The headlines each day carry something related to the Catholic Church being under enormous pressure in light of the sexual abuse charges by priests around the world. I live in Italy-the vortex of the Catholic world. On the whole, Italians are suspicious of the Catholic Church. I often hear university students speak of the prime minister, the mafia, and the Catholic church being in cahoots together regarding all things Italian. At best, the Catholic Church is seen by most Italians as irrelevant to the lives of everyday people. And honestly, they have over 1000 years of history to validate some of their claims. Over Easter many parishioners were bothered that Pope Benedict did not mention the scandals at all. People want to know what happened on his watch while a Cardinal in Germany. Some pundits have already claimed that this is the end of the Catholic Church. I don’t pretend to know about the demise of the Catholic Church-I do know that the cathedrals here are more empty than full these days. But I actually believe that the current controversy is a primary lesson in leadership. The Pope is losing moral authority.
Leadership is about influence and always includes authority. In leadership there are two possibilities regarding authority-moral authority and structured authority. Structured authority is that authority which comes with position or title. People follow and obey largely because they have to. Moral authority-or what I like to call granted authority-is that authority which is given to you by your followers because they want to follow and obey you. Structured authority goes with the title or position-the other type is earned-every day. Leaders earn granted authority through their authenticity and character. And it comes just as much from admitting mistakes and dealing with real problems as it does from making progress in the mission or seeing success. As the elected head of the Catholic Church Pope Benedict has structured authority-but he is quickly losing moral or granted authority. People may continue to “follow” by code of conduct or association-but he is currently aiding the abiding notion that the Catholic Church is irrelevant by not acting in a more determined way towards these abuses. God will preserve His Church-by that I mean the whole body of Christ. But I am saddened that people may miss Jesus because of the church.