A Vatican charity became mired in bad governance allegations – so much so that Pope Francis himself intervened and fired everyone involved.
The Pope sacked the entire leadership team of Caritas Internationalis (CI), the Vatican’s global overseas aid organisation.
Through its regional branches and affiliates, the CI has a presence in over 200 countries and enjoys the commitment of over a million employees and volunteers.
What are the details?
The Pope issued a decree that the president, vice presidents, general secretary, treasurer, and ecclesiastical assistant of the Vatican charity “shall cease from their respective offices” immediately.
The Vatican also announced a review of the organisation’s workplace environment which has, according to reports, been plagued by mismanagement and toxic culture for years.
What kind of mismanagement?
It’s primarily down to the treatment of employees.
According to statements seen by Reuters, external management consultants and psychological experts found “malaise and bad management practices” at CI’s headquarters.
One anonymous former staffer told Reuters that the lousy management practices created “a climate of bullying, fear and ritual humiliation”.
Sometimes, the failings were enough to motivate people to leave the organisation.
Does the Vatican/CI acknowledge what happened?
Yes. Their two statements on the issues have acknowledged external expert opinions. But the Vatican has also done its best to establish a broader context that is neutral or positive.
“Real deficiencies were noted in management and procedures, seriously prejudicing team spirit and staff morale,” the Vatican’s development office said. However, “financial matters have been well-handled and fundraising goals regularly achieved.”
“No evidence emerged of financial mismanagement or sexual impropriety, but other important themes and areas for urgent attention emerged from the panel’s work.”
The Vatican has received several questions since the findings were made public but has repeatedly referred back to the statements.
What has gone wrong?
Issues like the ones flagged in this case aren’t isolated to one day and one instance. They are persistent, resulting from a continuous lack of attention.
In other words, they are problems that should have made their way to leadership sooner, who should then have dealt with them with a consistent and measurable approach.
Ultimately, the problem comes down to corporate culture, which boards and other leaders have a crucial duty to uphold.
Bullying, resignations, “ritual humiliation” – such things are borne out of a bad corporate culture that has developed over time, meaning it’s harder to find a quick fix.
What are the essential goals for leadership now?
Yes, firing the entire senior executive team is a massive step. And yes, it’s also a major PR headache for the Vatican. But it would be a stretch to think it will reset any issues.
Regarding corporate culture, bringing in new blood can help, but it won’t solve the problem. Whoever takes the reins must demonstrate a new way of working and apply it with enough persistence to make change filter down.
In other words, the next few years (rather than the next few weeks) will be the ultimate test of the CI’s ability to adapt.