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What kind of CEO should the next pope be?

Pope Benedict XVI boards a plane
AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca
Who will be the next head of Vatican Inc.?
By Matt Phillips
Vatican CityPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

From a purely secular perspective, it’s got to be one of the most challenging management jobs on earth.

The pope sits atop the world’s largest and most far-flung transnational organization. Roughly 1.2 billion people and 410,000 priests fit somewhere under the umbrella of the Catholic Church’s nearly 3,000 dioceses. Few entities have ever rivaled its size and scope. In the US alone it is not only the single largest charitable organization but is also believed to be the largest owner of Manhattan real estate. So with Pope Benedict XVI retiring, what kind of boss does the Church need next? Perhaps the taxonomies of corporate leadership can offer some guidance:

  • A clean-up guy: The next pontiff will contend with the ongoing fallout of sexual abuse scandals that continue to drain the coffers of the church. Critics have argued that Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which deals with priests who have violated their oaths), didn’t do enough to defrock dangerous priests. And questions have also been raised about whether Ratzinger quietly moved abusive priests during his stint as Archbishop of Munich. A younger pope with a clear background on the issue of abuse would hopefully have more leeway to attack the root of the problems.
  • A product guy: Of course, the Catholic brand is tradition. That makes fundamental changes in the religion difficult, if not impossible. Still, many argue that a rethink of some core tenets should be a priority for any newly minted pope. While he surprised some by showing flexibility on a few issues—he opened the door a crack on condom usage, if only in highly prescribed circumstances—Benedict proved a staunch defender of the status quo. Most recently he chastised “disobedience” from groups questioning the church ban on women clergy. And in April, the Vatican delivered a stark rebuke to the leading organization of US nuns, citing concerns a “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations.”
  • A marketing guy: Among Christian faiths, Catholicism leads, with about 50% market share. Still, the faith is losing customers both to secularism and to disruptive competitors like evangelical Protestantism, even in its traditional strongholds. For example, Brazil still has more Catholics than any other country, roughly 165 million, but the percentage of Brazilians identifying as Catholic fell from 74% in 2000 to 65% in 2010. A pope set on shifting that trend would likely have to embrace the rise of so-called “charismatic Catholics,” heavily influenced by evangelical Christianity, this twist on Roman catholicism includes elements such as faith-healing, speaking-in-tongues and prophesy. There are reportedly some 73 million charismatic Catholics, mostly in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Columbia.
  • A merger specialist: While Pope Benedict had hoped that he could help heal the schism that cleaved the Catholic Church into two religions—Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox church—it wasn’t to be. Still, the church has had success in reaching out to disaffected conservatives in recent years—bolt-on acquisitions, if you will. Most notably, under Benedict the Vatican established a sort of home for Anglicans in the Catholic church.
  • An outsider: Let’s just say … unlikely.

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