With great emotion His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his final Sunday prayers in St. Peter’s Square, restating his conscientious conviction that his decision to retire is from the Lord.
“If God is asking me to do this, it is precisely so I can continue to serve with the same dedication and love as before but in a way that is more appropriate for my age and for my strength,” he said.
With that same trust in God’s providence, the Holy Father has also set the wheels in motion for the speedy choice of a successor.
We have no penchant for the most popular game in town these days: handicapping the next pope. The required two-thirds of cardinal-electors, we can be reasonably confident, will open their minds and hearts prayerfully to the Holy Spirit under whose guidance they will discern that signal character, experience and personal aptitude which will identify our next Holy Father. We also suspect that, subordinate to any accidentals (charm, country of origin, insider knowledge, etc.) or personal favorites, they will look for what seem to be two essentials at this time: administrative effectiveness and clarity of vision. Under current exigencies, both require extraordinary communication skills within the Church – not just with fluent Italian and English, though not without – and in both secular and religious circles of the contemporary world.
Any pope today faces a formidable challenge to combine effective vision with good administration. The integrity of the central governance of the Church will have to find some equilibrium between the values of transparency and confidentiality. Though the voracious appetite of some in the media is never satiated, it is not always the messenger alone who ignites controversy or fans the flames. Can one criticize the shark smelling morsels tossed overboard from a food fight aboard the ship? Whatever the substance or motives behind the so-called “VatiLeaks” narrative, the very secrecy of the internal investigation will doubtless fuel speculation. The camera is always on, but blaming the messenger, however biased or intemperate, is not a communications strategy. The message itself needs to be clear, positive and vigorous enough to be heard in our cyberspace wilderness, flooded daily as it is with the amplified noise of anything that grabs a headline. Rumors and scandal-mongering are predictable but more likely to take the spotlight when the show itself is not engaging its audience.
Ecclesia semper reformanda (“the Church must always be reformed”) is as relevant today as when Blessed Pope John XXIII inaugurated Vatican II. That reform certainly must include the Church’s central offices – not just now but in every age. No one model of administration can reasonably expect to be effective everywhere for all time. The accountability demanded today has its 2,000-year-old roots in the teachings of Jesus on good stewardship and the faithful rightly expect Church administrators to live for the advancement of the Gospel before their own careers.
At the same time, efficient, transparent and reliable administration is not enough. Church leadership also requires vision. Visionary leadership is more focused on what we are for than what we are against, Whom we proclaim than what we condemn. It inspires disciples more than mere loyalists, producers and not just preservers, motivators and not only managers. Good administration helps pave the way for effective visioning by helping to minimize the distractions from the mission that the vision defines.
Who among our current leaders is or is likely to prove the most competent to fill the Shoes of the Fisherman in so short time we refrain from speculating about. We hope that the leadership we pray for as the Conclave approaches will not fail to provide the Church and the world with the inspired direction we so need now.