Executive Summary of the 2021 Catholic Partnership Summit

Building upon the last two Catholic Partnership Summits, Leadership Roundtable convened the 2021 Catholic Partnership Summit, Building a Church for the Future: Mission, Stewardship, and Restoring Trust in a Post-Pandemic World, just as the Church prepared to embark on a synodal path of dialogue, discernment and consultation.

More than 270 leaders from 74 dioceses across the United States, Guam, Kenya, Canada, the Bahamas, Colombia, and Rome participated in the Summit, which reflected the Church’s rich diversity. University presidents, bishops, philanthropists, chief financial officers, women religious, cardinals, and other lay leaders came together for presentations, prayer, and small group discussions. Reflecting this global spirit of synodality, we were excited to welcome our partners in Rome to the Summit. Leaders from across Vatican dicasteries, congregations and councils gathered at the International Center on Missionary Animation (CIAM).

As the pandemic continues to challenge dioceses, parishes and families in unprecedented ways, the Summit highlighted a renewed sense of hope, determination and commitment to the mission of the Church. Collectively, leaders affirmed the unique opportunities for healing wounds, re-imaging what is possible, and charting a bold future as we continue to build a culture of accountability, transparency and co-responsibility in the Church. Participants also grappled with how this era has underscored the urgency to address systems and institutions that for too long have particularly marginalized women, people of color, and others on the periphery.

This executive summary contains major themes that emerged from Summit speakers and small group discussions.


Healing and Strengthening Our Catholic Community

  1. Promote Inclusion and Lay Leadership

There is a particular need in the Church to listen to the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ Catholics, young adults, people with disabilities, and others who often have been excluded from leadership and decision-making. Actively appointing individuals from historically underrepresented groups to leadership positions and creating structures for lay involvement in parish operations, ministries, and outreach are crucial to healing and strengthening our Church. Additionally, taking steps to professionalize ministerial roles and, where possible, providing paid positions helps ensure the Church recruits and trains those with skills to serve.

  1. Prioritize Wellness

Many clergy and laity experienced loneliness and isolation during the pandemic. It is vital to promote opportunities for connection and encounter. The Synod process is also a unique chance to bring people who have been excluded, marginalized or wounded by the Church back into the conversation and to listen to those who have left the Church about their decision to leave and identify actions to address the issues involved.

  1. Leverage Technology for Evangelization

During the pandemic, parishes and dioceses made technological and social media advances to reach people where they are. The Church can build upon those and push beyond its comfort zone to be more creative in evangelization and pastoral accompaniment.

  1. Engage in Dialogue

People desire to be heard. Synodality is not an abstraction, but rather offers a model for a listening Church and for ways to become more co-responsible. The Church has an opportunity to create forums and structures for people of differing ecclesial perspectives to engage in dialogue, as well as to identify and implement ways to build a greater sense of community and Christian journey. It starts by asking who is missing from the table and taking actions to ensure those individuals are at the table moving forward.


Stewardship of People

  1. Advance Ongoing Clergy Formation

All priests should engage in comprehensive, systematic and practical ongoing formation, available through The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests. Providing regular, ongoing leadership and management training to clergy equips them to pastor in a synodal Church that listens to those on the margins and leads co-responsibly with the laity. By reforming seminary curriculum to prioritize synodality, praxis, inclusion of women, and co-responsibility with laity, and by establishing standards and best practices as well as methods of review, the Church can ensure Catholic institutions are meeting these standards.

  1. Prioritize Diversity

A thriving Church actively welcomes individuals of all races, ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexual orientations to full participation in the life of the Church. Intentionally opening seats at the leadership table to include people of color, as well as young adults and women, and hiring, supporting and retaining diverse leaders is vital. Diversity must not merely be an ideal. The Church can create and implement accountability mechanisms to assess whether stated goals of inclusion and diverse leadership are being achieved.

  1. Establish Formation Opportunities for Co-Responsibility

For the lay, religious, and ordained leaders who serve the Church, ongoing training can help leaders better carry out their role in stewarding the Church co-responsibly. Building the capacity of those who serve on finance and parish councils by providing the tools necessary to effectively operate, including training, access to documents, regular discussions, engagement with the bishop, pastor, and staff will keep them responsive to the needs of the diocesan or parish community.


Stewardship of Financial Resources

  1. Align Mission and Resources

It is important to communicate openly how the parish or diocese is supporting the mission of the Church through financial stewardship. Analyzing the gap between the stated values and the allocation of resources and identifying steps to maximize consistency between values and use of resources will help ensure alignment with mission. The Church can also assign priests and pastors where their talents match the needs and culture of a parish and implement a standardized process for evaluating ordained and lay leaders that includes collecting feedback from the parish community and staff.

  1. Establish Standards, Accountability, and Reporting Practices

Transparency is a best practice of financial stewardship. Transparency can take many forms including: developing accurate position descriptions to ensure consistency between skills and the requirements of a position; publishing and making accessible annual financial statements; adopting a pastoral planning process that includes as many people as possible in the discernment of goals and priorities; drafting budgets based on established goals and priorities to ensure those goals and the mission are funded; and requiring conflict of interest disclosure for all finance council members and anyone who has fiscal decision-making capacity.

  1. Equip People for Fiscal Stewardship

Fiscal stewardship demands hiring qualified and committed professionals for the management of parish and diocesan administrations. Offering ongoing training and competitive salaries and benefits will enable attracting and retaining highly-competent personnel for these positions. It is also important to empower finance councils to work co-responsibly with staff and clergy to examine all financial aspects and ensure compliance with ethical practices. Finance council members should be encouraged to take part in networking opportunities for council members as avenues to share best practices for fiscal management, transparency, and ethical practices.


Stewardship of Potential

  1. Implement an Inclusive Synodal Process

The 2021-23 Synod process offers a unique opportunity for all Catholics to share their ideas and perspectives and discern the will of God for the Church. To stimulate interest and broad participation, the Church should communicate the significance of the synod process in establishing a culture inclusive of lay leaders in the Church. Leaders should consistently ask “Who are we missing?” from Synodal conversations and take intentional steps to include them in the process. Providing pastors with the tools and training to actively cast a wider net will help ensure diverse participation in the Synodal process while training leaders will ensure effective facilitation of consultations and reporting of results.

  1. Partner boldly and broadly

The synod process is an important opportunity for the Church to establish permanent structures of co-responsibility that infuse synodality into the culture, policies, and practices of parishes and dioceses. Co-responsible structures build connections that encourage resource-sharing and collaboration on common themes raised during Synod consultations. Studying the inclusive governance of Eastern Rite Churches and other Churches to consider what practices can become a template for the Church, can also help ensure the Synod remains an ongoing process rather than a single event or program.

  1. Approach stewardship with an abundance mindset

There is great potential in the Church when its resources are aligned with its mission and our call to synodality. Rooting financial investments and management of assets in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, including solidarity, equity, and dignity and utilizing creativity, urgency, and agility in stewardship enable the Church to engage in budgeting and use of resources with an abundance mindset.


This piece was originally published in the 2021 Catholic Partnership Summit Report

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