The Catholic Partnership Summit. Part 2: A Culture of Leadership

Last week I introduced you to the Catholic Leadership Roundtable. I recently attended their conference, The Catholic Partnership Summit, in Washington D.C.

The “Summit” creates a space for Catholic leaders to address the pressing Church leadership and management challenges of our times. Let me offer some ideas that the Roundtable provided on their initiative.

This year’s theme was “From Crisis to Co-Responsibility: Creating a New Culture of Leadership.” This built on the theme from last year: “Exploring Aspects of the Current Leadership Culture That Led to the Twin Crises of Abuse and Leadership Failures.” One of the key findings of last year’s Summit was a need to shift the emphasis of the Roundtable. In past years, the Roundtable focused on providing ideas and “best practices” for church leadership, bishops and pastors. Participants recognized that this is good and necessary. They also realized that the laity have the right - and the responsibility - to address the current situation in the church themselves. Thus, the key idea for this year’s summit was “co-responsibility.” The goal was to imagine the future we all want to create together.

So, what does a thriving, co-responsible Church look like? What is the leadership culture that we want to create to support that vision? Four topics were addressed to help renew our Church.

  • Envisioning a New Culture of Leadership
  • A Culture of Co-Responsible Governance and Leadership
  • A Culture of Ethical Financial Management and Stewardship
  • A Culture with Young Adult Catholics at the Leadership Table

I would like to address the first two this week. I’ll discuss the others subsequently.

We discussed each of these topics listed above. We talked about resources and recommendations that can help our Church create a new culture of leadership. We offered specific recommendations to the Catholic Partnership Summit. Participants also offered suggestions for parishes and local faith communities.

Participants were first invited to listen to a guided discussion of four panelists. The panelists had experience in the particular topic being considered. A “plenary” Q&A session followed. Afterwards there were 40-minute small group table discussion. This involved close to 250 participants. At the end of the session, each table chose their top 4 ideas or recommendations or best practices. To close, each table shared one recommendation with the entire room. “Scribes” (of which I was one) captured the 4 recommendations from each table. These recommendations will be summarized and put into a report soon. The report, in turn, will be shared with the wider Church to advance the national conversation.

The Leadership Roundtable developed guiding principles for any recommendations that were considered. These recommendations should:

  1. Impact the Catholic Church based on three principles: accountability, transparency, and co-responsibility,
  2. Impact the leadership and management culture of the Church, in line with Catholic beliefs, ecclesiology, and canon law,
  3. Restore trust in the Church based on measurable, visible outcomes,
  4. Engage both ordained and lay Catholics, working together for the mission,
  5. lean forward into new possibilities,
  6. Be realistic and able to be translated into practical strategy and implementation.

We opened the conference with a general discussion on “Envisioning a New Culture of Leadership.” The Catholic Church in the United States is suffering from a twin crisis of abuse and leadership failures. To move out of the crises, it is important to understand how the current culture of leadership contributed to the problems we face today. What is the leadership culture that we want to create? What models will ensure this new culture embraces servant leadership? What models offer better accountability, transparency, and co-responsibility? Where is this new culture of leadership emerging? How might more Catholic institutions take steps towards this new culture? It was a fascinating and spirited conversation. The talk was based on a rich list of resources that were provided before the conference. I provide then entire resource list on my website.

Next week, I’ll write about our discussion on the second topic: “A Culture of Co-Responsible Governance and Leadership. What Does That Look Like?”



Apostolic Exhortation, Joy of the Gospel, November 2013 In this Exhortation, Pope Francis seeks to “encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization” that is marked by joy and points toward “new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

“Address of the Holy Father to the Bishops of the United States” (September 2015) Pope Francis addresses the bishops of the United States and speaks to them about the role of a bishop as a shepherd who does not put himself at the center, but puts God’s family first. He goes on to speak about the need for bishops to use dialogue and promote unity. He recommends them to be “pastors who are neighbors and servants”.

“Vatican’s International Theological Commission on Synodality” (March 2018): Synodality is “the involvement and participation of the whole People of God in the life and mission of the Church.” It concludes with practical, pastoral approaches for making synodality happen “on all levels” to create “an authentic synodal experience of Church.” Pope Francis later said in response to the document, “synodality is a style, it is walking together, and it is what the Lord expects of the Church in the third millennium.”

“Address of His Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops” (November 2019) Archbishop Pierre asks whether the pastoral priorities that have been chosen “truly touch the reality of the life of our people” or if they need to be realigned? Overall, he speaks to the need for bishops to advance communion: communion with the Holy Father, communion among bishops, communion among the presbyterate, and communion among the local Church where we can promote healing and restore trust.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Living as Missionary Disciples (March 2017) The bishops provide a theological summary of the new evangelization and provide suggestions for developing a pastoral plan for missionary discipleship. The resource is a concise roadmap for parishes and dioceses, including principles to be used in evangelization that includes a focus on planning, leadership development, management, stewardship, etc. 2

“MacTaggart Lecture, St. Mary’s University by Bishop McElroy, “Rebuild My Church”, Synodality as a Way Forward (November 2019) Bishop McElroy suggests that the church in the United States could move forward from this painful moment in its history by embracing a synodal pathway that could listen to the needs and concerns of all the church and communally discern a new path. He provides four characteristics or themes that could help the church renew itself: 1) a missionary church, 2) a co-responsible and participatory church, 3) a welcoming church, and 4) a church of harmony and dialogue. He quotes Pope Francis who said,”A synodal church is a church which listens….” and that this listening must occur at every level in the church.

Leadership Roundtable’s Catholic Partnership Summit Report, “Heal the Body of Christ: A plan to create a new culture of leadership and a new response to abuse in the Catholic Church,” (February 2019) Leadership Roundtable’s Summit focused on three primary issues: 1) Identifying the Root Causes of the Twin Crises of Abuse and Leadership Failures, 2) Creating a New Culture of Leadership, and 3) Creating a New Culture of Responding to Sexual Abuse. Participants, ranging from bishops and abuse survivors to theologians and philanthropists, provided recommendations to address these areas and are reflected in this report.

Christina Lamas of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry’s “Reflection for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops” (November 2018) Ms. Lamas identified seven needs of the laity in light of the abuse crisis. She said, “From you, our bishops, we need: 1) transparency and accountability, 2) more listening to the laity, 3) genuine care about the pastoral aspects of the church, 4) investment rooted in the love of people, 5) prophets of hope and engagement in respectful dialogue with one another and with the laity, 6) words of compassion when speaking about those disconnected from or hurt by the church, and 7) to address the root of the problem—the abuse of power.

“Everyone Leads” (sample of Chapter 1), Chris Lowney, Chair of Catholic Health Initiatives and former Managing Director of J.P. Morgan, (2017) Mr. Lowney urges the Church to develop a new culture of leadership that will empower Catholics, unleash their talent, foster creativity and prudent risk-taking, and settle for nothing less than the highest professional standards in managing our church. He offers a strategy to revitalize the Church that includes a focus on being: 1) entrepreneurial, 2) accountable, 3) serve the world’s poor and marginalized peoples, 4) transform the hearts and souls of our members, and 5) reach out to and engage and welcome the wider world.

Katarina Schuth, OSF’s “Seminary Formation”, (2016) Katarina Schuth is the foremost scholar of Catholic seminaries in the United States. The book reviews thirty years of seminary history and provides recommendations and commentaries to improve the quality and effectiveness of the Catholic priesthood in the future.

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