Promoting a New Culture of Leadership

From the searching discussions among Catholic Church leaders at the second session of Leadership Roundtable’s Catholic Partnership Summit, this sobering theme arose: the problems facing the Church are about more than sexual abuse. The Church is also facing the blatant abuse of power at the leadership level that has damaged the Church’s once-redoubtable religious, moral, and intellectual authority.

That recognition was part of an intense examination of bishop accountability, clergy-lay co-responsibility, and the role lay and ordained leaders may play in moving the Church from a shameful recent past to a hopeful future. As more than one speaker pointed out, organizations that have accountable leaders have trusted leaders – and that’s a highly desirable place for Catholicism to move toward.

For Fr. Bryan Hehir, Secretary for Health and Social Services in the Archdiocese of Boston, responsibility provides the moral foundation for accountability, and “accountability is the public face of those who take responsibility,” he noted. In practice, responsibility encompasses ownership for and the structures around the tasks we are all charged with doing. Accountability is the aftermath—who failed to perform their job properly and what are the consequences?

What does the lack of accountability and co-responsibility look like within the Church? Chancellor Barbara Anne Cusack of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee noted that if there are only mitres and collars sitting around the table making decisions, then there are no mothers, fathers, or other lay people.

“It’s clear that the Catholic Church has no real system of accountability because there are no sanctions for a priest once he’s ordained, except if he abuses money, children, or power in an extreme way,” commented Fr. Hans Zollner, President of the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He went on to define accountability as the collective sharing and use of power, even by the laity. “The question is how is [power] applied…how do we apply the checks and balances that are best practices in the corporate world, how can they be applied also to how we live as a Church and how we function as a Church,” he explained.


The Need for New Structures in Bishop Accountability

The Summit also addressed the question of how the Catholic Church could build a system of accountability and co-responsibility that could provide checks and balances for the everyday actions of bishops and other Church leaders. “I suggest it’s multiple layers of codes of conduct, a procedure for how a complaint would get heard, an allegation would get investigated, and then a process for determining what kind of consequence would follow,” offered Brian Reynolds, Chancellor and Chief Administrative Officer for the Archdiocese of Louisville, who has worked to resolve more than 200 known cases of sexual abuse of children.

At its Fall General Assembly in November 2018, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called for the development of new protocols in response to the sexual abuse and leadership crises. These included a code of conduct for bishops and an independent commission to address allegations of abuse against bishops.


Reforms for Leadership Cultural Change

Bishop Shawn McKnight of the Diocese of Jefferson City spoke about how he felt the need for “sober, yet immediate action” as he listened to the people of his diocese in the wake of the recent crises. He created a protocol should there be an allegation against a sitting bishop of his diocese. He also required the religious communities serving in his diocese to commit to releasing the names of those credibly accused in their orders in order to serve within the diocese. “This has to be a complete response by the Church,” affirmed Bishop McKnight, “not just part, but all of us have to be engaged and proactive.”

The role of canon law, as a scaffold for strengthening accountability and co-responsibility, came under scrutiny at the two-day Summit. The consensus was that the code of canon law needs significant updating to turn it into an effective platform for leadership accountability. Barbara Anne Cusack, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a canon lawyer, believes that any changes in canon law must follow fundamental changes in Church culture. “We need more concrete and clear uses of penal law,” she contended, “and bishops have to hold one another accountable.”

Clearly, accountability and co-responsibility cannot hope to thrive within the Church in the absence of transparency or good communication, multiple speakers asserted. With regards to what effective communication looks like in the Church, it is often “inadequate, it’s poor, or actually it’s nonexistent,” said Reynolds. He shared that the Church needs “more specific efforts at training those responsible for communication, as well as the leadership…and a greater requirement that communication take place.” He added that leaders also need to put a priority on talking with those who are survivors and those who are abusers. “We need to understand that the abusers and the survivors are human beings, real live people, we can’t just talk about them as some third parties.”

Despite the recognition that some proposals will take time to change, there was a widespread belief that some reforms could – and should — be instituted without delay.



Recommendations for Accountability

There has been a failure to call bishops to accountability, rewarding compliance over talent, maturity, and experience. There is a need for leadership development and support at all levels.

  1. Publicly acknowledge the leadership failure and cover-up
  2. Implement accountability structures for bishops and all Church leaders

2.1 Create ministerial codes of conduct that include the bishop and that recognize abuse of power not only against children, but also adults

2.2 Set up a third-party reporting system for abuse, harassment, or misconduct by any Church leader

2.3 Establish a national or metropolitan independent, lay-led entity that will address misconduct of bishops and bishop accountability that will include transparency during and after an investigation

2.4 Conduct external investigations of any diocesan seminaries or other Ministries

2.5 Follow the example of bishops who have proactively set up their own accountability structures

  1. Implement ongoing professional and personal formation and 360-degree assessments for bishops and all Catholic leaders that begins in seminaries and ministerial programs; assessments should be linked to appointments
  2. Make the bishop selection process more transparent, utilizing a genuine discernment process that includes laity and clergy and takes into consideration the potential bishop’s experience in dealing with abuse


Recommendations for Co-responsibility

Laity and clergy are co-responsible in leadership in the Church. Synodality is a necessary characteristic of the response.

  1. Do a gap analysis for identifying current culture and utilizing a culture transformation model to help articulate and implement the desired culture
  2. Commit to and invest in creating a new culture of leadership and management that is transparent, accountable, and grounded in best practices and proactive in including lay leadership and co-responsibility

2.1 Implement ongoing best practices training for bishops and other Catholic leaders, covering a range of topics such as governance, human resources, financial management, communications, crisis management, intervention, decision making, pastoral management, etc. This should be provided by clergy and lay experts

2.2 Require best practices in human resources: effective selection, training, assignment, evaluation, compensation, and continuing education

2.3 Develop a human resource system that can support Church leaders who are experiencing challenges not connected to abuse

2.4 Involve women in initial and ongoing clergy formation

2.5 Explore alternative forms of parish leadership, including lay parish life Coordinators

2.6 Implement a process of succession planning to manage bishop and senior diocesan leadership transitions

2.7 Develop and invest in ongoing formation programs in management and leadership to train clergy, religious, and laity, including bishops

2.8 Develop a mentoring system for bishops

  1. Commit to a framework for action with appropriate structures to address the multi-layered crisis, provide consultative groups the authority they need to do their work effectively

3.1 Commit to a diocesan governance structure that is transparent with layered checks, balances, and oversight, including a strong presbyteral council, corporate board, and diocesan pastoral and finance councils

3.2 Ensure co-responsibility of lay and ordained in Church leadership and management through renewed structures and hiring appropriate and competent diverse lay personnel at the diocesan level

3.3 Include laity, including women, on personnel boards for clergy


Recommendations for Transparency

Silence is no longer an option; there is an urgent need for bishops to act now. This issue is the number one priority for diocesan funding and resourcing immediately and for the next 5 years

  1. Provide consistent, transparent, and coordinated communications at the parish and diocesan levels

1.1 Establish a crisis communications plan, train Catholic leaders in best practices in communications, and develop a proactive plan for restoring trust throughout the diocese

1.2 Provide full financial transparency regarding all aspects of the crisis, including how funds are being used

1.3 Identify best practices for bishops to listen to and engage parishioners that makes bishops accessible and responsive to needs

  1. Keep survivors, families, and affected parishioners and staff at all levels of decision-making, including when developing best practices

2.1 Use data to show the visible, measurable change since the implementation of the Charter to help restore trust, especially with the young and disaffiliated

2.2 Form proactive agreements to cooperate with external, civil authorities on investigations, reports, and statutes of limitations

2.3 Build a broad, deep, and transparent financial management and accounting system


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