilliant, and so spot on!

Pope Francis is a living example of “be the change you want to see.” He doesn’t simply preach about the need for a simpler church more in touch with the poor. He provides the face of that church in the way he lives, speaks, and interacts with others. When the Pope chooses a humble life-style focused more on being with the people he is called to serve, it makes it more difficult for those below him to do otherwise. When the man at the top is driven around in a Ford Focus, it makes it rather awkward to show up at his door in a chauffeur driven limousine. When the Servant of the Servants of God chooses to rub elbows with other workers at the Vatican guest house, it makes ecclesiastical palaces look a bit excessive. After all, where would Jesus live?

Francis continues to speak out against clericalism, careerism, and extravagance among his priests, bishops and cardinals. His actions are even more powerful than his words. The days of expensive life-styles should have gone out with the Borgias. Those who still cling to it, can no longer rationalize their life-styles by pointing upwards on the hierarchical ladder, for they will no longer see a life-style of prestige to be yearned for. If they take a long, careful look at the simplicity of our new pope….they truly should be ashamed.

P.S. As a mother of a fire-fighter, I think Pope Francis rocks this look. 🙂