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. 🙂

pope francis teaches servant leadership by example

Francis 4

“just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” Matthew 20:28

Pope Francis has spoken out against careerism in the church. He is a living example to priests and bishops about the call to serve, not to be served. The world’s media is enthusiastically sharing images of Francis carrying his own case into the plane, or opening his own car door. And, the door is attached to a simple Ford Focus. These aren’t big gestures, but they are having a big impact.

While in Rio de Janeiro for the World Youth Day, the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen produced two interesting interviews; one with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and the other with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Both bishops are known as head-line making (and head-line seeking) culture warriors in the American church. Some view them as classic examples of clerical careerists.

When asked why there were only 40 pilgrims from his diocese attending WYD, Archbishop Chaput responded that, “There was fear that it would pose a risk to people’s health and well-being by coming to Rio de Janeiro.” He admitted that “a number of dioceses in Pennsylvania actively discouraged their young people from coming and didn’t sponsor diocesan pilgrimages on purpose.”

Contrast his fearful attitude to that of the pope who visited one of the poorest slums, or favelas, of Rio called Varginha. According to John Allen,

In his native Argentina, Francis is already known as the “pope of the villas,” the Argentine equivalent of the Brazilian favelas. Both substantively and symbolically, Francis on Thursday made himself the apostle of slum-dwellers everywhere.

Francis is a bishop who never tires of telling his priests that they must be where the people are…to take on the “smell of the sheep”.

Chaput also made a puzzling comment about the right wing of the church that, “generally have not been really happy about his election, from what I’ve been able to read and to understand. He’ll have to care for them, too, so it will be interesting to see how all this works out in the long run.” Really??? Astute commentators on the discussion boards voiced the obvious. Previous popes didn’t seem too concerned about appeasing the left wing of the church. The desire for a smaller and purer church was pushing away more Catholics than it was welcoming.

The Archbishop also believes that the most enthusiastic support for the new pope comes not from committed Catholics who are “ordinarily impressed with the pope”, but from non-Catholics and those who have been alienated from the church. He seems to believe that it is a shallow admiration rooted in a hope that Francis will be less doctrinal than John Paul II or Benedict XVI. What Chaput seems to miss is that the new pope is modeling the brilliant simplicity of the new evangelization; reaching out to all with the gospel challenge of faith, love and justice.

An enormous amount of time and energy goes into writing, translating and publishing papal encyclicals, exhortations and letters. I doubt that any of these theologically dense – and too often painfully lengthy – documents are moving as many hearts as Francis’s daily pontifical sound-bites and images. In our fast-paced, attention deficient world, his simple lessons are not only being listened to. They are being absorbed.

In the Cardinal Dolan interview, John Allen asked if Pope Francis was having a personal impact on him. Here is Dolan’s reponse,

I find myself examining my own conscience … on style, on simplicity, on lots of things.

For instance, I saw the pope open his own car door, close his own door, and carry his own carry-on bag. That says something to me. I used to do those things for myself, and it’s not that I think I’m above it now, but it’s just that as archbishop of New York people are doing it for me all the time. That’s a very down-to-earth example, but I’m beginning to say that I need to watch this guy closely because he’s a good example for me.

I also find myself thinking about living arrangements, because that’s a pretty nice house I’m living in. In some ways it’s not clear what I could do about it, because it’s the historic, traditional residence of the archbishops of New York, and it’s not like we can sell it. [Note: The residence is attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.]

In general, I find myself thinking about some of the perks, the cushiness, we associate with being a bishop. He’s pushing me to ask whether they’re necessary, and if they might actually be counterproductive.

No, we don’t all associate cushiness with the episcopacy. But, at least the Cardinal is being honest. And, he seems to get it. There is a new CEO in town, and the executives have to seriously consider re-working their play-books.

Pope Francis is slowly nudging the church onto a new path where the last become first; where the humble will be exalted, and the exalted humbled. If this is the case, there are many priests and bishops who will be quietly selling their black luxury vehicles and perhaps seeking newer, simpler digs.

and my papal pick is….white smoke please!

Family and friends have been teasing me about heading to Rome to cast my ballot for the next pope. Oh, if only!!! I have to confess, that the church nerd in me would LOVE to parade into the Sistine Chapel and be part of the excitement. I look really good in red – my favorite color since childhood. And, who doesn’t like the opportunity to wear a deliciously frilly frock and hat! 😉

Since that honor and privilege has been denied me, I’ll cast my vote here on this blog with a true spirit of transparency and openness. Let the bells ring out and the white smoke rise… My choice for the next Pontifex Maximus, the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome and the Servant of the Servants of God is…

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from Manila.

Archbshp Tagle

I first heard of Archbishop Tagle during the reports coming from the recent Synod for the New Evangelization. In the midst of pompous speeches about the evils of secularism and those nasty fallen away Catholics, he stood up and made a heartfelt call for more silence in our church.

“The church must discover the power of silence,” Tagle said. “Confronted with the sorrows, doubts and uncertainties of people she cannot pretend to give easy solutions,” he said. “In Jesus, silence becomes the way of attentive listening, compassion and prayer. It is the way to truth.”

It was announced during the synod that the pastoral and much-loved Archbishop Tagle would receive the cardinal’s hat in the upcoming consistory, which immediately sparked excited papabile musings.

John L. Allen Jr. wrote a Papabile of the Day piece on Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle for the National Catholic Reporter. Here are some excerpts from that article,

  • One Filipino commentator has said Tagle has “a theologian’s mind, a musician’s soul and a pastor’s heart.”…
  • Earlier this year, before the news of Benedict’s resignation broke, a Filipino business journal named Tagle its “Man of the Year,” describing him as “young, unassuming, and without airs,” a bishop “who more than understands contemporary ideas.”…
  • In the Imus diocese, Tagle was famous for not owning a car and taking the bus to work every day, describing it as a way to combat the isolation that sometimes comes with high office. He was also known for inviting beggars outside the cathedral to come in and eat with him. One woman was quoted describing a time she went looking for her blind, out-of-work, alcoholic husband, suspecting she might track him down in a local bar, only to find that he was lunching with the bishop….
  • Tagle’s doctoral dissertation at Catholic University, written under Fr. Joseph Komonchak, was a favorable treatment of the development of episcopal collegiality at the Second Vatican Council. Moreover, Tagle served for 15 years on the editorial board of the Bologna, Italy-based “History of Vatican II” project founded by Giuseppe Alberigo, criticized by some conservatives for an overly progressive reading of the council.

Our church has suffered for too long from a centrist form of governance. The current malaise in the curia is proof that reform is needed, a reform that embraces the need for collegiality and not a heavy handed, top-down style of leadership.

Our church needs a chief pastor who can speak to the heart of the faith, who can excite crowds with his homilies and speeches – not bore them to death. The new evangelization is not about proclaiming dogmas and identifying evils. It is about reflecting a faith that is first and foremost a relationship with a living God. It is about reflecting the joy in knowing Jesus, and embracing the mission to live the gospel message of peace and justice in the world.

Some say that Cardinal Tagle is a long-shot candidate, at least this time around. He is too young. He is possibly too “nice” to clean up the current mess at the Vatican. He doesn’t have the curial experience of older cardinals.

If we expect our pope to be super-human, then no one can dare to fill the shoes of the fisherman. But, the fisherman who filled those original shoes wasn’t perfect either. A man who believes in a collegial style of leadership will not be a micro-manager. He will surround himself with those who have the necessary talents for each task.

I remember too well that horrible, sinking feeling when Cardinal Ratzinger’s name was announced after the last  habemus papam. Granted, Benedict XVI was perhaps a kinder and gentler pope than he was cardinal, but I SO want the next pope to be someone we can be excited about. Give us a man who exudes faith, humility, a passion for justice, and intelligence. Give us a man who gives us hope and makes us proud to be Catholic once more. And, yes, give us a man with a great smile! 🙂

Will the man who next steps out on the papal balcony produce a collective “meh!” around the world? Or, will he ignite a roar of excitement that will send the pigeons of St. Peter’s Square soaring for cover?

If Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle dons the papal whites, it will be the latter!