Behold a global business in distress — incoherently managed, resistant to the modernizing forces of the Internet age, tainted by scandal and corruption. It needs to tweak its marketing, straighten out its finances, up its recruiting game and repair its battered brand. Ecce Catholicism Inc.
Yes, the business of the church is saving souls, but it is nevertheless a business: a closely held conglomerate with a work force of more than a million, 1.2 billion more-or-less regular customers, 10 times as many outlets as Starbucks, more real estate than Donald Trump dreams of and lobbying clout to rival that of any secular industry. Now its C.E.O., physically and mentally depleted at age 85, is stepping down, creating an opportunity for a serious relaunch.
Catholicism is mostly a service industry — Canyon Ranch for the spirit, if you will — and its deliverables have stood the test of millenniums: instruction in how to live a good life, sacraments to consecrate major milestones, comfort in times of distress, the cleansing therapy of confession, penance and absolution, a sense of place in the universal order and the promise of a celestial payoff. The fundamental problems are not in the catalog. There is still a robust market for the faith. The problem — evident in the waning confidence of the customers as well as the rising market share of evangelical start-ups and none of the above — is with the management.