Pope Francis and Issues Management

Pope Francis has made a positive first impression, but now faces a herculean set of issues to manage. A good place to start is sending signals of major change within the church that signify respect for people and tolerance for diversity.Okay, I was just kidding about applying for the job of Pope. But I would like to apply for the job of issues manager, which is a position Pope Francis should create right away.

The former Argentine cardinal of Italian descent has created an appealing first impression with both Catholics and non-Catholics. But that won't shield him from enormous challenges ranging from sexual abuse to financial mismanagement to eroding congregations in Western Europe to restive congregations in the United States.

The conclave of cardinals that chose Pope Francis are banking on the evangelical zeal stirred by the first Vicar of Christ from the Americas and the Global South, which are now the bedrock of the Catholic Church. However, evangelism isn't the answer to the Church's problems any more than talking louder is the way to silence critics.

Pope Benedict XVI made headlines by tweeting on an iPad. But using social media is a tactic, not a strategy.

Pope Francis faces a sea of people, both in and out of his religious flock, who are more cynical and distrustful. His challenge is to find ways to engage people and rebuild trust, much like anyone employed in the business of issues management.

That won't be easy because some of the issues to manage include the role of women in the church, homosexuality and gay marriage, a shrinking clergy, contraception and abortion and economic justice, a topic Pope Francis is already well versed on.

A lot of issue managers just have to worry about getting permits for a controversial project or an amendment to soften the blow of onerous legislation.

Some commentators have said change, even in the form of more open communications, is hard for an institution that is 2,000 years old and still uses smoke signals to mark the selection of a new CEO. Interesting, but traditionalists, the curia and everyone else has got to join the 21st Century.

Spirituality isn't dead in today's ever more diverse societies, but specific religions ebb and flow if they lose their relevancy to their congregations. You don't have to change your moral values to be relevant. That only requires a willingness to listen, tolerance for different views and mental toughness to address serious issues from the point of view of their values.

Pope Francis won't change the minds of all Catholic parishioners, but he can signal a fresh breeze blowing through the Vatican by dealing with issues under his province, such as giving women the right to become priests and loosening or even eliminating the requirement, seen by many as a practice in tatters, of priestly celibacy. Actions like that would speak volumes and put Pope Francis and his like-minded church leaders center stage in the world to address problems such as growing poverty, even among the most highly developed nations in the world.

To accomplish this, Pope Francis needs a strategy that stretches beyond better communications. He needs to establish a new order that respects people, embraces diversity and professes strong moral values on more than just gays and condoms.

If he's hiring for an adviser, count me in as an applicant. The world needs a voice like this in the worst way.