William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Catholicism’s CEO falls upon his staff

These are tough days for Christianity Inc. The product is stale, traditional markets are shrinking, and employee criminality has brought police attention. No surprise then that the CEOs are bailing out.

Last year it was head of one of its minor subsidiaries, the Church of England, who unexpectedly threw in the towel. This week was altogether more dramatic, as the head honcho of its biggest multinational, the Roman Catholic Church, resigned.

One of every two Christians is Catholic and with 1.1-billion believers this is the biggest denomination of any brand of religion – it has marginally more adherents than Sunni Islam – so it’s a mind-blowing development. Obviously, it’s not quite the long awaited Second Coming, but given that the previous papal resignation was in 1415, the Second Going is probably as dramatic as it gets, bar the resurrection of the dead.

Pope Benedict XVI – a former draftee of the Hitler Youth and dubbed God’s Rottweiler for his savaging of liberal theologians – cited a failing mind and failing body. But Benedict quitting because he is tired is not quite what the College of Cardinals would have expected of him when they chose Joseph Ratzinger, as he was known before his surprise elevation in 2005. Being pope is supposed to be forever, or rather until God decrees an involuntary recall to the great head office in the sky.

On the other hand, business chief executives are often encouraged – with appropriately lavish pecuniary inducements – to fall upon their swords if their corporations are floundering. So given how poorly the Church has performed under Benedict stewardship, it is meet and right that the faltering octogenarian fell upon his staff.

The holding company, Christianity Inc, is growing slowly worldwide but brand loyalty is weak in the developed world. Church attendance is dropping, belief in God is flagging, and most critically, religious leaders are less influential and accorded less authority, especially on issues like abortion, contraception and homosexuality.

The problems are especially acute in Catholic Church (Pty) Ltd. In the United States the number of priests dropped from 59 000 in 1975 to 41 000 and over roughly the same period the number of seminarians dropped from 37 000 to 3 600. There are thousands of parishes today with no resident priest.

In Europe, especially in the historically devout Catholic countries, the decline has been even more precipitous. Two decades ago, 84% of the Irish went to Mass once a week; now it’s below 50%.

There are bright spots. In Latin America, Asia and especially Africa, Catholicism is growing vigorously, although it faces stiff competition from Protestant evangelicalism.

What especially damaged the Church is the ongoing child sex abuse scandal that exploded publicly in 2010. It has shaken the faith of ordinary congregants, seen clergymen imprisoned, and is hurting church finances with multimillion-dollar damages settlements – totalling well over $2 billion so far, in the US alone – just at the moment when tithing is decreasing. The National Catholic Reporter described it as “the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history”.

While the abuse didn’t start on Benedict’s watch, his management of it reeks at best of wilful ignorance, at worst of complicity in cover-up. He has since as pope apologised for the Church’s failings on this issue, however, it was after all Benedict who, while serving as an archbishop, prohibited on pain of excommunication the sharing of abuse evidence with the police.

Since then, en passant, Benedict inadvertently insulted Muslims, causing worldwide riots, bad-mouthed gays, blamed condoms for the spread of Aids, and lifted the excommunication of a schismatic bishop who denies the Holocaust.

But you’ve got give the old man points for style, retro though it might be. In an era where the departures of CEOs have been announced in angry emails, in tweets, or on Facebook, Benedict was more measured. It came in ancient Latin, unheralded and at the end of a routine canonisation ceremony, to be translated on the fly for the rabble of uncomprehending reporters.

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    • bernpm

      “Catholicism’s CEO falls upon his staff”…………..

      Born in a RC family and tradition, my family and I can tell you a lot more funny and/or serious stories about daily life in the RC environment.

      Your take on a man, in his mid eighties, as “the CEO falling on his staf” when he confesses that he feels too old (and sick) to continue carrying the responsibilities of the job seems a little (?) below the belt.

      You do not kick a man when he is down already. Uninformed and cheap publicity seeking. Do you prefer the Mugabe style?? Hanging in there till ……yes, till what??

    • pap & wors

      Man made God in his own image. All this religious stuff is just big business. And the Roman Catholic church is just another business enterprise riding on the back human beliefs. It’s not surprising that church attendance is declining as more people see through the facade and as you correctly state, the product is stale.

    • http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/The-Resignation-of-the-Pope-and-the-coming-of-the-Antichrist-20130213 Jonas Barbarossa

      Brilliant! Witty and close to the bone. I enjoyed this piece a lot.

      You have encapsulated the notion that the Church is just big business splendidly. It is a shameful institution that is long past its sell-by date. And thanks for the well-researched facts.

    • Church collector

      @ bernpm
      ‘Catholicism’s CEO falls upon his staff’ can have an entirely different interpretation: Look at the way Catholic priests have performed.
      If the Catholic CEO has his head in the clouds and no vision; if employees abuse their roles; if the organisastion does not fulfil the function for which its being paid – customers leave.

      Kinda reminds me of Zuma admonishing government corruption. The ANC should take note.

    • http://N/A Roy Low

      May I point out that the Church of England is a full-on Protestant Church, with no ties to the Vatican.

      On the other hand, the Anglican Church was Roman Catholic, but King Henry V111
      broke away from Rome, and the Anglican Church is Catholic-based, and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth is the head of the church.
      Also it is a difficult call to place the Anglican Church as “Protestant”

      By the way “Catholic” means “All Encompassing”

    • Jon Story

      Popes, Queens, Presidents-for-life, we expect them to go on till their last breath. Bent over, hardly audible, pitiful to see.
      For the good of, what?
      This pope has seen the light and has set a precedent. That takes courage I suppose.
      One does not poke fun at courage.
      Not your best piece.

    • baksteen

      Thanks for making me laugh, William.

      And this: “…with appropriately lavish pecuniary inducements.” Wonderful writing!

      As an aside, wouldn’t it be nicer than nice if someone with as many listeners as the Pope would be wise enough to declare “kindness is my religion” or “be kind, and if you can’t be kind, do no harm”? It would be extremely unfair to compare someone as conditioned and ignorant as the MD of Holiness Unlimited to the Dalai Lama, but a mere embarrassed nod in agreement or some nervous gesture of agreement would have done.

    • george orwell

      Christianity took a hit when George “I have a direct line to God” Bush and Tony “Let me be Re-born in Catholicism” Blair both launched the western ‘crusade’ into oil-rich geo-strategic middle east regions, based on packs of lies (yellowcake, Dodgy Dossier, fallacious info, Powell’s false show-and-tell at the UN).

      Christianity got hollowed out a little, right there.

      One wondered which part of “Thou Shalt Not Lie” and “Thou Shalt Not Kill” they didn;t understand.

      Interesting recent event….

      Catholic Communicty Opens Up To Truth


      UK Court Case to challenge BBC 911 Coverage


      “The Truth Shall Set You Free”

    • Booger

      Saunderson -Meyer: The Roman Catholic Church is the most endearing institution the world has ever seen. Attacking an old man (and it is an attack – the ‘Hitler Youth’? WTF? Like everyone his age, he was forcibly drafted) for doing what he thinks is best for a two thousand plus year old institution working for God’s will that inspires and is part of the lives of billions doesn’t builds you up. In fact you look a lot smaller today

    • Chris Cross

      Plaudits for a provocative and praiseworthy portrayal of
      Priestly pretentiousness and perversion –
      and Papal procrastination and.prevarication.

    • Paul S

      I have to say I’m surprised at you, William. I always head straight to your new postings for intelligent and pertinent analysis, written with great style. What a disappointment to have to plough through this biased and one-dimensional piece. Did you write it to up your ratings with the rapidly growing and often ill informed crowd of religion-bashers out there ? You typically hit the nail on the head as far as cause and effect goes but you’ve missed this one by a wide margin. As bernpm notes, here is a man in his mid 80’s who has realised he no longer has the capacity to manage the huge responsibilities of his office. He is not God, not immortal. By the same token, it would be interesting to see how incisive and pertinent your writing will be once you hit your eighties.

    • The Creator

      At least, being guaranteed access to Heaven, he probably won’t insist on a gigantic golden handshake.

    • http://Anton_theant.co.za Anton

      It is horrendous that the Roman Catholic Church has hidden sexual abuse on such a large scale for so long and now the Pope is charged as its Chief. This is a momentously sad day for Christianity and the Church worldwide! Power corrupts as they say…

    • EldiduBluel

      Well, WSM, you have made my day. When I read your submission, it was as if I was writing the words myself. I like the satirical undertone, and the Inc & Pty Ltd bits that hopefully will not fly over heads.
      Denominations presented by various Churches these days are nothing less than People Farms or Conscience Cleaning Factories. For the ‘product’ they deliver, there is a fee – donations or tithing. Only one person benefits from this cleverly induced financial indulgent burden – the pastor, dominee, bishops, priests, deacons and the Poep.
      Now, not believing that men can elect a man as a route to God, the very resignation underlines this flaw. If their selected holy, holy man takes up the staff, their decision was as the bible teaches to avoid, ‘from this world’.
      The problem with every single denomination that I know of, is that all the various rules and rituals are MAN made.
      In this regard, I respectfully inquire as to the passage in any bible that stipulates that: You need to touch your forehead with holy water(C), wash each other’s feet(7th-day), genuflecting(C), meet on Friday(J), Meet on Saturday (7th-Day), meet on Sunday (Dutch), waking, cleaning, feeding and putting to sleep a deity (Krsh), wave some smoke around(C), speaking prayers without formal wording (Morm) et cetera.
      Notwithstanding the above, resigning the task chosen by my fellows in rituals that I believe in, shows a weak character and poor focus. Men, as we are, fight till death? Especially for…

    • rick baker

      Ratzinger should make a place for himself in history and admit that the whole religious thing is a manmade con and then apologise on behalf of the church for having mislead the world for so long. A pope will have to do it sooner or later so it might as well be him!

    • Alan

      The French philosopher Denis Diderot, “Man will never be free until the last King is strangled with the entrails of the last Priest”

    • bernpm

      @Paul S: “By the same token, it would be interesting to see how incisive and pertinent your writing will be once you hit your eighties.”

      Thanks, good take on covering my major objection to this article. Approaching 77 myself, I have become a little more sensitive to the expression (or suggestion): “old fart”.

    • Chris Martin

      Lovely article, WSM.

      Could it be that he has grown tired of living a lie? What educated, thinking, person of his years can still believe in Divine conception, resurrection, transubstantiation and such?

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The Anglican Church sits on the fence between Catholicism and Protestantism and irritates both by calling itself “A Broad Church” rather like the ANC does

    • The Critical Cynic

      Good quote Alan! Diderot also said…
      “Disturbances in society are never more fearful than when those who are stirring up the trouble can use the pretext of religion to mask their true designs. ”

      not that the world has taken much cognizance of this when the leaders decide to attack the middle east, or when Israel….. well, you get the idea

    • ConCision


      What a pity
      That the papal ‘Second Going’
      Preceded the manifestation
      Of the prediction
      ByJesus to Jacob (as pontificated by Jacob)
      That the ANC’s ‘going’
      Would coincide with the ‘Second Coming’

      As Zuma has no clue about what to do
      About what’s going on
      Maybe the opportune coming
      Of another opposing angel
      Will get things going
      To make an ending
      To ANC sinning
      And for democracy
      To finally begin winning
      And for the ANC to get what they’ve got coming

      Where the Pope, at least, promised salvation
      Zuma’s promises simply mean more taxation

    • Duncan

      I bet none of you celebrating the demise of an old man doing what he feels best will be remembered after the deaths of your grandchildren. Catholicism, for all its faults, will still be venerated by billions

    • Counting Costs

      @ Duncan ” … celebrating his demise”? The pope hasn’t died.
      And no one is ‘celebrating’ anything anyway. We’re commenting.

    • Duncan

      @ Counting Costs: read the comments and blog carefully. Comparing the Pope to a CEO, denigrating everything he stands for, ‘lies’, entrails, the Hitler Youth… You’re celebrating

    • Duncan

      @ Counting Costs: I might also add that ‘demise’ is too weak. For a pope to resign instead of die in office is the ultimate sacrifice to a calling. 600 years since the last pope pulled this one off – older than SA, the US, even modern English, etc

    • Counting Costs

      @ Duncan . Why ‘denigration’? This was an excellent analogy – and what was given was infomation.
      Also, what makes the Pope’s resignation “the ‘ultimate sacrifice’? Seriously. I want to know.