Spiritual Leadership: Pope Francis and Professional Holiness… For Real?

Pope Francis called for leadership competencies as well as a practice of holiness when he spoke to Vatican administrators this weekend.

Pope Francis in March, 2013

Pope Francis in March, 2013

“When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow drift downwards toward mediocrity. Dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information, and incapable of opening up lofty perspectives,” he said. “Then too, when the attitude is no longer one of service to the particular churches and their bishops, the structure of the Curia turns into a ponderous, bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of God’s people.”

Francis also repeated a warning he has issued on several occasions in his morning homilies at the Vatican hotel where he lives: an admonition against gossiping. The secretive, closed world of the Vatican is a den of gossip, as revealed publicly last year by the leaks of papal documents from then-Pope Benedict XVI’s butler.

Using terminology familiar to those present, Francis called for Vatican officials to exercise “conscientious objection to gossip.”

“Let us all be conscientious objectors, and mind you I’m not simply moralizing! Gossip is harmful to people, our work and our surroundings.”

It’s an interesting concept — become conscientious objectors to gossip, to unprofessional behavior, to scheming masquerading as information management. The question is, can the Vatican (or any seat of great power) stop gossiping, arguable the very source of manipulation and wealth? (Hey, I saw Borgia!) And thinking about servant leadership in general, what is the balance between professionalism and holiness? So many situations offer opposing choices to leaders, each side marked with a contradictory road sign: this way for professionalism, this way for holiness (or radical service).

Of course, as the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz once said, “Some people do go both ways!”

What do you think? Is it possible? When have you been able to choose both as a leader?


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