Opinion Columns & Blogs

Leaders are fighters

All leaders learn to fight. It’s just part of leading. When somebody starts to move us in the wrong direction, a leader jumps up and says: “Hold on, we’re not going there,” and a fight starts. In politics it’s called election time; in religion it’s called “all the time.”

Religious leaders have dominated history: Moses, Jesus, Muhammed, Joseph Smith, etc. Each one fought many battles and sometimes wars. And now the Catholic Church has produced the controversial Pope Francis — who fights against “the way we always did it” and generates more headlines than a Hollywood star. Two weeks ago, this pope made another surprising announcement by promoting Joe Tobin to cardinal.

Joseph William Tobin is the archbishop of Indianapolis. The other American cardinals are in charge of much larger places like Washington, D.C.; New York; Los Angeles; Houston, Texas; etc. Why would Pope Francis go to a small city like Indianapolis to pick one of his new leaders? That’s like going to Macon. Who is this Joe Tobin, anyway? Well, it turns out that Joe Tobin is a fighter.

Tobin was a young American working in the Vatican when the sneaky investigation began that tried to label many of our American nuns as heretics. The nuns were not heretics; they were intelligent scripture scholars and theologians who were expressing new concerns and ideas. They were doing the same thing many Catholic men had been doing for years. But they were women (gasp). And the Vatican just couldn’t handle it.

Joe fought this battle up and down the cobbled streets of the Vatican, arguing his case every chance he got. And finally he won. However, this “ugly American” had made a name for himself among those who hated change, and just a few months later, they kicked him out of Rome. Joe came to Indianapolis, and not too long ago the governor of Indiana refused to allow an influx of helpless Syrian refugees to enter the state for fear of terrorism. Joe fought for the refugees and he won.

Now I know why Pope Francis chose him: Joe’s a fighter.

Joe learned to fight in the Redemptorist Order. Both Joe and I were raised as Redemptorists. The order was founded by an Italian named Alphonsus who fought the nobles in Naples because they abandoned the poor and the helpless. Joe and I grew up in that order as teenagers and we drank in that exciting culture for many years. We lived and thrived on the give-and-take atmosphere that taught us how to fight against injustice.

Pope Francis had a similar background. Instead of a Redemptorist, Francis grew up as a Jesuit. The founder of the Jesuits had been a soldier. Ignatius Loyola was wounded in the battle of Pamplona when a cannonball injured both his legs. His Jesuit Order is famous for fighting ignorance; they run 324 secondary schools and 167 colleges and universities in the world.

Joe and Francis will make a great team. I’m waiting to see what their fighting agenda will be.

In my time in Rome, (back in the ‘50s) the fight was against the corrupt Vatican Bank run by the Mafia, and the equally corrupt Vatican Curia, which dictated all the rules and restrictions on Catholic living. My hero and mentor, Pope John XXIII, waged war against both evils, but he died before he could totally root them out.

So what issues will our new team pick? We know both of them think alike on the sad condition of women in the church. The Catholic Church is one of the few Christian denominations that ban women ordinations. Joe and Francis have both spoken about promoting women. Will we soon see a woman priest saying Mass in Saints Peter and Paul’s Cathedral in Indianapolis? Who knows?

I know one thing. Both of these men fight against injustice. Objectors may think they have misjudged some particular situation or failed to understand some cultural background, and they may be right. But once these two men are convinced of their position — they come out fighting like leaders. They know they can’t win if they don’t fight.

And they both have a history of winning.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.