Whether one is in the world of commercial corporate governance or that of ecclesiastical governance, the naked notion of “efficiency” is – as the saying goes – a good servant but a terrible master. It is especially dangerous when powerful figures mistake efficiency for a ruling principle.
That’s one reason why the words of the Vatican’s new chief of mission, Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle, on the subject – and the words of Pope Francis to the Pontifical Mission Societies, which preceded and occasioned Cardinal Tagle’s recent remarks – deserve careful attention.
“Pope Francis is not against efficiency and methods that could make our mission fruitful and transparent,” Cardinal Tagle told Vatican News in an interview released on May 28, “but he is warning us about the danger of ‘measuring’ Church mission using only the standards and outcomes predetermined by models or schools of management, no matter how good and useful these may be.
“The tools of efficiency can help,” Cardinal Tagle said, “but should never be a substitute for church mission.” Tagle went on to say, “The most efficiently run church organisation may end up being the least missionary.”
Efficiency, however, is not a measure of how much an outfit spends or an account of where it spends it, but a prudent ordering of resources to the service of the core mission. On that understanding, the most efficiently run Church organisation will be the most successful missionary outfit, almost by definition. It will be the one that gets the most from the resources at its disposal.
The Pontifical Mission Societies, by the way, is the name of an umbrella organisation for several worldwide networks:
The Society for the Propagation of the Faith, founded by soon-to-be-Blessed Pauline-Marie Jaricot;
The Holy Childhood Association, founded by Bishop Charles de Forbin-Janson (after consulting the Ven Pauline-Marie) to harness the prayer and material generosity of French children to support the missions, especially in China;
The Society of St Peter the Apostle, founded in the late 19th century to foster seminaries in mission territories for the training of indigenous clergy;
The Pontifical Missionary Union, founded by Blessed Paul Manna in 1916, who had served in Burma and believed that the Church’s missionary effort could not be staffed or supported sufficiently until the bishops and priests of the world were converted to the missionary cause.
A week before Cardinal Tagle’s remarks, Pope Francis wrote to the Pontifical Mission Societies on the practical matter of funding missionary work. “The temptation may arise,” he wrote, of “gambling on some better fundraising system developed by groups specialising in large donors. ” Francis urged the societies to resist the temptation.
Pope Francis was, in short, arguing for the long view, encouraging the societies to rely on the broad participation of the Catholic faithful in the support of their missionary efforts. “The Church continues to advance thanks to the widow’s mite,” wrote Pope Francis, “and the contributions of innumerable people healed and consoled by Jesus, who for this reason, overflowing with gratitude, donate whatever they have.”
Pope Francis was blunt with leaders, telling them they “sometimes end up turning in on themselves, devoting energy and attention primarily to promoting themselves and to advertising their own initiatives,” adding that “some” missionaries appear given to redefining “their own importance and their own bailiwicks within the Church, under the guise of relaunching their specific mission.”
Francis is not wrong to warn against self-absorption, and he’s not wrong to urge a long view of things, especially in circumstances apparently as dire as those in which the Church finds herself now.
Fundraising, however, is a big part of what the Pontifical Mission Societies are seen to be doing, even if it is only a small part of what they actually do. And the sort of “retail” fundraising he urges requires missionaries to tout their works, so potential donors great or small know what they’d be supporting. Respect for the faithful who support the missions means careful accounting for the use of their money.
On both counts – message discipline and accounting transparency – the Church has a long row to hoe, and the Vatican on Pope Francis’s watch is in no position to be giving lectures on either subject.