Accentuate the Positives, Eliminate the Negatives
Much of the justification for the new leadership configuration of Effective Church Operational Systems is predicated on the priest shortage, not simply in numbers, but in training, skills, and temperament. What is advocated is a corporate style of leadership that takes its cue from the business world – a world that is primarily concerned with a profit/loss mentality.
Infused into this model is a Protestant congregational style of ministry that mimics evangelical circles in which there is a senior pastor in charge, with associate pastors involved in different ministries branching off, then various administrative employees, and a plethora of organized volunteers.
The reputation of priests as pastors suffers in this thesis and overall their characterization shows a feeling of ambivalence toward them. For example, “Most priests receive no organizational management training in their seminary years… In the DOR most priests become pastors after just six years of experience, the minimum required by Canon Law.”
Or this: “Many parishes are beginning to cluster or merge. However, multi-congregational or multi-sited parish assignments were never envisioned. These situations require strong leadership and managerial abilities. A priest who could handle a small single parish may not have the skill set to run a large, multiple worship sited parish.” (My emphases throughout.)
And this: “In many dioceses, the number of parishes is beginning to outnumber the priests, let alone the priests who are actually capable of leading them effectively.”
Although the thesis treats positively some priests, particularly during the formation period of the Catholic community in the Corning area, many individual priests are described differently thereafter. For instance, Fr. Brennan is described as “dragging his feet” and being proud of his “old school mentality” when a flood of liturgical changes came in the 1960s. (On a side note, I have been told that at Fr. Brennan’s request, rosaries were placed in St. Mary’s after he died and during his viewing, with a tender and prescient imploring that parishioners pray for the future of the parish.)
Other pastors are described as headed for “burnout and breakdown”. It is said of one priest, “He tried to lead a community as a small parish leader when the situation really demanded a corporate style of leadership.”
Another priest’s pastorate is described as “detached and unconnected to the people” with a style of delegating as “much responsibility as possible…[his] weakness was that he had difficulty connecting with people on a pastoral level…he came across as aloof and distant…his approach to ministry was rather minimalistic. He advocated for the five minute homily and simplicity in liturgy.”
The first non-priest pastoral administrator of All Saints Parish was a religious, who had served as a pastoral associate in the parish. (Side note: Let us put to an end the dishonest title of ‘pastoral administrator’. Because it is canonically incorrect to have a lay-person, a religious, or a deacon as a pastor, our diocese has played around with the titles and appointed them as pastoral administrators. However, in all things, they reign as the pastor.)
She is described as having many difficulties. “On a personal level, [she] struggle[d] to communicate any sense of caring. Many perceived her as harsh and cold. She succeeded in alienating most of her staff to the point where staff meetings consisted of a mere exchange of information on a most minimal level.”
When she decided to close and sell St. Patrick Church before Immaculate Heart of Mary, the “outcry was loud and long causing many people to leave the parish. [She] also did not conduct a process to help lead the people through the closure…By 2006, in the word of many staff members, [she] was in shreds—emotionally and physically. She had endured long and ha[r]sh criticism for her best attempt to lead a parish through a difficult process, something that no priest in the Diocese of Rochester wanted to take on. In 2006 she resigned and began a sabbatical. The parish was again posted with no takers. This time the Diocese of Rochester invited me to take the job, to which I agreed.”
The overall impression is that priests are ill suited and unwilling to pastor parishes in difficult times. I think most in our parish would emphatically disagree with that notion. Nevertheless, this is one of the fundamental starting points for implementing the Strategic Way in our parish. Unfortunately, it all but abandons the priest/pastor model that is codified in Canon Law, a model that has served the Church well for centuries. Circumstances have not changed so dramatically that a virtual revolution is needed.
And, based on current results, it has not gone well. The very ‘solutions’ that have been thought up and instituted have caused more harm than any temporary priest shortage or financial difficulties. To place priests under lay leaders or deacons does not fit, cannot fit. It is an experiment. Even in the corporate world, where there has been a conscious attempt to at least give an appearance of equality among the highest and lowest in a company, this model fails in the application. True authority comes from God, and is ordered by God. The angels have a hierarchy. The human family has a hierarchy. The Church has a hierarchy. Priests are pastors. Deacons and lay leaders are not. It’s that simple.
To frame the priesthood as a negative and the laity as a positive is to pit two distinct vocations against one another in the attempt to take what divinely belongs to one and give it to the other.
Deacon Dean describes a three-fold vision of the priests in Corning after World War One. “First was the providing of the sacraments and chaplaincy services. Second was the provision of a Catholic school. Third was advocacy in following the teaching of the church [sic].” There were, of course, numerous programs to help the poor and aid the community as well.
The need to provide the sacraments, to provide for Catholic education, and to advocate for following the teachings of the Church has not changed. Not. One. Bit.
Yet, somehow these basic yet vital needs have morphed into a vision to “implement an operational process for the parish leadership that will clarify what it is we want to accomplish as a parish, clarify where are now in relationship to where we believe God wants us to be as a parish, develop a strategy on how to get where we want to be, establish a system for ongoing response for continued improvement, and build a leadership team where there is now only individual ministers.”
This is what happens when one abandons the way of the Catholic Church.
Next we’ll take a look at Chapter 2, “Theological Framework.”