Vatican Governance or: Where The Buck Stops.

No time for “committees”: Pope Pius XII.

On the usual Rorate Caeli (Good Lord! Where would we all be without them!?) a very interesting excerpt from an article dealing with issues of governance (or we would say: proper administration) in the Vatican.

I note in this article the mentality present in so many commentaries concerning the Vatican: the responsibility is apportioned pretty much everywhere, but where it belongs. Which is, of course, in flagrant violation of the very principles of governance that are discussed. Put in more simple words, the expression “the buck stops here” seems to be simply unknown in the Papal chambers, and never heard of in the Vatican corridors, or among Vatican commentators.

The first example of this unfortunate thinking is the “explanation” that after V II, the Vatican machinery has become more complicated, with the numerous “committees” now dealing with pretty much everything (and being effective in pretty much nothing) and the Secretary of State reduced to be an arbiter and “team manager” rather than a decider.

These discussions all forget a very important factor: reality. If the Vatican’s human dynamics  are in anything similar to every other government’s on the planet (which, make no mistake, they are), the committees are there exclusively in order to be perceived as doing something whilst doing nothing, and there is no way one can become I do not say Pope, but coach of the parish football team without understanding this very clearly.

The idea, therefore, the Pope be “prisoner” of a structure he has inherited is a typical example of bad governance: those responsible are exonerated from any responsibility, whilst the problems are considered as a given, or as caused by someone else.

This is even more evident in another rather enlightening phrase of the interviewed expert, Father Levillain, in the simple assumption that it be not possible today to do what the great Pope Pius XII once did, namely: to be at the same time Pope and Secretary of State.

This astonishing utterance completely neglects another great division in everyday life, self-evident to everyone who has worked in a halfway complex organisation: the one between the talkers and the doers. The talkers are those who create – or happily live with – the committees; the doers are those who are not afraid to take responsibility, and to let all the world know they (not a committee, that is: an alibi) are in charge, and will be answerable for what they do. Pope Pius XII, a doer as few others, was a classic example. This was a man not afraid of infallibly proclaiming a dogma, just think how much time he would have had for all the committees of the modern Curia…

Another – not very savoury – aspect of the interview is the rather questionable attempt – morally as well as practically – to apportion the guilt of the undoubtedly bad governance in the Vatican to… the dead.

Please realise John Paul II died more than seven years ago: this is a longer time than any of the two World Wars, and a time long enough to completely re-do the Vatican administration not one, but several times. Besides eluding the simple problem of…reality, the argument has a huge logical flaw: if it is not in the power of a Pope to change things, one cannot proclaim anyone guilt of the present problems. If – as it is logical – it is, then one cannot blame JP II without automatically apportion the greater blame to the one who has been in charge the last seven years. The reality is, few – and possibly: no one – men on Earth have the power of a Pope: not even a President of the United States could re-mould the entire structure of his government and state apparatus without need to get consent from every possible quarter, and not even the most ruthless Middle-Eastern dictator could do so without fear for his safety and life.  The Pope is the most powerful man on earth – and I mean here from a purely secular point of view – bar none, and his responsibility when the structures don’t work should be measured accordingly or, at least, not apportioned somewhere else.

The (alas: very human) reality is that whilst some are strong leaders, some saintly men and some good theologians, very few get to achieve excellence in all three fields. Pope Pius XII was an extraordinary man – a man clearly put by the Almighty in a very delicate position at a very delicate time – in that he was great in all three fields; but his successors were certainly – at least, those who lived long enough – clearly deficient in one or more of them.

Pope Benedict runs the risk of being remembered as the Pope who revoked the excommunication for Bishop Williamson without even knowing all the controversies the latter was involved in; who managed to have his most private drawers sniffed by those he trusted most; who continued to appoint extremely bad bishops to appeased the local hierarchies; and who discovered himself totally unable to act against openly heretical Bishops and/or Cardinals, because he had some sympathy for them. By all the merits of his pontificate (Summorum Pontificum comes to mind and, bigger still, the imminent reconciliation with the SSPX, certainly the crown of this papacy) one can’t say his was an example of good governance tout court, much less of strong leadership in the style of a Pius XII.

Mind, I am not saying he is a bad Pope. He is, in fact, probably as good as a Pope who lived the Council as a “conciliar father” could be. I merely find it more than vaguely questionable when it is simply assumed whenever something goes wrong the responsibility must be looked for pretty much everywhere – even in coffins – but where it most obviously lies.

Mundabor

Posted on May 29, 2012, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Vatican Governance or: Where The Buck Stops..

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