by Fr. Tom Welk, C.PP.S., Leadership Council
Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec, was named a cardinal in February 2014. In an interview on CBS 60 Minutes, December 28, 2014, he quoted from the letter he received from Pope Francis announcing his appointment: “You are being named a cardinal, Gerald. It is not a promotion, it is not an honor, and it is not a decoration. It is a call to widen your spirit; it is a call to serve.”
I believe Pope Francis was prompted to write these comments in Lacroix’s letter of appointment because for too long in the Catholic Church many individuals have fostered ambitions to climb the ecclesiastical ladder. The higher one was able to get on this ladder so much the more it was considered a promotion, decoration, or honor. Members of the hierarchy became accustomed to being called princes of the church. Princes generally do not consider themselves servants.
In an interview shortly after he was elected Pope (he prefers the title Bishop of Rome), Francis reflected on his previous experience as a provincial of the Jesuits. He commented that he was quite young then, and did not really know what it meant to be in a position of authority. He acknowledged that he had used an authoritarian approach, defining that as a command/submit scenario. This is comparable to the dictionary definition of authoritarianism, “…relating to, or favoring blind submission….”
Coming from the Latin augere, (to increase, to foster, to create), being a person of authentic authority means being true to the root meaning of the word. It means being open to the challenge Pope Francis gave Cardinal Lacroix “to widen his own spirit in order to carry out his call to serve.” Being a person of authority obviously includes the responsibility to foster growth and creativity in those under one’s care.
This is comparable to the admonition Jesus gave his disciples: “You know how those who exercise authority among the Gentiles lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest” (Mt 20:25).
Both in the church and in the secular world we have ample evidence that being in a position of authority is not generally viewed as a call to servanthood. Rather, through the office they occupy or the title they have, leaders see themselves being in a position of power, and not only “favoring blind submission,” but also demanding it.
In his business column entitled, “Toxic bosses often share some of the following traits,” (The Wichita Eagle, January 1, 2015) Paul White, Ph.D. outlined ten traits of leaders who destroy those who work for them. Among the toxic traits White lists are the tendencies of these leaders to engage in self-interest and self-promotion. According to White, toxic leaders demand deference and will quickly tear down those they feel do not appropriately respect them.
Pope Francis presented his own list of toxic traits, using the word “disease” to describe the traits that characterize poor leadership. In his pre-Christmas comments to the curial officials, he listed 15 of these diseases. He stated that human beings are prone to these diseases, causing malfunction and infirmity. They can easily lead to a pathology of power. Included among them is a sense of “narcissism that looks passionately at one’s own image and not see the face of God stamped on the face of others, especially the weakest and those most in need.”
It is only too obvious the harm these toxic traits and diseases have caused in the Church and in the wider world. A brief look at world history shows what tremendous destruction leaders only interested in furthering their own narrow self-interest have caused. Unfortunately, not only are there ample examples of self-interested leadership in our history: too much of it is on-going in our present world.
What a contrast Pope Francis provides. There appears to be little evidence of toxic leadership in him. The popularity and respect given Pope Francis is due to his authentic leadership style, which fosters growth and creativity. Nor has he shied away from criticizing those in the Catholic Church who use their positions/offices in ways that tear down rather than build up. His message to the curial officials is but one example of this.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Pope Francis prefaced his comments to the curial officials by stating that, “He wanted to prepare them all—including himself—to make a real examination of conscience before Christmas.” Most of us find ourselves in a position of leadership. Just as Pope Francis was careful to include himself in the observations he shared about potential diseases afflicting leadership, so we too must examine our consciences about our leadership style. Are you and I fostering growth and creativity through the offices/positions we have been called to occupy?
As a Community, we have begun the discernment process preceding the election of a leadership team during the April Assembly. It is my sense that incorporated members by and large easily echo the sentiment expressed by Pope Francis in his letter to Cardinal Lacroix: being elected is not a promotion, an honor or a decoration. There also appears to be a certain reluctance to serve on the Provincial Council. Maybe deep down we recognize the challenge leadership brings: a call to widen our spirits, a call to serve.
It is my wish and prayer that none of us will avoid or refuse the call to become a part of the Leadership Team for our Community. May the gift of the Holy Spirit guide us all in this process of engaging in being called to servanthood.