Experts Spar Over Practical, Theological Advice to Bishops
A new Church management consultant group promises a more faithful response to the problems of the Church.
BY WAYNE LAUGESEN
December 24- January 6, 2006 Issue
Posted 12/19/06 at 8:00 AM
WASHINGTON — Leaky roofs and poorly managedbank accounts are typical in Catholic parishes, says Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker,Ore.
“Men come out of seminary who don’t have the most rudimentary understanding of financeand bookkeeping, yet they’re to be the administrators of entire parishes,”Bishop Vasa said.
The bishop is part of a movementof Catholics concerned with poor Church administration — a lack of focus onorganization and management they say contributed to the sexual abuse crisis andhas led to financial problems in some parishes and dioceses.
The concern has inspired the creationof at least two organizations that provide bishops and pastors with lay expertson personnel, property management, employment law, budgeting, fundraising andaccounting.
New York investment banker Geoffrey Boisi,a Catholic, started the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management in2003. It is providing the Archdiocese of New Orleans with management andfinancial advice on how to rebuild its parochial school system in the wake ofHurricane Katrina.
But the roundtable has come underfire from Catholics who believe its members want to change the hierarchicalnature of the Church, giving more control to the laity.
Kerry Robinson, executive directorof the Leadership Roundtable, calls that criticism “blatantly false.”
“It’s exactly the opposite of whatwe stand for,” she said. “We are a profoundly Catholic organization, loyal tothe magisterium. This is a membership organizationthat has members with exceptionally high levels of expertise and skills inaddressing the temporal, non-doctrinal affairs of the Church.”
Deal Hudson, former head of theRepublican National Committee’s Catholic Outreach and former editor of Crisis magazine, criticized Boisi’s organization early on for inviting a host ofprogressive, pro-abortion Catholics to its first few meetings and failing toinvite prominent orthodox Catholics.
“I only know from a couple ofmeetings they’ve had, and some of the early reports they published, that theyseem to think some of the problems in the Church are due to the way it’sgoverned,” Hudson said.
Hudson has just started an organization called the ChurchResource Institute that is offering bishops “expertise in some areas ofbusiness operation, management, personnel, budgeting and fundraising,” he said.“It’s just an effort to offer education and advice on those issues our bishopsand clergy aren’t taught in college or the seminaries.”
Of the Leadership Roundtable,Father Richard Neuhaus wrote in the August/September2006 issue of First Things: “As itstands, the Roundtable is a collaborative effort of wealthy East CoastCatholics, academics, editors and Church activists who are determined to devisea strategy for establishing a major role for the laity in the governance of theCatholic Church in this country.”
In a book produced by theLeadership Roundtable titled Governance,Accountability, and the Future of the Catholic Church, co-founder FrancisButler wrote that the initiative will “marshal the talent, education, andexperience of the best lay Catholic leaders in government, business, charitableand other sectors to help chart a course of reconstruction in the Church’sadministrative life.”
Boisi added to concerns theorganization would try to rearrange Church hierarchy when he held a meeting attheUniversity ofPennsylvania’sWhartonSchool in July 2004. At the meeting, Boisi quoted the late Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, whosaid: “Listen to the customers. Reassure them that this is their company, too.Give them confidence to speak up, because they will come up with the solutionto almost any problem.”
“If you follow Boisi’slogic, then Catholics ultimately can choose who becomes a cardinal — or eventhe pope,” charged former Covenant House Chairman Denis Coleman after themeeting at Wharton.
The organization, based inWashington, consists of200 members, four employees, and an annual budget of $750,000.
Hudson’s group already has its first client — the Diocese ofBaker. Bishop Vasa said he has steered clear of theRoundtable because he is concerned about statements in its founding documents.He said other bishops are also concerned, though he declined to be morespecific.
“There have been confidentialdiscussions, and that’s all I’ll say about it,” he said.
Bishop Vasasaid he sees no evidence the Church Resource Institute has an agenda outside ofhelping bishops and priests with business and management advice.
“DealHudson has put together eight individuals whoare experts in their respective fields, who can come into a parish or dioceseto present one- or two-day modules on different topics,” Bishop Vasa said.
Among the experts is Catholicfinancial adviser Pat O’Meara, founder of O’Meara Ferguson Kearns, a Reston,Va., firm specializingin Church finance. The group’s legal expert is Jim Sonne,a professor at Ave Maria University Law School who specializes in corporatepersonnel issues.
“The team came in here and offeredabsolute respect and regard for the Church and her priests.” Bishop Vasa said. “They weren’t here to tell us how to do our jobsas pastors and bishops. … My guys were captivated. I could see they wanted togo home to their parish councils and talk about strategic planning that keepsthe focus on the super-ordinate goal of saving souls.”
Bishop Vasais hoping the Resource Institute will bring out the hidden administrative giftsin more of his pastors.
“We must realize that service tothe people of God is more than just serving them spiritually,” he said. “Italso involves being responsible to the household of that community.”
Wayne Laugesen is based inBoulder,Colorado.
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