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The biggest challenge for the Church is its Ottoman-style failure of management

Without good administration, charity and justice become impossible. Church leaders should look to the example of King Solomon

By on Monday, 24 June 2013

Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh of New York catches up on some admin (Photo: CNS)

Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh of New York catches up on some admin (Photo: CNS)

I had a conversation with some Jewish people the other day, which is always a pleasure, and in the course of the conversation I asked them what they thought was the biggest question inside the Jewish community at present.

The answer was interesting: education. It seems that the Jewish community has taken up the idea of free schools with vigour and very soon most Jewish children of school age will be attending a Jewish school. This struck me as a good thing; after all most Catholic children go to Catholic schools, but the Jews, who are a much smaller community, are worried about “self-ghettoisation”.

I was interested by that, but the next thing that arose in my mind afterwards was this: what is the biggest question inside the Catholic community at present? Many will have their own answer, but mine, sadly (as will appear), is this: our response to the child abuse crisis.

Please note, this is not child abuse per se, for that is not a question. There can be no discussion about that. It is bad, full stop. But how we respond to child abuse, that is a question that should be the subject of intense debate. It is one of those questions that is like a flare sent up at night: it illuminates the landscape, and lets you realise, if only for a fleeting moment, just how so many questions that we face are connected: how in fact there is only one question.

Christ is priest, prophet and king, and the Church shares these roles. The first two roles are straightforward enough. What were once thought to be the great questions about theology now seem settled (or so I think), and indeed have been settled for some time, though it may have taken us some decades to see that this is so. But the kingly role is problematic.

There is no indication anywhere that the third appellation is any less important than the first two: Jesus is prophet, priest and king, and in the New Testament, there are constant references to his kingly role, and his Davidic descent. All anointed people are called to share in this kingly role, and the baptised and confirmed, which includes the ordained, constitute a royal nation. But how do we exercise our kingly role? We do so when we act like Solomon, Jesus’s ancestor: when we make wise decisions, and when we administer the worldly goods entrusted to us well, and when we show ourselves to be responsible adults, fully in control of ourselves and those who are entrusted to us.

Think of King Solomon: the way he resolved the dispute between the two women quarrelling over the surviving live child (I Kings 3: 16-28); the way he built the Temple and the other huge tasks of government administration (I Kings 5: 15 et seq); and lastly how he failed, by coming under the influence of his foreign wives (I Kings 11:4).

The child abuse crisis reveals a Church that is less than Solomonic in its administration of justice, less than Solomonic in its decision-making processes. The single biggest “mistake” – that of moving offenders to another place where they re-offended – represents not just a failure in common sense, but a failure to live up to the vocation to be a kingly people. Management may seem a mundane thing, but without good management both charity and justice become impossible. Sad to say, good management, though there have been strides in some areas, is still by no means universal. For example, last year, we were told that a substantial proportion of the dioceses in the world had not responded to a deadline to produce guidelines for dealing with allegations of child abuse. There may well be reasons for this, but really it is simply not good enough.

The question of management also includes the considerable worldly goods over which the Church has stewardship. The Church’s money is meant for charitable work. The Vatican Bank is in fact called “The Institute for Religious Works”. If the Vatican Bank is mismanaged, then charity and justice will again suffer. Just what goes on in the Vatican Bank is way above my head, but the general consensus seems to be that the Church is missing a trick here. Are we running a streamlined operation all for the glory of God? Well, we ought to be.

The message is sound, the teaching is fine, the sacraments are not in need of reform, coming as they do from the Lord. But the administration looks increasingly Ottoman. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council we were told that bishops should be pastors, not administrators. But how can one be the one without the other? Lots of people have told me how they have written to various authorities in Rome, or to superiors of religious orders in the United Kingdom, and have had no acknowledgement of their communications. Is that a good way to be pastoral? The administration of the Church needs to be responsive to those under its authority, the People of God. Answering letters would be a good way to start; it would be hard to see how one could be responsive without being even moderately efficient.

Back to the child abuse question. There is in every religious order an elaborate chain of command, and an elaborate chain of supervision. The scandals prove that those chains were broken. Why were they broken? Are they fixed now? I know they are in certain places, but are they fixed everywhere?

What about the Roman Curia? When can we expect to see reforms there?

  • Cestius

    I don’t know about what happens at higher levels, but I’m not impressed from what I’ve seen of administration at diocesan level. As an example, in getting building work or repairs done, some of the work I’ve seen done by diocesan approved or suggested contractors has been very expensive and frankly poor quality. My own parish now uses local contractors wherever possible, they’re a lot cheaper and do better quality work. I’m sure that the church must waste a lot of money through bad or careless administration.

  • $27740841

    And the weight of the gold that was brought to Solomon every year, was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold. (1 Kings 10:14)

    King Solomon demanded an annual tribute of 666 talents of gold from neighbouring kingdoms. Given the significance of the number 666 elsewhere in scripture, is there a connection?

  • Sara_TMS_again

    I know nothing about Rome, but I can understand why the superiors of religious orders in Britain don’t answer all their letters. Some are from cranks, some are full of poison, some are simply impertinent. If you answered them all you would then get ten times as many more, and you’d never actually get anything else done.

    Which is not to say they don’t also ignore letters they shouldn’t ignore.

    On the abuse point, are you talking about the UK or the worldwide Church? The Safeguarding rules are pretty good in the UK, if everyone (laity included) takes them seriously.

  • $28180339

    The overwhelming majority of priests are good & holy men. Yet, many of them are mediocre at best at managing their time & parish/departmental resources. The priests do not have their common sense nurtured in the seminary & maybe they take 1 fluff course in parish administrative work while attending. (The men who are realizing a priestly vocation later in life tend to have better managerial skills.) I’ll even go as far as to say that they can be easily manipulated by others. These are the same men who lead dioceses & the Roman Curia.

    All of us have unique gifts to share with each other in & out of the Catholic Church. Your best managers, financial or otherwise, will come mostly from the laity. I find the laity to be under-utilized in the Catholic Church. There are many people from all backgrounds in all professions who are willing to donate their time for the Church’s benefit especially on the parish & diocesan level. To me it’s as if priests & bishops do not know how to efficiently(they always go to the same person or persons for help) tap into this valuable resource of God-given gifts.

    Finally, there exists some sort of underlining tension between the clergy & laity for the most part, as if each side thinks they can do it better and not let’s work together to accomplish a goal. I think the mismanagement of the child abuse crisis is but 1 example of this mentality.

  • Benedict Carter

    You ask some good questions, the truthful answers to which wouldn’t get past the Catholic Herald’s censors.

    “What were once thought to be the great questions about theology now seem settled (or so I think), and indeed have been settled for some time, though it may have taken us some decades to see that this is so.”

    Would be interested to know what this refers to.

    In Portugal, where I lived for some years, the Feast of Christ the King three years ago involved a sheet being given to the each member of the congregation by the parish priest (also Rector of the totally empty diocesan seminary and a known Modernist), telling is all that of course Christ isn’t a king, at least if He is one, He is only a “King of our hearts”.

    How sweet.

    On the contrary, He is a real king, and will rule as one. Heaven is no democracy and neither is the Church – the perfect society. Whatever changes are coming in Curial administration, we must watch this aspect very carefully. I have no trust in these people whatever.

  • Benedict Carter

    I’ve written three letters to Bishops, including one to John Paul II, and all three were answered. But I know many people who have had no response at all to multiple missives.

  • Benedict Carter

    AMEN Christina.

  • Benedict Carter

    One of the curses of the modern Church is the “professional Catholic”, as B XVI called them, who run most dioceses now. And have caused financial havoc in many. There have been scandals about business class travel, perks, nepotism, freebie weekends, outrageous pension awards – all the abuses you can think of. A case in a Croatian diocese recently cost that diocese millions of Euros.

    We don’t need more of them, we need fewer professional Catholics.

    What would be a good idea is the employment AT THEIR OWN COST of professional retired laity in various very strictly administrative capacities – lawyers, accountants and the like.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Usually HOMOES are found to be very clever, efficient and successful. In managing power and money they are on topmost level. And the rest follows.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Money matters should not be given into the hands of the clergy. This will in its own way eliminate breadwinner Priests, best of both the world priests and the kind.

  • $28180339

    Yes what you say is very true in extreme cases & also in the business world.

    Yet, I think you need to reread my 2nd paragraph, 4th sentence. I’m not advocating employment but volunteering.

  • Sara_TMS_again

    In the case of bishops, I think there’s more culpability if they aren’t answered, if they are from faithful of the diocese.

  • Dave

    Another testimony to the dangers inflicted on the Church by ignoring her laws, as well as common sense and a basic understanding of human nature.

  • londonscot

    Changing an organisational culture takes a very long time. professionally, I know you need to change and fine-tune the organisational model, leadership, processes and / or people involved. There’s no appetite among the clergy or the hierarchy for any of that.

    This was not a recent problem. It was not just an American problem (which was a slur I remember doing the rounds some years back). It was not a ‘few bad apples’ problem; the sheer scale of the documented cases going back decades proved that. It was not an endemic problem – but it was definitely systemic in scope.

    I do believe the leadership and the clergy in general, will try anything, say anything, to just keep the laity quiet, onside, still in the pews and still donating. And I’m not the only one who thinks that. Well they won’t be getting anymore of my hard-earned cash.

    I think it’s naive if anyone thinks it’s alright now, particularly under Benedict’s reign; whether as head of the CDF – which insisted all cases went there and then moved at almost geological time / speed to not sort the criminal abuse out – or as pope. Francis talks a good game, let’s see if he shows some action in the next 3 months.

    Won’t be holding my breath though.

  • AlanP

    You are making the common mistake of confusing homosexuality with child abuse. Abusers can be either hetero- or homosexual, and to the extent that girls have been abused, the latter cannot apply. It is my impression that a large proportion (not a majority) of priests are homosexually inclined, but most lead celibate lives, and very few are inclined towards child abuse. Without “men with a homosexual inclination”, if they had been barred as you suggest, we would have many fewer good priests.

  • Benedict Carter

    I agree with you.

  • Kevin

    “very soon most Jewish children of school age will be attending a Jewish school. This struck me as a good thing”

    It’s up to them but I can’t agree that it is a good thing, as opposed to an understandable desire.

    Jewish children attending (properly) Catholic schools (on account of their families converting) would be a good thing because it would give them access to the sacraments.

  • Julian Lord

    He is pandering to the gay lobby’s denialism, which takes the form of some deliberately skewed material presentations.

    Paedophilia cannot be meaningfully linked with homosexuality, no — BUT of all crimes of sexual nature involving children, the specifically paedophile ones are a tiny minority (a fact that the pro-gays deliberately omit from their propaganda).

    The vast majority (~95-97 % IIRC) of sex crimes involving children involve adolescents, and they are not paedophile crimes by nature, but they are crimes of either rape or of statutory rape of the pubescent. Homosexuals are VASTLY more likely than heterosexuals to be guilty of such crimes (the ratio of homosexuals versus heterosexuals being guilty of such crimes being 10:1 — which is to say, that because 95% of all sex crimes involving minors are committed by men, homosexual men comprising 2% of the male population, therefore this homosexual 2% of the male population commit ~20% of these crimes) ; except that in the specific case of the clerical child abuse scandals, the vast majority of these cases involved homosexuals preying on adolescent boys (around 90% (!!!) of these crimes).

    The proportional ratio between members of the general population guilty of such crimes and clergy in general, including Catholic clergy, is around 30:1, which is to say that your next-door neighbour is 30 times more likely to have committed a sex offense against a minor than your parish priest.

  • PaulF

    With great respect, I think you are dealing with symptoms rather than root causes. Solomon’s problem may have been occasioned by his foreign wives, but the real corruption was his own failure to keep false worship out of his kingdom. The moment he began facilitating other gods his downfall, and the downfall of his kingdom, was already underway.
    It is exactly the same with the Church. The moment we began speaking out of both sides of the mouth about other religions and their gods (V2), at that moment the corrosion of the Church took root, and our recovery will not begin until we identify this root and remove it.

  • AlanP

    Even if this were the case (and it would be incredibly difficult to produce reliable statistics on this) it would be quite wrong to have a blanket ban on all homosexually-inclined men, mst of whom do NOT commit such crimes.

  • guestguy

    That’s pretty cool, may I ask though, did JPII reply to you himself or did a secretary of his reply back or something?

  • James Callender

    “You ask some good questions, the truthful answers to which wouldn’t get past the Catholic Herald’s censors.”
    Haha I suspect strongly this to be the case, too.

  • Benedict Carter

    At least three comments from three separate posters talking about homosexuality in the priesthood have been removed from this thread by the Moderators. None of them were offensive.

    Who or what does this ridiculous censorship serve, Moderators? May we have an explanation?

    It doesn’t serve the cause of truth, that is certain!

  • Tom_mcewen

    I can only go by the Priests I know and they are harried by more work then they can handle. I am starting to believe the mobile phone is a whip from the Devil. They don’t even have time to sit in the garden and pray for an hour. I imagine with no empirical evidence that the Bishop is busy too. It is a treadmill with the governor to the motor being broken and the speed is increasing hour on hour day on day.
    But like I said, I have no empirical evidence.

  • Tom_mcewen

    I don’t think if you are playing Russian roulette and you have pulled the trigger five times you need to pull it one more time. The Church has been damaged enough, no more second chances, we can not afford it

  • AlanP

    But this damage has been caused by a small minority of homosexual clergy. Why penalise all those who live chaste lives? Sexual orientation is just one part of a person’s makeup, and it is the whole person who should be assessed for their suitability for the priesthood.
    It is also worth mentioning that the vast majority of sexual sins are committed by heterosexuals.

  • Isabel

    And another big challenge is to face the apparent hatred and aversion to classical music.

  • Julian Lord

    It is also worth mentioning that the vast majority of sexual sins are committed by heterosexuals

    Meaningless, given that heterosexuals are 98% of the population.

  • AlanP

    My point in making that comment was that the Catholic and Anglican churches have become so publicly obsessed about various aspects of homosexuality that they give the impression of ignoring the huge amount of promiscuity, mostly heterosexual, which is rampant in society today.