Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Church as business

From the Boston Globe
A group of prominent Catholic business leaders and academics announced yesterday that they have formed a nonprofit organization aimed at professionalizing the governance and administration of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, which has been reeling from a string of management and financial problems.

The new group called for the church to solicit nominations from clergy and lay people for candidates to be bishops and for bishops to consult parishioners and parish employees before naming new pastors. Also recommended were a broad series of administrative changes, including the appointment of a chief administrative officer for every diocese, publication of annual financial statements that are ''reader-friendly," and the initiation of performance reviews for priests, nuns, auxiliary bishops, and other church employees.

The new organization, called the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, says it will aim to gather the expertise of accomplished lay Catholics and use it to transform the nation's largest religious denomination. The Catholic Church in recent years has faced a clergy abuse scandal attributed in part to poor management, a personnel crisis because of the dwindling number of priests, bankruptcy filings by three dioceses, and a raft of parish and school closings.
The man spearheading this thing is one Geoffrey Boisi. His name is most likely not recognizable to many people, but he is one of those Boston Catholic millionaires who works behind the scenes and is influential with certain members of the hierarchy, like Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C.

Boisi is the man who, in July of 2003, put together a secret or confidential (take your pick of terms and definitions) meeting of some lay business leaders and five bishops at the JPII Cultural Center in Washington. They talked about the sex abuse crisis and the effects it was having on the Church in the U.S. Now, obviously meetings between laity and bishops happen every day. I can meet with my bishop or even with other bishops. But what was unprecedented was that Boisi was able to get together with the then-leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They included then-Bishop Wilton Gregory (president), Bishop William Skylstad (VP, now president even though he declared his diocese bankrupt), Bishop William Friend (secretary), Bishop Robert Lynch (yes, the one who is notoriously silent on the impending murder of Terri Schiavo in his diocese -- he is formerly the General Secretary of the NCCB) and Cardinal McCarrick. That is something I or any other ordinary layperson cannot do.

That meeting, and another one the following year, basically told the bishops they had better adopt a business model approach to running their dioceses otherwise they will repeat the sexual abuses of the past and the Church will crisis itself into non-existence. They seem to be of the opinion that the Church has to learn from the world. (Take a look at this article I wrote for Catholic World Report on those meetings.)

I don't buy that. The Church has learned too much from the world. The bishops who covered up and did not face the realities of what was going on had bought into the worldly notions of sexual license as the norm, or were advised by those who had. They gave up their episcopal authority or let it be rendered impotent by not understanding their roles as iconic fathers, images of The Father. The Church is a family, not a business (not even a family business). That is why we do not address the Trinity as CEO, COO and CFO, but Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yes, we do have to do some business-type things, but that is merely an accidental property. The Church is not even just primarily a family. Familial life is its essence. To operate her functions in any other way is to render her -- the chosen instrument of God's salvation on earth -- impotent. (Yes, I understand that women cannot be impotent, but my meaning is clear.)

I know bishops who were fantastic CEO's but lousy bishops. I know bishops who are lousy CEO's but great bishops. I would rather have the latter than the former. The latter will understand the importance of preserving proper relationships with God and with one another. The former will be concerned for the bottom line and the public image.

Besides, weren't there some companies called WorldCom and Enron?

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