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Watching the Watchdog: Did We Just Watch Vatican Idol?

03/14/2013 05:19 EDT | Updated 05/14/2013 05:12 EDT
AP
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Tim Knightwrites the regular media column, Watching the Watchdog, for HuffPost Canada.

Let's try to put all this pomp, circumstance and ridiculous wall-to-wall media coverage into some sort of perspective.

Without all these years of child rapes, their cover-ups by high and mighty princes of the church, the stink of corruption at God's Bank, and party politics worthy of the most Machiavellian of papal politicians the Borgias, almost none of this Vatican Idol stuff would have mattered.

At least, not to the outside world. Only the most faithful of the faithful would have given a damn about the name of the next Bishop of Rome.

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Certainly more than 5,000 journalists wouldn't have camped out in the Vatican to fawn over a bunch of (presumably) celibate old bachelors in identical ladylike dresses parading like puppets in and out of buildings until one of them caused white smoke to waft from a chimney so he could take the top job and everyone else could go back to work.

This edition of Vatican Idol -- brought to you at a cost of many millions by nearly every media outlet in the world -- is, thank the lord, finally over.

Much sound (hymns, sermons and endless journalistic platitudes), no visible fury, and in the end, no significance except the name of the next chief executive officer of this exclusive and dysfunctional men's club.

After two days of secret politicking and voting by its board of directors, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit cardinal from Argentina has become Pope Francis, leader and supervisor of more than a billion people around the world.

He's got one hellish tough new job. All that stuff about child rape, cover-upping, corruption and politics would likely have been beyond the powers of even that much more worldly earlier Francis (the one from Assisi).

Certainly, he has lots of traditionally grandiose job titles to help define his new job.

Gergoglio is Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, and Servant of the Servants of God.

According to church doctrine, he's the 266th man to head the Roman Catholic Church since St. Peter, back at the start of it all. (There may have been a Pope Joan in the middle ages. The church is very cagey on this one.)

The latest edition of The Economist (which some see as a secular version of the Bible) takes a very practical view of the Roman Catholic Church, calls it the world's oldest multinational:

"It is also, by many measures, its most successful, with 1.2-billion customers, 1M employees, tens of millions of volunteers, a global distribution network, a universally recognised logo, unrivalled lobbying clout and, auguring well for the future, a successful emerging-markets operation."

But that's just the magazine's practical description of the outward and visible multinational mammoth -- whose boss claims to be infallible in his decisions on faith and morals (the two main exports of the company) and to speak directly with God in heaven.

The Economist, as is its wont, soon gets down to business. It writes that the company should stick to its core competence which is providing spiritual goods. And its new boss should learn from the private sector how to manage the workforce tasked with that job.

"First, you need to punish errant employees rather than protecting them or shuffling them about. The best companies are quick to 'proactively outplace' wrongdoers."

"Second, you need to treat your reputation as your most precious asset by drawing up clear rules on ethical behaviour, insisting staff adhere to them and conducting aggressive public-relations campaigns."

"Third, you have to keep looking ahead. Companies hold meetings of senior leaders to review their strategies every year, rather than every century or so."

All, no doubt, excellent advice. But is this asking to much of any mere mortal? Particularly a man like Bergoglio who's reported to have lived "a sober and humble life" up to now, cooked his own meals, travelled on buses and flown economy?

No worldly prelate he!

In opposition to any Bergoglio change from the principles and policies which have guided this corporation for some 2,000 years will be the Vatican's hugely influential Curia, essentially its civil service.

The Curia is notoriously elitist and resistant to external influence and moves at roughly the pace of tectonic plates. That's akin to the speed of fingernails growing.

So may Bergoglio's god be truly with him.

This humble man from Buenos Aires will need all the help he can get.