Trust, Stewardship, and Synodality

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.

Bishops, cardinals, university presidents, philanthropists, chief financial officers, women religious, 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.

Patrick Markey and Kim Smolik, Executive Partners



  • Synodality should not be an abstraction, but Church leaders should seek creative, inspiring ways to make the themes of co-responsibility and synodality more tangible so they come alive in the hearts of Catholics and in our institutions.
  • Synodality requires humility and courage. Those on the periphery can only be brought into our conversations if we create convening spaces where honest and often challenging dialogue can take place.
  • There is a particular need to include the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ Catholics, young adults, people with disabilities, and others who have been historically absent from leadership and decision-making.
  • Synodality accentuates the need for “feedback loops” in parishes and dioceses and processes of accountability that hold everyone accountable to one another.
  • People have an authentic desire to be heard, need tools to evaluate ministries and leaders, and a reliable framework for consistent dialogue.


Putting Synodality into Practice: An Invitation and Framework for Feedback

  • Starting with established practices and modifying as the synodal process progresses.
  • Inviting not only those who are not in the Church but also those who have remained, who have not given up, to share their stories.
  • Putting a synod process in place that is easily executed by small and large dioceses and is easily replicable.
  • Finding the right facilitators for synod processes and training them well.
  • Training individuals at the parish and diocese level in change management skills that will be needed to implement the findings of the synod.



Transcending Divided Ideologies, Healing Wounds

  • Parishes, dioceses, and other Catholic institutions have the opportunity to convene civil conversations on divisive issues.
  • Listening sessions and civil forums within the faith community can become a tangible expression of encounter in a society where there are few spaces that bring people together.
  • Encounter and immersion experiences that help break down barriers and foster connections could be incorporated more systematically into parish and diocesan structures.
  • Creating opportunities for parishioners from urban and suburban/rural churches to learn from each other is a way to institutionalize a culture of accompaniment and encounter.
Katie Diller Gleason, Rev. Michael Garanzini, SJ



Addressing Systemic Exclusion

  • Ensuring diverse representation in leadership requires intentionally expanding our vision and asking who is missing in the rooms where decisions are made.
  • Specific goals and consistent accountability are needed to ensure professed ideals are not only words on a page. We value what we measure.
  • Budgets need to demonstrate a tangible commitment to inclusion, diversity and ministry to and with those on the periphery.
  • Ongoing professional development for all pastoral leaders — lay and ordained — is integral to growing and retaining diverse leadership talent.


Inclusive Lay Leadership

  • Inclusive lay leadership must reflect the diversity of the people of God.
  • Lay leaders are often experts who can serve the Church worthily in many capacities. However, as Pope Francis has often challenged the culture of clericalism, we should also be cautious not to perpetuate a culture of a “lay elite.”
  • The Church would benefit from including the voices and talents of all lay Catholics who each have the expertise and wisdom of lived experience to share.



Stewarding Financial Resources

  • Bridging the disconnect between pastoral ministry and financial stewardship through ongoing education conveys how a culture of co-responsibility, transparency, and good stewardship all work in tandem.
  • Recognizing that diocesan chief financial officers have a canonically important role and that they, along with diocesan finance councils, serve as chief collaborators with bishops on budgeting and finances.
  • Ensuring pastoral and finance councils are more closely integrated and operate using best practices.
  • Committing to greater transparency in reporting from finance councils and the parish as a whole.
  • Facilitating broader consultation with the parish community when it comes to managing financial resources and setting budget priorities to develop a consensus that the ministry of good stewardship is a shared endeavor.


Stewarding People: Hiring and Retaining Talent

  • More just salaries, training, and mentorship help to attract more qualified professionals.
  • Creating a talent management bank to serve as a repository for connecting with a network of leaders.
  • Ongoing professional development is critical to stewarding human potential.
  • Parishes and dioceses with limited financial resources have a harder time hiring and retaining leaders with financial expertise and addressing this equity challenge, exacerbated by the pandemic, is a critical issue moving forward.


Learning from the Past, Leading in Challenging Times

  • Study past failures to learn from mistakes and safeguard systems moving forward.
  • Create and promote hotlines and other channels dedicated to reporting financial impropriety.
  • Develop, promote, and encourage the adoption and implementation of standardized financial and accounting best practices.
  • Ensure best practices for financial stewardship are implemented and shared widely to ensure effective management of Church assets, vendor contracts, audits, and other financial practices.
  • Provide a dashboard for leaders as well as parishioners to transparently gauge how the Church is doing at various levels regarding finances and management.



  • The laity desire an increased role in how future ordained leaders are educated and are offering their competence and experience to the Church.
  • While many seminarians receive some training in parish and social service settings where they collaborate with lay people, the opportunity for more intensive practical experiences can help create a culture of co-responsibility.
  • There is great value in having seminarians take part in an immersion experience with a parish finance council or fundraising office.
  • It would be valuable for business courses and financial management classes to be included in seminary formation.


The Path Forward

  • Seeing prudent stewardship of financial resources as an essential ministry of the Church.
  • Valuing and prioritizing diversity and inclusion in hiring decisions, in budget choices, and as an expression of the diverse Body of Christ in the world.
  • Listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying through the people of God, including those on the margins, by the synodal process called for by Pope Francis.
  • Committing Catholic institutions to playing a vital role in healing the wounds of a divided Church and polarized nation by convening spaces of encounter and civil dialogue, starting with the synodal process.
  • Including more opportunities for seminarians to have practical experiences alongside lay people to reflect the values of co-responsibility and collaborative ministry.
  • Expanding and supporting the Coalition on Ethical Financial Management in the Church.
  • Renewing the commitment to transparency, accountability, and co-responsibility.


To view recordings of the 2021 Catholic Partnership Summit, visit


This piece was originally published in Leadership Roundtable’s 2021 Annual Impact Report.


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