Papal Resource Allocation

A leader is judged by how he or she allocates resources- where do they allocate them, and how effectively. Recently, Pope Francis’s resource allocation has been on display. First, “Pope appoints three cardinals to help lead synod on Amazon.” Second, we recently learned how Pope Francis allocated resources to his special commission on child abuse (here), one of his highest priorities.

Pope Francis will lead a synod on the Amazon, assisted by cardinals from Venezuela, Peru, and the Vatican. Each cardinal will be supported by a team of unknown size, as no doubt will Pope Francis. This implies that the fully-loaded cost per hour of this synod will be very high. Even if the leaders never meet, and have only limited interaction, any output of the synod will be costly. To the extent the leaders actually attempt to do anything, the result will be quite expensive.

The stated goals of the synod are “to find new ways for the evangelization of the people in the region, especially the indigenous, to respond to situations of injustice in the region and to look at ‘the cause of the crisis of the Amazonian forest, lung of fundamental importance for our planet.’” The importance of these goals is listed in reverse order.

The Amazon Fire

The fire raging in the Amazon is in all the media. Pope Francis wants to be perceived as making a positive contribution to this environmental crisis. It should be obvious that neither Pope Francis nor his chosen cardinals know anything fire-fighting, or how to minimize long-term damage from the fire, or how to prevent future fires. At best, any substantive suggestions they make will be superfluous, given that Brazil already has advice from numerous technical agencies and experts. Any detailed recommendations made by Pope Francis and his cardinals will almost certainly be wrong. It is a foregone conclusion that the main contribution of Pope Francis’ costly synod will be prayer. Even for the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, an area where Pope Francis and his people should have had useful concrete proposals, his recent “summit” produced prayers, but nothing concrete. Regarding the Amazon fire, this papal synod is simply a very expensive PR stunt.

Other Goals

The South American cardinals may well have some ideas about fighting the injustice in the region. Presumably they have already relayed their concerns to both the relevant rulers and to Pope Francis. Still, bundling concerns and presenting them from the papal pulpit may have some value. But based on Francis’ history, I doubt it. When Pope Francis met with the leaders of Myanmar, he said nothing about their criminal treatment of the Rohingya. When he negotiated with the Chinese about the organization of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic, he basically gave in to their demands. He violated long-standing Church policy and allowed the Chinese Communists to choose their own bishops, among other things.

As for evangelizing indigenous people of the region, there is no obvious need for a synod. There is infrastructure already in place, as well as many regional and Vatican personnel assigned to this matter. It is business as usual, though there is certainly room for improvement. This was more appropriate for Pope Francis in his prior position as archbishop of Argentina.

Papal Commission on Child Abuse

Tom Roberts is a former editor of the National Catholic Reporter. Back in the 80’s and 90s, he played a key role in breaking the news about the Church’s child abuse problem. He recently interviewed Marie Collins about Pope Francis’ special commission on child abuse. Shortly after assuming office Pope Francis created this commission to address his foremost problem, a scandal which had both his flock and the general public up in arms.

After a few years, Marie Collins resigned from the commission in protest. She was the second of the two former victims on the commission to resign, and this created a stir. Now for the first time, Marie Collins revealed some details about the commission. From the start, Pope Francis gave it no resources:

[Collins] said the first meeting at the Vatican turned out to be a harbinger of what was to come. The room where it was held contained a bare table and chairs. ‘No pens, no pads, not even water,’ she said. When she asked who was going to take minutes of the meeting, she said the cleric secretary answered there was ‘no one in the Vatican available to take minutes.’

She said the commission was not provided a budget, was told there was no money to hire experts to aid their work, and that no funds were available for working group meetings between the main gatherings. ‘You know, you have some cardinals paying millions to renovate their apartments and things, you have hundreds of millions paid out in compensation to survivors. We're trying to keep children safe to prevent survivors in the future and we weren't given a budget.’

Not only did the committee have no funds for meetings or experts, Pope Francis did not even provide access to a canon lawyer – a precondition for any potential rules affecting priests or bishops. There is much more to be said about this special papal commission, and I hope to discuss some of it in the near future. For now, lack of funding is sufficient.


On assuming office, Pope Francis allocated zero resources for what was purportedly his highest priority – the child abuse epidemic and scandal. Seven years later, that has not changed; the commission has yet to produce anything of substance, nor has any other branch of the Vatican. The commission was just a do-nothing PR stunt to buy time.

But for PR about a fire in the Amazon, Pope Francis is allocating significant resources – easily more than he allocated to the abuse commission. This reveals his true priorities. He is all about PR. When it comes to meaningful reform - especially if it involves trying to hold priests to both their vows and basic morality – he produces only empty PR gestures, and no concrete reforms. He does even less about preventing bishops from covering up these crimes.

The problem is, Francis’ PR program has been all too successful. Both the media and his flock have accepted his PR and ignored the reality. It’s like believing that Trump really is a stable genius.


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