No worldwide institution, other than maybe North Korea and Iran, spent a greater amount of time in crisis in the last decade than the Roman Catholic Church.
Now, the church is leaderless. Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world yesterday by announcing his resignation. If this were Wall Street instead of Rome, competitors would say the church is in play. Any cynic worth the title knows a second fisherman’s shoe will drop, eventually. We started down that path today.
The Vatican unveiled that the pope received a pacemaker 10 years ago. But ["Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain"] this had no bearing on his decision to quit after eight years.
Call this half the loaves.
Still, the rest of the story will come out. It’s likely more complicated than health. It might even prove sinister. No one else voluntarily left the church’s top job in 598 years. Of 265 popes, the last who voluntarily left St. Peter’s legacy behind faced the Great Western Schism. Popes don’t quit. They die in office.
Amid all the speculation, the church is avoiding a key element of crisis management: Facts fast. Questions will continue until all are answered. Anticipate the questions, volunteer the answers and the questions will go away. Yesterday was to report the news. Today and from now on speculation will rule. End it.
Is he being forced out by internal cardinal political pressure? Is there a blockbuster criminal case involved, either due to the child abuse scandals, or some event larger than what his Vatican butler did? Are there financial wrongdoings? We don’t know, but eventually we’ll all find out.
The second half to all this [the fishes] is whether the College of Cardinals can look forward, collaborate, innovate and act brilliantly in choosing the next pope. Will he come from Africa, Latin America or Asia? Or even America?
OK, the cardinals won’t ascend to any of those qualities, but how close can they get?
Can they find a great, modern, charismatic leader of Catholics who can ignite and rally the faithful during a period of immense doubt? Can he stem the tides of Islamic ascendancy, Protestant fundamentalism and atheistic/agnostic appeal to rejuvenate a reactionary, homophobic, misogynistic institution that has lost much of its relevance for Western Catholics?
Can the cardinals miraculously combine the loaves and fishes to feed the multitudes, most of whom probably crave the sustenance?
Will they put aside their geopolitical and petty differences?
Will the Europeans who have ruled the modern church support an upstart from a continent where Catholicism is actually growing?
Will they move the church out of the Renaissance, or at least beyond the Cold War?
Or, will they insist on doing everything the same way they’ve always done it, and hope for different results?
Don’t expect a miracle.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.