In seinem Beitrag schreibt Mag. Peter Rosegger, Leiter des elisabethinischen Wirkfelds lernen & leben, über grundlegende Prinzipien für einen gelingenden Wandel in Kirche, Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft, mit besonderen Impulsen von Papst Franziskus.

Der Beitrag ist in der wissenschaftlichen Reihe “Off Campus: Seggau School of Thought” in der Volume 2 “Transformation, Transgressions, and Trust” erschienen, die von der Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz herausgegeben wird.

“When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to get off it.” In this old proverb, an essential aspect of change is expressed. The vividness and the relevance of reality are the fundamental parameters of a functioning transformation. Often, when we realize that the ‘horse is dead’ – which for many people should not be taken for granted – we form a working group to decide whether the metaphorical horse is still alive, or we put in place good management that acknowledges the horse’s death. This is not a statement against working groups or good management – but the focus has to be correct. In a management context, the dead horse is a metaphor for the lack of problem-solving strategies.

In our increasingly pluralistic and dynamic world, transformations are seldomer the exception, and more often the rule. Despite this fact, there is a strong, small-minded potential for persistence against transformations in church and society. Incompetence, complacency, and personal interests are often represented as the raison d’État. The argument here is that nothing can be done because everything is complicated. Retrogate movements like this are gradually losing their credibility and vitality, as people turn to creative dynamics in their growing freedom of decision-making. In church, science, and society, the promotion of personal responsibility needs to be strengthened through the individual. Decision-making strategies have to be entrusted to individual people rather than to an institution on a collective level. Employing a person in a company already is an expression of trust that needs to be ensured on long-term basis by allowing individuals to make decisions for the collective in their respective field of expertise.


Potemkin Villages

Despite their differences, the scenarios of persistence that try to get detached from their surroundings are building a stable for their ‘dead horse’ in the form of a Potemkin village. At the time when Catherine II of Russia came to visit the territory newly entrusted to the Russian nobleman Grigory Potemkin, it is said that Potemkin had built empty façades instead of houses in order to hide the problems plaguing the country. The legend of the Potemkin villages, hence, has found its way into the collection of evocative proverbs we use today. The expression ‘Potemkin village’ has come to stand for egoism, verbal embellishments, and activism without substance, instead of thoughtful, responsible, and sustainable solutions that meet the needs of a complex situation.

An example for a Potemkin village is the belief that protectionist economic culture hinders the economic entanglement of globalization. The appeal of such villages is based on the fact that they easily evoke trust and a sense of home. One wants to trust, as the façade looks beautiful and the buildings have been erected quickly. Whoever crafted them must have been a true ‘mover and doer’. However, the elk-test for the Potemkin villages is simple: in the long run, the villages remain without inhabitants. The buildings are only constructed for fairweather situations. Our world is so heterogeneous and dynamic that fairweather buildings are not helpful either in church or society. People will leave them as soon as it starts raining. In the end, it becomes clear that the undercutting of economic trading processes, as is currently the case in Europe and the United States, does not improve the situation of the individual. In On the contrarz, it only suggests political powers without concrete effects for the society.


Principles versus Practicality

A responsible and sustainable change requires clear objectives and a lot of time. It takes determination, competence, and trust. “Short term success can be acquired by purchase, but in the long run the arithmetic does not work. One has to be patient and establish an entire organization” (Ferguson 68). With this analysis, Sir Alex Ferguson, the longstanding and successful manager of the English football club Manchester United, expresses his conviction that a sustainable and successful development is possible and crucial. “If one leads an organization, one better look into the future as far as possible“ (Ferguson 81).

Sir Ferguson has thus tried to connect promotion and demand, trust and loyalty, as well as creativity and discipline in an appropriate manner. “My task was instigating a belief in everyone so that they could achieve things they had never thought being capable of doing” (Ferguson 241). Although often seen as a leader with a chiseled character, the Scotsman’s approach to motivating people has never been shaped by excessive and extensive sternness. “Instead, one gains these people’s respect, accustoms them to success, and convinces them of their ability to improve their efficiency” (Ferguson 122).

Ferguson is also correct in his assertion that “in the long run, principles are more important than practicality” (Ferguson 43). Clearly, there would only be a few responsible people in the church, in science, and in society who would openly disagree with this comment. Empty words, however, are less important for transformations than the deeds done and the decisions made. When we observe actions, we can conclude whether one believes in their own message, whether one is able to convey it to others, and whether change can be implemented.

This basic approach of an active, profiled, and appropriate achievement of complexity without illegitimate reductions may – mutatis mutandis – be applied to almost all societal transformations and innovations. Jörg Lau wrote an analysis of U.S. foreign policy during the tenure of Barack Obama in Die Zeit titled “Held des Rückzugs“ (“The Hero of Withdrawal”); this is what he says about this ambivalence:

There is a new conflict of principle. It revolves around different visions of possibilities of ordering a critical world. Some hope for negotiation and balance in an open (global) society. Others hope for governing in the closed space of the nation and for the law of the strongest. The novelty: it is no longer a struggle between geopolitical blocs. It runs straight through the center of western societies. (Lau 7, own translation)


Actively Shaping Complexity

Within a complicated and ever-changing social episteme, a desire for stability becomes visible within our society. In order to counteract this fluidity, people tend to build metaphorical as well as physical walls. In terms of social structures and notions, the metaphorical wall towards change may be seen in a return to the structures of the Biedermeier. This very desire for a societal Biedermeier in which, only outwardly and through severe action, public peace is prevalent, is a widespread phenomenon that especially challenges large and pluralistic institutions in church and politics. The desire has to be faced with convincement and competency in order to adequately and productively construct complexity. Universities, due to their diversity, are seismographs for social processes. This diversity is especially visible because through interdisciplinarity, unity of research and teaching, and internationality, people are in direct contact with different facets of daily life.

The notion that the university is an indispensable part of society is reflected in the fact that the multifaceted education of students is seen as a crucial element to the shaping of their own lives and to the shaping of the world. This idea ultimately offers a justification for Universitas. In the face of current societal challenges, the university is as relevant now as it was at the time of its emergence between the end of Antiquity and the beginning of the Renaissance. Both then and now, conceptual pairs such as centralism and federalism, internationality and protectionism, individualism and solidarity, as well as skepticism and dogmatism, are brought about as symptoms of transformations.

A critical, distinguished education understood as a common dimension of humankind is essential for the individual and societal responsibility it promotes. It accomplishes a crucial task in a vital and humanistic society. Furthermore, it can be seen as a remedy against the tendency that Thomas Sattelberger describes in Die Zeit in an article titled “Wir hier oben“ (“We Up Here”):

All institutions of power tend to create a world of protégés and hanger-ons of royalty. If they do not undergo a corrective process, they oppress honest minds and create an atmosphere of fear in which nothing critical can surface, until one day all we are left with is the emperor without clothes. (Sattelberger 19, own translation)

The former top manager Sattelberger associated this view with his opinion on hurdles in the German economy, especially in the auto industry.

The preeminent task of employees and managers in churches, academia, and society is to master the complexities of sustainable and humanistic solutions. In all situations of plurality, the core challenge remains the same: we need a basic shift in strategic thinking, away from authoritarianism and unmeditated and quick solutions, and towards profiled context control and a social, political, educational, and political institutions prepared to learn (cf. Willke 24–35, 70–76).

The only systems that remain vital are those that educate employees and actively and appropriately deal with this transformation.

The successful dealing with it requires a proper management in thinking and acting with the reliable skill of not only mastering, but especially also making use of the complexity that is springing up everywhere. The complexity, additionally, is the source of organizational intelligence. It requires appropriate management in order to understand global interconnections and direct the self-accelerating transition. (Malik 24)

Those who want to employ qualified people must connect commitment, specialized skills, and achievement, and integrate the synthesis of these components into the daily routines of organizations. It is thereby important to establish parameters for the adequate enlargement of vital resource knowledge (North 177–184), and the interconnected development of personnel and organizations.

Die Zeit continuously pays attention to the question of how these points, especially against the backdrop of a dynamizing working environment in which the number of young people is decreasing and in which qualification and motivation gain relevance, can be meaningfully incorporated. In an article with the provocative title “Wollen die auch arbeiten?“ (“Do they also want to work?”), the focus was on the generation born around the year 1980. They are referred to as ’Generation Y’. The ’Y’ thereby especially resonates with its homophone – ‘why’.

The Y-representatives have grown up with innumerable options in everyday life and the internet. […] They want all and all at the same time: family plus free time. Job plus joy plus meaning. And this is what they strive to without compromise. […] They initially contest authorities unless the boss impresses them. Colleagueship and personal development rank high, and status and prestige are only at the bottom. (Bund 23)

This article raises the question as to whether this generation gambles away the prosperity accumulated by their predecessors. The article ends with the claim that the action of these people is not detrimental to their ancestors’ wealth, but that they, instead, have important skills for assuring the vitality of their community, “[They are] openminded, committed, and creative in a playful manner. In a global economy in which ideas often weigh more than products, and everything new increasingly comes into existence through social media, those are no bad preconditions.”


The Catholic Church in the Wind of Change

The Catholic Church is facing a complex situation, in which it increasingly needs to master difficult tasks. There is a basic focus on a maximum of two goals for the entire institution within a certain timeframe. In order to reach the set goals, the Church needs people who, beyond the always relevant foundation of the spiritual and theological service and voluntary work, are willing and able to master this challenge in an adequate manner. The normative point of orientation always has to be the Church’s own fundamental mission which should be conveyed appropriately (EG 26). (1)

In his analysis of the behavior of Pope Francis, the former Jesuit and top manager Chris Lowney points to the basic meaning of this future-oriented, contradictionbalancing stance toward the accomplishment of complexity (Lowney 21–22). Many people have lost their trust in those in charge of different areas of life. Lowney argues that people lose their trust in the institution due to the leader’s egocentricity (Lowney 12). For him, leadership has to always oppose these aspects while serving a futureoriented dimension (Lowney 18-22). Lowney calls the leader’s attitude spiritual because it finds creative ways to fulfill tasks instead of blindly following institutional goals (Lowney 23-24). “Only this dynamic tension makes the dedication, ideals, and drive possible, with the aid of which the complex problems of our time can be solved“ (Lowney 22).

This especially entails the knowledge and the support of appropriate stances and attitudes that may fundamentally lead towards success or failure (Lowney 24).

We may watch such behavior, god knows, but we can neither touch nor measure it, and neither does it occur on our company balance sheet. It is spiritual. Good leaders have realized that. They behave accordingly and inspire others towards a similar behavior. They share the increasing disgust of our society towards the way in which leadership, authority, and power are exercised. The new leaders want to make use of their power in order to better lead our society and their organization. (Lowney 24)

For Chris Lowney, Pope Francis is a role model for appropriate leadership in light of indissoluble paradoxes (Lowney 12–16). In the Catholic Church, presently and often in the past, a counter development is taking place that unilaterally seeks to dissolve paradoxes. Under the veil of allegedly missionary pastoral work, a Catholic Biedermeier comes into existence. Structures maintain their essential values and qualities but by presenting them to the world outside the institution through processes such as renaming or repositioning, the image of the Church is reevaluated. In their essence, however, the structures remain the same. The presentation and advertisement completely hinder transformation processes. This narrow stance towards renewal is the exact opposite of a committed church in the sense of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis.

In many cases, such one-dimensional points of view manifest themselves in skepticism of reason, and the latent rejection of normative forms of organization. In this sense, it is equal to the reasoning of Martin Luther, though certainly without his intellectual depth. A ‘catholic’ ‘all encompassing’ approach adds to a substantial connection of belief and reason, of social and mystical, of sciences that focus on singular aspects and theology, as well as of organization and mercy. “Belief does not fear reason; on the opposite, it searches and trusts it” (EG 242, qtd. in Pope Francis 265).

The Catholic Church exists in a heterogeneous and complex world and has to actively face transformations if it wants to remain intellectually capable and a positive shaping power. It has to stand on a solid foundation of values and competently resist discourse and headwinds. It must not only support closed groups and comfortable niches, but also try and connect more broadly. For all this, what it takes are inspired and competent employees.

A point of departure in this case is not a question of proximity, but of genuine and honest discussions of the questions and concerns of the people, as well as the attempt to accompany and strengthen them in a way inspired by the gospel. Pope Francis clearly states that “If, however, we are those who insist on diversity, and draw back into our particularism, in our exclusivity, we are creating a division […] This does not help the mission of the Church“ (EG 131, qtd. in Pope Francis 169).


The Pope’s Principles

Such a commitment must take account of reality. Ideas that are detached from it remain sterile and are built on sand, however good they may sound. “There are politicians – and religious leaders – who ask themselves why the masses do not understand them and do not follow them when their suggestions are logical and clear. This is probably the case because they act in the realm of ideas and restrict their politics and belief to rhetoric. Others have forgotten simplicity and try to convey rationality from the outside, which is unfamiliar to the people” (EG 232, qtd. in Pope Francis 257).

The Pope rather encourages an active and dynamic participation that does not seek personal benefits, but solidary, fearlessness, and processes in the view of enabling the common good. As he said in 2015 before the U.S. Congress, a shifting of perspectives, authenticity, and model character are among the changes needed.

It is my duty to build bridges and help all people to do the same in all possible ways. It has always taken, and still takes courage and audacity, which must not be mistaken for a lack of responsibility. A good political leader is one who, in spirit of the interest of everyone, knows how to benefit from the moment in the spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always decides for launching processes instead of occupying places. (Speech of Pope Francis at the U.S. Congress, September 24, 2015)

Pope Francis formulates four principles of organization in Evangelii Gaudium (EG 217–237), which are essential for such a sustainable development and all necessary alliances.

  1. Time weighs more than space: long-term and sustainable solutions count more than simple activism. Launching processes instead of occupying places.
  2. Unity weighs more than conflict. Conflicts are neither ignored nor levelled, but opened to the front from a higher perspective.
  3. Reality is more important than the idea: putting theory into practice.
  4. The collective is higher than the individual: not simple addition but order out of a fundamental perspective.


In his commitment to a future shaped by humanism, diversity, and participation, the Pope wants nothing less than to shift the fundamental parameters in church and society. This is naturally difficult, as the details of everyday life, the deconstruction of well-intended individual interest, and a number of urgent but not always important tasks all take out a lot from the time necessary for the implementation of these principles in society. An alternative does not exist if one wants to be future-oriented and effect change in a positive way.

These new perspectives are not about hegemony or indoctrination, but about authenticity, freedom, and creativity in the service of a positive dynamic in church and society. Especially for the Catholic Church, which has a long history in light and darkness that is always challenged, it is important to find an appropriate balance between unity and plurality, and tradition and renewal. Implementing change in a way that does not cause suffering is no small task.


University Pastoral in Times of Transformation

The church tries to reach its goal in various dimensions of its service and through different initiatives. Among those premises, there are Catholic university pastorals, as well as universities which are considered seismographs for current developments. Their activities are diverse. Student communities leave no dimension of the church unobserved. They are different from the Potemkin villages that can quickly dissolve. They do not offer a normative program that only has to be accessed, but offer guidance. Important things take time. Students thereby have the option to co-plan and co-organize religious services, journeys, educational and cultural events, or sports activities. This supports their talents, commitments, and individual responsibility.

Even though different communities are structured in different ways, and their commitment continuously has to be renewed, these four principles are vital: foundation is a position – the ‘Principle Profile’. It is about a lively discourse in freedom and with respect to the backdrop of a reflected catholic profile. Based on this, we find the ‘Principle House’. The ‘Quartier Leech’ in Graz was designed in 2013 and is home to approximately 270 students. It is in the center of the university district and a biotope for inviting encounters and the distinctive interdisciplinary and interreligious dialogue between people of different origins. In addition, there is the ‘Principle Forum’. Its concern is not to lean back and relax, but to offer an agora for competent dialogue between the church and the academic world carried out respectfully and freely.

Interpreted like this, an all-encompassing university pastoral – pastoral activity does not only mean counselling, but the entire relationship of church and world – is an integral part of the active participation of Catholics in societal developments and the interconnected perspectives of taking action. A future core responsibility of church authorities will be creating a framework in which these objectives will be meaningfully put into practice. The sustainability of today’s appropriate university pastoral will not depend on whether it stands intelligently and creatively by its principles, and whether people with freedom will aspire to individual, critical, and fulfilled lives and beliefs. University pastorals that meet the requirements of this profile, therefore, are quite similar to the Summer School in Seggau.


(1) Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis is abbreviated in the paper according to the citation of ecclesiastical documents, with the first letters of the first two words: EG. The numbers immediately after the abbreviation refer to articles in the document.


Works Cited

Ansprache von Papst Franziskus beim Besuch des Kongresses der Vereinigten Staaten.
Sept. 24, 2015. Der Heilige Stuhl. Web. Accessed on 24 Mar. 2016.

Bund, Kerstin, Uwe Jean Heuser und Anne Kunze. „Wollen die auch arbeiten?“. Die
Zeit [Hamburg] Mar 7 2013, Nr. 11/2013: 23–24.

Ferguson, Alex with Moritz, Michael. Leading. Was mich das Leben und meine Jahre bei Manchester United gelehrt haben. Kulmbach: books4success, 2016.

Lau, Jörg. „Held des Rückzugs.“ Die Zeit [Hamburg] Sept 15 2016, Nr. 39/2016: 7.

Lowney, Chris. Franziskus – Führen und Entscheiden. Was wir vom Papst lernen können.
Freiburg i. Br. u.a.: Herder: 2015.

Malik, Fredmund. Führen Leisten Leben. Wirksames Management für eine neue Welt.
Frankfurt/New York: Campus, 2014.

North, Klaus. Wissensorientierte Unternehmensführung. Wertschöpfung durch Wissen.
Wiesbaden: Gabler, 2011.

Papst Franziskus. Die Freude des Evangeliums. Das Apostolische Schreiben „Evangelii gaudium“ über die Verkündigung des Evangeliums in der Welt von heute. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 2013.

Sattelberger, Thomas. „Wir hier oben“. Die Zeit [Hamburg] Jun 2 2016, Nr. 24/2016: 19–20.

Willke, Helmut. Einführung in das systemische Wissensmanagement. Heidelberg: Carl-Auer, 2011.

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