Has Pope Benedict led effectively amid the sex scandal?

By On Leadership
Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bill George is a management professor at the Harvard Business School and the former chairman and chief executive of Medtronic.

While addressing a crisis of this magnitude is painful, it must start with the pope admitting mistakes the Vatican has made, including his own. Next, the pope needs to deal as aggressively with past defenders as would be expected in a court of law. Then, he needs to install a compliance system that will prevent future occurrences and ensure the early identification of offenders. Finally, Pope Benedict XVI needs to make the Vatican itself much more transparent in order to prevent covering up problems in the future.

Juana Bordas is president of Mestiza Leadership International, a company focusing on leadership, diversity and organizational change.

How about a good old Catholic crusade? Certainly the church has a history of "holy wars" to reclaim "holy lands." A crusade to weed out the sex offenders would certainly restore some semblance of moral authority. The Catholic Church has historically been good at taking swift and defining action when it deemed it necessary.

As a leader, the pope faces a rare conundrum. He is the supreme pontiff revered as infallible and direct heir of apostolic succession. Saying that "nothing can undo the wrong you have endured" to the Irish victims implies the lack of authority to change the secret Vatican tribunals that protect bishops and priests, or to institute a zero-tolerance policy across the church's domain or to create a new Vatican court system that will defrock and take swift action against pedophile clergy.

You are either the supreme pontiff or you are not -- you can't have it both ways. In fact, there is much the pope can do to alleviate the wrong that has been done. Leaders assume responsibility for the fallibility of their institutions and seek solutions to correct the wrongs.

In this holiest of weeks when we reflect on the life of Jesus, we remember His words, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God." It would be well for Pope Benedict, the bishops and the church hierarchy to have heeded Christ's words and initiated a true Catholic reformation that restores moral authority, rebuilds its covenant with the faithful and reestablishes the sanctity of the priesthood.

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Bob Schoultz directs the Master of Science in Global Leadership program at the University of San Diego's School of Business Administration.

People will forgive a lot, but not hypocrisy, nor shirking of responsibility. The pope does not want to appear to be following the cynic's maxim "Deny everything. Admit nothing. Make counter-accusations." If he does, he will lose moral authority with a discriminating public. The pope, and everyone who was in a position of leadership in the Catholic Church, owns some responsibility and culpability for the sins of those in their charge. The public will decide how much culpability it chooses to give him, but if he takes none, that sends a message. "Not my fault; I didn't know" doesn't work for me. Why didn't he know?

If the pope expects his subordinate managers to take and accept responsibility for what happens in their organizations, then he has to do the same. That is true of any leader.

Christina Tamayo is one of 13 cadets and four instructors from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who take on the weekly On Leadership questions.*

No one is perfect, including the leaders of the Catholic Church. I've learned from West Point that failure tolerance is about optimism and faith in the best that people have to offer. However, faith in people does not absolve wrongdoers of the consequences of their decisions.

Perceptions play a large role in what we believe a leader has the authority and ability to accomplish. As a follower, I find that when leaders' past performance is in question, I look to a combination of my past perceptions of them along with their current attitude to assess the state of their trustworthiness. First, they must acknowledge and accept any errors. Then I ask, "Is this person trying to make amends? Do his actions show intent to steer clear of past mistakes, to correct the behavior sincerely?"

Though failures sometimes make us lose faith in those with whom we place so much trust, a leader's reactions to failure can attest to his or her true character. If we never gave the benefit of the doubt, then we've never taken a risk. And how can anyone progress without taking stock in a risk?

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership.

When there are errors or crimes in an organization, leaders need to decide whether they are caused by a wayward individual or by a faulty system. The challenge for Pope Benedict is not just holding people to account or increasing policing to prevent child abuse. It is transforming the priesthood so that it neither attracts nor shelters abusers.

Steps in this direction would include expanding and improving the pool of applicants for the priesthood by allowing priests to marry and by ordaining women. The definition of chastity would emphasize love and dignity, not treating another human being as an object, loving without exploiting. The pope's own guilt or innocence is a matter between himself and God. He could overcome the shame of the church by leading an effort to develop a more mature and loving clergy.


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