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[dc]"T[/dc]hanks for another great year.” That’s exactly what we expect to hear this time of year from those in charge. But it’s not what The Curia heard from Pope Francis last Monday. He called bishops and cardinals “Lords of the Manor – (sometimes feeling) superior to everyone and everything.” Yowza!

“A Curia that does not criticize itself, that does not bring itself up to date, that does not improve, is a sick body,” Francis proclaimed. Pow!

The administrative body of the Church needs to change, says the Pope, and he provided a framework for reform. Likening the Curia to a diseased body, Francis described what he called “15 ailments of the Curia.” What’s ailing Church administrators? Feeling indispensable. Being boastful. Gossiping. Forming closed circles. Showing off. Focusing excessively on career. Being opportunists. Seeking worldly benefits. Zap!

Francis doesn’t like how the Church is doing business. He’s a Progressive, not a company man. He expects the Church, as an institution, to practice what it preaches. He wants Sunday morning rhetoric to carry through the week.

Seems so obvious, but it isn’t. So Francis pontificates in ways we’ve not witnessed previously. But this pope does much more than that. He’s not just a spiritual leader who speaks in symbolic terms. He’s CEO of one of the world’s largest bureaucracies. That status gives him credibility to speak with authority about organizational leadership and management. And, when he speaks, he doesn’t just talk about issues facing the Church: he offers commentary about the ills of institutions everywhere. As The Chicago Tribune put it: “This wasn’t an exclusively Roman Catholic message, or even a particularly religious message. It’s advice to all of us on how to lead our lives.” You bet.

What’s Francis telling us? For one thing he tells us that the world’s crises aren’t just measured in terms of wars, injustice, poverty, or you fill-in-the-blank-problem. All of those things are outcomes. The root cause is institutional failure, the inability of institutions to do what they were founded to do.

What’s Francis telling us? For one thing he tells us that the world’s crises aren’t just measured in terms of wars, injustice, poverty, or you fill-in-the-blank-problem. All of those things are outcomes. The root cause is institutional failure, the inability of institutions to do what they were founded to do.

It’s not as though institutions do nothing or work against people. It’s just that they are … well … institutions. They are caught up in the very issues Francis talked about a few days ago, issues that get in the way of optimizing organizational capacity to do what needs to be done—more consistently, more pervasively, and more emphatically.

Most institutions talk a good game. They brand themselves well. They let the public know all the great things they’re doing. While a lot of that is true, Francis calls to mind what goes on inside institutions. There you often find a different storyline—the panoply of “diseases” of which Francis talks.

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It would be one thing if we could pinpoint the culprits: the select few, namely, the presidents, CEO’s, and others—those at the top of organizational charts. But the reality is clear: get rid of the current crowd and another group will gladly take charge. It’s cultural, not personal, and that’s what Francis points out and is trying to change: the institutional culture.

What’s the difference between business-as-usual and real reform? It’s as much about us—that’s right, you and me—than it is about the people at the top. We tolerate the nonsense. We’re complicit. We’re accomplices sometimes. We become what Francis rails against.

We get caught up in the ancillary aspects of modern organizational life. We need to make a living. We need to advance careers. We want to be seen as part of the “in-crowd.” We want bennies that go with “being successful.” So we don’t speak up. We don’t act out. We don’t push for change. We’re reluctant. The cost is high. We go along.

Like young, 20-something priests—just ordained—many of us begin our careers brimming with energy and conviction. Then we confront the bureaucratic culture. How do we respond? What choices will we make? Some of us acquiesce. Some of us take advantage of “opportunities.” Some of us rebel. Some of us cope—with denial, defensiveness, silence, etc. And some of us respond differently at different points in our careers.

The beauty of what Francis does is this: he puts into words—and then proclaims—what we all know to be true, all the time, all around the world. But we hardly ever talk about it. And there’s more: Francis doesn’t just point the finger by calling out others. He talks about his institution, his bureaucracy.

How can we not extrapolate to ours?

Francis shows us how, too. On Monday he critiqued The Curia on internal matters. On Thursday (Christmas Day) he focused on the plight of children around the world (external matters). That’s what healthy institutions do: engage in hard critique and improve internally, on the one hand, and focus and do good work externally, on the other. That approach never goes out of style. The problem is we don’t see enough of it.

Extraordinary is this pope, Francis. He's a Progressive without equal. Let’s emulate his approach in the work we do, in the leadership we take, and—very importantly—in the institutions where we work. 2015 will be a great year if we do.

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Frank Fear