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VATICAN LETTER Sep-27-2013 (570 words) Backgrounder. With photos. xxxi

For a 21st-century pope, some 12th-century management advice

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Along the western edge of the Vatican Gardens, just inside the wall that separates them from Italian territory, stands a statue of the great abbot and writer St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). The statue portrays the saint holding a book, which upon close inspection turns out to be "De Consideratione" ("On Consideration"), a volume addressed to one of his former pupils, Pope Eugene III (1145-1153).

Pope Francis may not have noticed the statue yet during his highly active first six months as pope. But as he prepares to meet Oct. 1-3 with the eight cardinals he has chosen to advise him on reforming the Vatican bureaucracy and governing the universal church, he might do well to consider some medieval advice for facing his modern challenges.

Many of Pope Francis' predecessors have found St. Bernard's book a comforting and enlightening guide.

"Nothing is more useful for a poor pope like myself, and for a pope at any time," wrote Blessed John XXIII. "Something of that which did not redound to the honor of the clergy of Rome in the 12th century remains forever."

St. Bernard wrote under especially tumultuous circumstances, a time of inspiring cultural ferment within the church but also of struggle between the papacy and secular rulers, when the lines between spiritual and temporal leadership grew often scandalously blurred.

The abbot described the papal court of his day as infested by the "ambitious, the avaricious, the simoniacal, the sacrilegious, the fornicating, the incestuous and every other kind of monstrous person crowding around (the pope) from every corner of the earth to obtain or retain ecclesiastical honors by his apostolic authority."

By comparison, even the corruption and mismanagement sensationally documented in the 2012 "VatiLeaks" of confidential correspondence seem like relatively minor problems.

St. Bernard offered the pope spiritual guidance, including admonitions on the importance of humility and self-examination, and reflections on the heavenly hierarchy as the ideal model for the church's hierarchy on earth. He also provided unsentimental, practical advice for papal management.

Here are a few examples, from the 1976 translation by John D. Anderson and Elizabeth T. Kennan:

-- Never give an order that you cannot enforce, because "impunity (is) the child of negligence, the mother of arrogance, the root of insolence (and) the nurse of transgression."

-- Choose men of proven wisdom and virtue for the church's central administration, because the "Curia usually accepts good men more easily than it makes men good."

-- "The servants of a priest are either more honorable than others, or are subjects of gossip to all," St. Bernard warned the pope. "Allow nothing disgraceful, nothing improper to remain in the appearance of those who are around you, or in their deportment or their demeanor."

-- Beware of ostentatious humility in job seekers: "How many whom you have received as humble have you afterwards put up with as troublesome, insolent, quarrelsome and rebellious!"

-- Don't hire anyone who wants the job: "Take in not those who wish office or who run after it, but those who hesitate and those who decline it; even force them and compel them to enter."

-- "A mind occupied with so many important matters ought to be without the worry of minor, insignificant concerns," so a pope should delegate the "trivial affairs" of his household to someone else -- even if that man isn't the perfect candidate, since none other than "the savior had Judas as his overseer."


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