The Roman Catholic Church in the United States finds itself in crisis, one more time. In the early 2000’s the Boston Globe investigative reporting revealed a child abuse scandal that caused the United States Conference of Catholic bishops to unite and create new procedures in response. It became know within the parishes of the Roman Catholic Church as “Protecting God’s Children.” Armed with this new procedure the church hoped to put the problem in the rear view mirror. However, this summer revelations about a popular Cardinal’s sexual relations with seminarian students, followed by revelations of his sex with minors led to new concerns about the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Last week the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office released a Grand Jury report with over one thousand reports of abuse, naming three hundred priest offenders in six dioceses. As the news reports and blogs cover this report, clergy abuse hotlines in Pennsylvania receive a surge in calls of new victims reporting abuse. So the crisis for the Roman Catholic Church continues and only God knows the long term impact of these revelations.The abuse, sexual scandal and cover up revelations highlight an institution that renders too much authority on too few, with little oversight, that provides an abundance of autonomy at all levels and a fraternity of leaders who preach… Click To Tweet
The new revelations lead to questions, one in particular; is God looking to shed light on these incidences so the church can be purged of secrets? Although it is still early, the responses from those with authority are varied; leaders are devastated, seeking prayer and making apologies, with prayer for victims. Certain leaders are looking again to the United States Conference of Catholic bishops and its President Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo to lead the church through these troubled waters and on a road of healing.
The discussion and messaging seems to be around purging the church of the abusive priest, homosexual priest who they feel cannot control their desires and creating a 2002 like policy that will insure new priestly candidates won’t be able to join the presbyterate. The hope is with a proper purging of sin from the clerical ranks the Roman Catholic Church can return to business as usual. Unfortunately this early conversation is focused on symptoms of what could be an institutional problem. The abuse, sexual scandal and cover up revelations highlight an institution that renders too much authority on too few, with little oversight, that provides an abundance of autonomy at all levels and a fraternity of leaders who preach humility but might lack enough of it to ask for the right kind of help. If we look at each of these three areas; authority, autonomy and humility, it might be possible to suggest systematic change which will invite safety, security and growth.
In the Roman Catholic Church a pastor is the authority of the parish and must be an ordained priest. His authority is delegated to him by the bishop who is the authority of a diocese. The Supreme Pontiff is the authority of the church and assigns bishops to a diocese. Unlike a corporation where upper level managers stay in constant communication with their management team, the pastor does not give a daily or even weekly accounting to the bishop about the operation of the parish. Practically speaking if all appears to be running smooth, and the financials are balancing the pastor is left alone to do things as he deems appropriate. The same is true for the bishop in his overall authority of the diocese, he receives little oversight from an authority above him. In any circumstance there is recourse to the bishop. But it is a small fraternity and difficult to imagine a bishop overruling a decision of his pastor.In the Roman Catholic Church a pastor is the authority of the parish and must be an ordained priest. His authority is delegated to him by the bishop who is the authority of a diocese. Click To Tweet
A wise pastor will surround himself with a good team and delegate as much authority for them to help complete the mission of the parish. But the pastor is always viewed by the majority of parishioners as the one in charge and so many complements and complaints will usually be directed and spoken to him. Although the pastor hopes not to be too influenced by what he hears, the parishioners’ know they are speaking to the true authority of the parish. Say for example a donor, noted for their generosity, hears the pastor wants to change the Sunday schedule to eliminate one morning Mass, the very Mass the donor favors. The donor threatens to pull his support, the pastor knows this will have a drastic impact on the income of the parish. The pastor’s team is recommending the schedule change anyway and warn against letting the donor hold the parish to the old schedule. Through the authority system in place the pastor knows it will be his responsibility to account for the missing contribution. So although the pastor delegates authority to the team, practically speaking the pastor is responsible and will make the decision that best suits the authority commensurate with his feeling of responsibility.
This authority model is well known in the Roman Catholic Church and so parishioners or staff members who disagree with a decision in most realities know the only recourse is for them to leave and hope to find better somewhere else or continue in place with less passion. Of course since the circle of pastors for a particular diocese are well known to each other, in fact they are an informal fraternity, word is easily passed from pastor to pastor and the parishioner or staff member may not be able to find a home in another parish in the diocese.
The model for authority of the bishop is stronger. Their breath of responsibility is wide, including financial responsibility, legal responsibility, pastoral responsibility, asset responsibility and staffing responsibility for the entire diocese. As everyone in the Roman Catholic Church knows the bishop has final authority for the diocese his office is where every problem lands for final arbitration or notification if it has been arbitrated in the parish. The bishop is a wise man but expecting him to be an expert in so many areas is untenable. A system without true delegation of authority is a system where errors will occur and discourages true team sharing and ownership. Sure these men will have people whose advice they hear but advice given by someone who has no culpability in the final decision can be suspect.
It is not to say a strong leader could not truly delegate to a team and hold them accountable. But leadership training plays a small part in the life of a student who will become a pastor one day. Therefore it is more common to see a pastor strong in pastoral support of the parish while holding on to authority with a tight grip to be sure not to lose control or be revealed as unknowing.
Beyond delegation problems with the authority model of the church, there is a lack of performance measurement against a parish mission. Jesus’ basic mission for the church is to make disciples, and to do so while loving God and loving others. Truly a difficult mission to accomplish and even more difficult to measure. With time and data we can get an idea of how the overall church is doing. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (ref: Research blog.) the U.S. population grew by 6.35% from 2010 to 2016, yet adults self-identifying as Catholic did not keep pace, in fact decreased. In the U.S. since 2010 the adult Catholic population declined from 59.1 million to 58.6 million, a loss of 511,558 adults, a drop from 25.2% in 2010, to 23.5% in 2016. What is happening? A number of things; baptisms and reception into the church decreased from just under a million in 2010 to approximately eight-hundred-twenty-eight thousand in 2016. Birthrate has dropped from 2.0 to 1.84 children per family due to the recession and the number of Catholic marriages has had a small decline. But the biggest impact may be church marriages are occurring less and less; 50% of Catholic marriages occurred in the church in 1996 and in 2016 it has dropped to 29%.Jesus’ basic mission for the church is to make disciples, and to do so while loving God and loving others. Truly a difficult mission to accomplish and even more difficult to measure. Click To Tweet
If the mission is to make disciples, trusting the data or relying on anecdotal information we are not in an era when anyone could be convinced that Catholicism is growing. How should this decline reflect on the pastor? Is he being measured on the mission? What repercussions should he expect if the church is not growing? If the pastor is not concerned about growth, who is? We can ask the same questions for the bishop.If the mission is to make disciples, trusting the data or relying on anecdotal information we are not in an era when anyone could be convinced that Catholicism is growing Click To Tweet
Any good organization would say measuring success or failure against the mission is important. Any for profit company would set up goals and hold a job performance review of the leader. However, in the church model of authority this doesn’t occur and it would be unfair. The breath of responsibility on the pastor or bishop is so wide, especially with respect to responsibility, they understandably fall in to an attitude of if “it is not broke don’t fix it.” The Roman Catholic parish, by attendance, sacramental rites instituted, enrollment in student ministries has declined over time. Should a leader of a parish be measured for success against mission and compensated or replaced based on the results?The Roman Catholic parish, by attendance, sacramental rites instituted, enrollment in student ministries has declined over time. Should a leader of a parish be measured for success against mission and compensated or replaced based on… Click To Tweet
As can be surmised from the authority discussion above each parish is quite autonomous. If there is any sharing of information or resources across parish boundaries it is incidental, not systematic. Each parish has the same function and mission, many have the same job roles, similar volunteers and ministries, similar assets and all have the same relationship with the bishop and the staff in his office. Each parish has a pastor (with some exceptions), and in the same diocese each pastor is delegated authority by the same bishop.
So although the Roman Catholic Church is regarded as a great big institution with seventy-five million Catholics in the U.S. across 17,156 parishes (ref: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate ) they mostly behave like a small single building church, some with congregations in the thousands and others a few hundred.
This same autonomy exist at the diocesan level. With approximately two hundred diocese’s across the U.S., each having similar function, and responsibility under the authority of the bishop, there is only incidental sharing. (The one exception is diocesan bishops meet in conclaves and conferences regularly.)
This autonomy easily allows an offending cleric to move from one parish to another, even one diocese to another. A brotherhood of presbyterate may be more inclined to overlook small infractions of an offending cleric and recommend them for another parish. Justifiably thinking with the right safe guards the offending cleric could do quite well at the new parish. As there is little to no sharing from parish to parish the offender can function quite anonymously in their new parish. For this reason eliminating such extraordinary autonomy should be part of any solution to the crisis.
Additionally with such extraordinary autonomy there can be no economies of scale. There is little sharing of accounting systems and resources, little computer resource sharing, little administration resource sharing, property management, educational resources, etc. and the sharing that occurs happens from the diocesan office to the parish but not parish to parish. Each parish learns on its own how to create an infrastructure to support its mission, e.g. how to make a website, discovering a response to a new policy now requires windows and half doors to student rooms, etc.) In a more connected church, there are many areas that resources, information and skills can be shared allowing more focus at the parish level on making disciples. What pastor wants to review web pages and social media pages? What pastor wants anything more than a general understanding of the budget, delegating daily details and responsibility? What pastor wants to be responsible for how church procedures are designed (i.e. a procedure for greeters, a procedure for how to apply technology to the mass, etc.) What pastor wants to be responsible for defining a missionary approach? (Sure the pastor cares about who is a mission partner, but deciding to partner or creating something in house can be handed down from the diocese with recommendations.) There is so much that can be designed, defined, and implemented at the diocesan level that would leave the local parish to focus on life transformation and making disciples. Just looking at staffing roles on various parish websites demonstrates a disproportionate overlap in each of the 17,516 parishes across the U.S.
As pastors and bishops assimilate the enormity of the sexual abuse reporting of the last few months much of what was said in the news and from the pulpit carries several messages; “let’s pray for victims”, ”it is difficult to understand”, “I am appalled and angered”, “the church cannot let the sins of men get affect how we view the church of Christ”, ”protecting children is the highest priority”, “I understand if some choose to turn away from the church”, “I feel anger being stained with guilt by association”, and “now is a time for prayer and fasting.” There is a sense that those in authority want to say something that will ease the church away from anger and toward healing. The authority of the church feels compelled to speak, to try to assuage their parishioners and subjects. The people need to hear from those in charge so this is left to pastors and bishops to make personal appeals. It is a sin of the church authority and they can be the only ones to address it.
But, honestly, are these voices trusted? Some bishop’s forthrightly remarked that it is not really possible for them to give a satisfactory response because they don’t expect to be believed. At this moment in time Catholics are looking for action, tangible changes in the church that will replace their lost trust. People will want new systems that correct the institution, not the untrustworthy promises of leaders to follow their own procedures.Some bishop’s forthrightly remarked that it is not really possible for them to give a satisfactory response because they don’t expect to be believed. At this moment in time Catholics are looking for action, tangible changes in the… Click To Tweet
In the voices of some pastors and bishops who spoke you can hear their personal pain, their recognition that the sin of their peers stained the vocation they love and is their life. They recognize the reputation of the clergy is forever tainted, at least in the lifetime of those who live through this moment. But they also hope their own personal magnetism will at least convince those in their parish or diocese they too are victims and can be trusted.
The church needs to model humility at this moment. Those in authority must realize words are not the answer. For a profession that makes its living preaching, now is the time for listening, for accepting and ultimately for right action. The church authority needs to step outside of itself. The voices speaking are Roman Catholic Church voices and they are speaking to one another. The church needs to look outside the authority for answers. There are Catholic business leaders who could provide experience that helps make change. But it shouldn’t necessarily be Catholics exclusively. There needs to be enough humility to look at non-Roman Catholic Churches that have been successful. Many churches today support multiple church locations under the umbrella of a single church quite successfully with systems that choke off potential for abuse.
I suggest Roman Catholic leaders look at Life.Church, founded in Oklahoma by Pastor Craig Croeschel (@craigcroeschel) and his team more than twenty years ago. It is one church with over thirty locations, including a “corporate” location. Their model of authority and autonomy could offer the Roman Catholic Church a new model for institutional change at the diocesan level. Roman Catholic leadership could ask Life.Church to share what they have created and suggest ways to retrofit a shared authority, more connected model into the current diocesan structure.I suggest Roman Catholic leaders look at Life.Church, founded in Oklahoma by Pastor Craig Croeschel (@craigcroeschel) and his team more than twenty years ago. It is one church with over thirty locations, including a “corporate”… Click To Tweet
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Expecting the Conference of Catholic bishops to come up with a solution that keeps the same church structure and expects we won’t end up in another round of scandals down the road is unlikely to gain parishioner support. Change from the closed clerical culture, who even as they address Catholics and offered sympathies of this current crisis, lament their own reputations being affected, predisposes future mistakes in the name of protecting the church’s reputation. It is the natural human inclination to protect by keeping secrets.Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Expecting the Conference of Catholic bishops to come up with a solution that keeps the same church structure and… Click To Tweet
Pope Francis has called the church a hospital for the sick, yet the behavior of most of its ardent supporters is to point to it as a wonderful shining light sitting on the hill, flawless, magnificent, the one true church. Everyone speaks as though they want to act for the good of the church, but without full transparency, the risk is to wound the church and its most vulnerable participant’s remains.Pope Francis has called the church a hospital for the sick, yet the behavior of most of its ardent supporters is to point to it as a wonderful shining light sitting on the hill, flawless, magnificent, the one true church. Click To Tweet
Some have said it is time for another reformation. A reform can occur by changing the authority model to share authority among lay and ordained Catholics. Maybe a cleric is not always the best to be at the top of an organization and certainly one individual with complete authority will make change difficult. Adding a policy, or tougher entrance requirements to join the presbyterate always leaves room for fooling policy and entrance requirements. It is beyond human what someone will do to obtain a goal; if the goal is to be a priest their endurance will lead them through. The vulnerable are still at risk. The authority model of the church requires that the man in charge change, systematic change can have no effect if his desire to cheat is strong. The story of creation is the flaw of men.Some have said it is time for another reformation. A reform can occur by changing the authority model to share authority among lay and ordained Catholics. Maybe a cleric is not always the best to be at the top of an organization and… Click To Tweet The authority model of the church requires that the man in charge change, systematic change can have no effect if his desire to cheat is strong. The story of creation is the flaw of men. #catholic Click To Tweet
The Roman Catholic Church should change the authority and autonomy model and look toward boards, layers of management, measurement plans and an ability to remove someone at the top of the organization, easily, when they are not performing. An organizational model should be implemented with additional levels in the church, managers with real authority, hierarchical structures that allow weekly reviews and peer sharing.
Asking the very authority to give up its authority usually requires revolution. Hopefully these good men who want change won’t need that kind of action, rather they will see their way to share responsibility and ask for help. If true revolution is required there is a fear that the faithful will lack the determination to revolt. The magnitude of the crisis may take away their will and many would rather let the church go as it has. After all this allows them the freedom to check out whenever the church asks too much or offends them. A Church of non-committed disciples has no future.Asking the very authority to give up its authority usually requires revolution. Hopefully these good men who want change won’t need that kind of action, rather they will see their way to share responsibility and ask for help. Click To Tweet
There are those who believe the guidelines established in 2002 by the Conference of Catholic bishops put an end to any future child sexual abuse. I think anyone who would experience implementations of other church programs (non-Roman Catholic programs) for the safety and protection of children will see there is so much more the Roman Catholic Church must do just in this one area. Changing the Institution is the only way to affect real change and engaging the faithful in their church.