Help Wanted: Papal Game Changer

The College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church, clad in their magnificent scarlet and white finery, gathered today from across the planet in an age-old ceremony to begin the process of electing a new Pope in the wake of the resignation of the man who is once again to be known as just Joseph Ratzinger.

Their decision will have overriding importance to the direction of the church everywhere including Asia, where 120 million Roman Catholics await to see which way the future of their religion will go.

A pro eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass was celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. In the afternoon the 115 members of the church's most important hierarchy began the balloting on who will become the head of an ancient and troubled institution, the rock founded by Peter. Their decision could take a day or it could take a month, to be ended when the white smoke arises from the Vatican chimney.

So much for ceremony. It is a church so enwrapped in scandal and hidebound in the past, so out of touch with not just the rest of the world but its own flock that it seems questionable if it can survive at all. Unfortunately, all four of the apparent leading candidates - Angelo Scotti of Italy, Peter Erda of Hungary, Marc Oullet of Canada, Odilo Sherer of Brazil - are as deeply conservative as the man they seek to replace in a church bleeding parishioners.

The answer? Maybe bring in an international consulting outfit like McKinsey & Company to do a full study and find an outsider to overhaul the firm. Think Carlos Ghosn, the ex-Renault man who turned Nissan around dramatically.

"Mr. Ghosn's change-management challenge at Nissan--and the approach he took to the company's 19-month turnaround--is of great interest to top managers and academics alike." McKinsey said in an analysis of Ghosn's revolution at Nissan. "The former Michelin and Renault executive, best known for his cost-cutting skills, was trying to do more than restructure a respected but money-losing industrial giant. He was doing so in Japan, where social convention limits one's flexibility in making big, fast cost reductions. Moreover, he is a foreigner, one of the few to lead a Japanese company."

The church of course made a stab at it by bringing in two foreigners - Pope John Paul II was Polish, followed by a German. We know how that went for Ratzinger. He threw in the towel, the first Pope to quit in 600 years.

The wisest choice would be an atheist. Unfortunately Christopher Hitchens is dead or he would have been magnificent. Daniel Dennet is alive and doing well.Richard Dawkins would be good. On the distaff side, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Susan Blackmore and others might be happy to take on the task. Ophelia Benson, author of the book Does God Hate Women? would probably oblige.

A woman atheist would be particularly valuable. The nuns, largely silenced by Ratzinger, would love it. The church's views on birth control would condemn half of its parishioners to penury if they follow them - which the vast majority of women, even in the most Catholic of countries, do not. A woman would sort out that business right away.

Now the church is the subject of a new scandal in Spain, where priests during the Franco period stole as many as 30,000 newborn babies from their mothers and sold them. Of course it is a church with an enormous number of priests who are pedophiles and, if the rumors swirling in Rome are to be believed, the pedophile scandal reaches to the very top. In the Philippines, a new scandal has surfaced - common knowledge for decades - that significant numbers of the priesthood are married with children.

Maybe if they stopped treating priests like freaks and let them get married a lot of this would stop. It seems doubtful Jesus would mind.

There is so much more to do that it seems hard to imagine any person among the 115 cardinals - there would have been 117 but one is ill and yet another resigned last week after admitting to inappropriate sexual misconduct - can guide it into the modern world, or would even be willing to try. It is difficult to know where to begin.

The church needs to be cleaned out completely. Start with getting rid of the medieval costumes. Get rid of the picture of Jesus as a brown-haired white guy. He was a swarthy Arab. There is massive superstition inside the church that has nothing to do with the Faith as Jesus proclaimed it.

The church, for instance, teaches that salvation can't be guaranteed or assured. The Bible guarantees it on belief alone. The church says Christians will be saved by meritorious works and that salvation will be maintained by good works - receiving the sacraments, confession, etc. The Bible says Christians are simply saved by grace and that none of that is necessary. But of course the church has worked out ways to monetize salvation in myriad ways.

There are vast numbers of other forms of mumbo jumbo things to be got rid of  although save the music. We can't lose Bach. An atheist selected by McKinsey could sweep the whole thing away. Go back to the beginning. Fire the Cardinals, fire the Monsignors, fire the Bishops.

Then there is the matter of unlocking value, as investment bankers say. According to One-Faith-Of-God.Org, the Vatican is "by far the largest holder of land titles for any organization or government in the world, with visible title to around US $316 billion of property (churches, schools, hospitals etc.) and around US$2.6 trillion in investment property hidden in extremely complex networks of hundreds of thousands of trusts and front companies."

Vatican City, in the heart of Rome, is believed to be worth US$1-3 billion alone, excluding artworks and valuables. The church is said to own U$50 billion in visible property holdings and another US$507 billion in hidden property holdings.

This probably has to go. It was Jesus after all, according to Matthew 19:21, who said "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

With an atheist in charge, the church could not only unlock all of that value but restructure it so that the earnings are transparent and go to the people from whence it came - the flock, especially the poor for whom the church is supposed to be dedicated. This might open the gates of heaven for all those Bishops, Cardinals and Monsignors.