Douglas McGregor, writing in the late 1950s, described two common and contrasting assumptions which managers make. One of these, which he called Theory X, held that people are inherently lazy and unmotivated. The proper management approach is therefore one of close control exercised through stick and carrot. The other, called Theory Y, held that people are naturally responsible, and are motivated by contributing to organisational goals.
Here, the proper management approach would be to provide conditions in which people were free to exercise this responsibility and use it both for the good of the business and their own fulfilment – which were one and the same thing. He argued that Theory X managers would, at best, get mediocre performance from their workers, while Theory Y managers would get superior performance.
McGregor was certainly not alone. Other management gurus – such as Rensis Likert and Frederick Herzberg were arriving at similar conclusions, and many will know Abraham Maslow’s triangle – a hierarchy of human motivation with basic necessities at the bottom and self fulfilment at the top. Over the last fifty years, the value of Y theory management has become almost a truism, even in those organisations which do not in practice use it, while imagining, and proclaiming, that they do.
Would this model apply to the Church? We could describe the better part of the Church’s history as typical of an X theory organisation. Monarchical in its governance, it is emphatically hierarchical in its nature. It operates by a comprehensive web of inflexible rules, which are buttressed by the heaviest — indeed eternal — sanctions for disobedience. Its internal communication is not just poor, it is lamentable. Against such a description, we might then understand the fundamental dynamic of Vatican II as initiating a formal change from the X theory of the historical Church to the Y theory Church to which we should aspire.
But here we attend to Pope John Paul’s 1985 caveat, warning us against a tendency to consider the Church as a mere institution – not recognising its foundation and fundamental source of authority. But sacred though it may be, it is an incarnate institution and, in many respects, it will behave like one. Y theory organisations work on the tight-loose principle: imperative when it is necessary to be, permissive when it doesn’t. This is a matter of judgment as parents discover in gradually extending a child’s freedom with age and capacity. Overprotective parents and an overprotective Church both inculcate immaturity. And people grow up.
But Vatican II was over 50 years ago, we have a Pope who is Y theory by instinct, we have regular synods for the bishops to exercise collegiality, our liturgy is in our own language, freedom of conscience is resurrected from the past – yet the rows and bickering continue. And catastrophic statistics presage long term disaster. To understand this we may need to examine secular experience. It tells us that changing from X to Y is not done overnight, and tears are shed on the way.
Many workers themselves dislike change. Moving from simple obedience to taking personal responsibility disturbs them. Executives have learnt not to trust the workers: will they lose control? They know that they have been successful through X theory methods, will they be successful now? The new management methods require far more skills, imagination and planning than they have needed before.
We might compare these secular difficulties to those we have experienced in the Church. We may also spot signs of achieving apparent change without its substance. Here we might think of the episcopal synods which emanated from Vatican II as an extension of collegiality. In fact they were so carefully muzzled from the beginning that their contribution has been negative. Or the selection of bishops – a process in which the local bishops have no authority. An episcopal request at the 2001 Synod for the “inadequate and arbitrary methods employed in selecting bishops” to be reviewed was ruled as not up for discussion. Perhaps it doesn’t matter — as Cardinal König once said: “the curial authorities working in conjunction with the Pope have appropriated the tasks of the episcopal college. It is they who carry out almost all of them.”
So we should not be too concerned that it has taken so long to get to this stage. When an organisation has maintained the same culture for many centuries it may take generations to settle with the right balances in place. There is certainly an immediate need for structural change such as the reform of the Curia, the genuine establishment of episcopal collegiality, and the selection of bishops. And I would like (this is my fantasy) every cleric in office to attend a course in modern management. It would not change their sacred duties, but it might ensure that their sacred duties achieved the actual effects they wish.