The Catholic Partnership Summit. Part 3: Governance

I recently attended a conference entitled, “The Catholic Partnership Summit.” It was held in Washington D.C. and was hosted by the Catholic Leadership Roundtable. I was privileged to sit at a table of tremendous, bright, experienced, and hopeful Catholics.

The “Summit” focused on the right - and the responsibility – of the laity 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.

Last week we looked at what a thriving, co-responsible Church might look like. This week we examine one of the big themes of the Summit – Governance. I am drawing from the pre-summit materials that were provided to us.

Governance structures are a key aspect of any leadership culture. How do we develop Catholic models of governance that reflect the diversity of the Church and are rooted in servant leadership, accountability, and transparency? How may selection, formation, and placement of leaders, both lay and ordained, reflect this new leadership culture? New governance models are emerging that reflect this new leadership culture. How can we explore how Catholic institutions may advance in this direction?

Take a look at the ideas, suggestions, and best practices that participants and other Catholic leaders provided below. They deal with the topic of governance. I think that you will find them fascinating. How can we implement them in our church? Are there ways that they can be implemented in the Parish of St. Monica? How would that be done? Who would do it?

These ideas were drawn from the resources listed at the end of this article. The resource list can be found on my website.

Co-Responsible Governance:

  • Commit to and invest in governance structures that are transparent with checks and balances, and includes the expertise of the laity at the parish, diocesan, and national level.
  • Ensure co-responsibility of lay and ordained in Church leadership and management through hiring appropriate and competent diverse lay personnel at all levels.
  • Model co-responsible governance by convening priest and lay ecclesial convocations and utilize parish discernment processes to involve parishioner input in pastoral planning.
  • Create structures for the inclusion of women in leadership and decision-making at every level of the Church.


Restoring Trust:

  • Provide consistent, transparent, and coordinated communications at all levels and develop a proactive plan for restoring trust.
  • Encourage senior pastoral leaders to build trust and respect by setting up listening processes and making opportunities to be held publicly accountable.
  • Make the bishop selection process more transparent, utilizing a genuine discernment process that includes laity and clergy.



  • Put in place mechanisms for greater synodality among bishops, among bishops and priests, among clergy and laity.
  • Convene regular synods in the diocese and invite all parishes in the diocese to have listening sessions.
  • Choose delegates to ensure a broad voice from the diocese including: priests from each deanery, deacon and religious representatives, lay members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and parish delegates, theologians, representatives of diverse racial and ethnic communities, etc.
  • Measure the success of the synod by its implementation over the next 5-10 years

Formation of Lay and Ordained Leaders:

  • Develop and invest in ongoing formation and mentorship programs in management and leadership to train clergy, religious, and laity, including bishops.
  • Require best practices in human resources: effective selection, training, assignment, evaluation, compensation, and continuing education.
  • Explore different models of training and mentoring for new bishops.
  • Develop formation programs and processes based on common standards and curricular content in consultation with a diversity of ministerial leaders, theologians, etc..
  • Develop intercultural competencies and an understanding of Hispanic culture and ministry among priests, deacons, seminarians, and lay ecclesial ministers.
  • Engage in a process of needs assessment so that new formation programs can be provided in settings, geographic locations, or languages that previously were not available.


Seminary Formation:

  • Include a special emphasis on leadership training, solid academics, spirituality, reading the signs of the times, commitment to the poor, and servant leadership.
  • Utilize 360-degree assessments for bishops and all Catholic leaders that begin in seminaries and ministerial programs; assessments should be linked to appointments.
  • Ensure seminary curriculum addresses abuse prevention, improved human formation, personal integrity, and the experience of survivors.
  • Involve seminary faculty members, including lay women and men, in the evaluation and voting on seminarians and their advancement towards Holy Orders (This is a particular favorite of Fr. Zlock).
  • Involve women in diocesan programs for ongoing clergy formation.


Next week we will look at co-responsibility in building a culture of ethical financial management and stewardship.




Vatican’s New Transparency Practice Regarding Abuse: The Vatican recently made significant changes in its transparency by abolishing the “pontifical secret” in abuse cases.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC)’s “Review of Governance and Management of Dioceses and Parishes” project plan: The Royal Commission of Australia recommended that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of dioceses and parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and the participation of lay men and women. This review should draw from the approaches to governance of Catholic health, community services and education agencies. They mention the following essential elements to good governance: integrity; transparency; accountability; risk management; culture and ethics; consultation; inclusiveness; and the participation and genuine responsibility of men and women.

Myriam Wijlens’ “The Doctrine of the People of God and Hierarchical Authority as Service in Latin Church Legislation on the Local Church”, The Jurist Journal, 2008 A theological and canonical reflection on the connection between Vatican II, post conciliar legislation, and governance. Archdiocese of Louisville’s Model of Co-Responsible Governance.

The Archdiocese of Louisville has a unique model of co-responsible governance between an archbishop and chancellor/chief administrative officer.

Archdiocese of Newark’s “Forward in Faith Together: Our Road Ahead”: The Archdiocese created a pastoral plan to help Catholics (clergy and laity of the diocese) move forward in synodality with a 6-part focus on 1) protection of the faithful, 2) accountability, transparency, and communication, 3) archdiocesan pastoral planning, 4) lifelong faith formation and education, 5) ongoing formation/support of clergy, and 6) active engagement of the laity.

Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’s Lay Advisory Board and Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’s Synod Process: In an ongoing commitment to create a healthy archdiocese after its abuse crisis, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has inaugurated a new lay advisory board and synod process to ensure ongoing lay involvement to help the archdiocese move forward.

Diocese of Burlington’s Synod Process: The Diocese of Burlington put together a synod process involving every parish in the diocese with significant lay leadership.

America’s Article: The Importance of Formation with Lay and Ordained Leaders Stacey Noem, the director of human and spiritual formation for the Master of Divinity Program at the University of Notre Dame, writes about the importance of forming lay and ordained leaders together.

Leadership Roundtable’s Catholic Leadership 360: This program is the most customized leadership development program in the Catholic Church in the United States. It is a feedback assessment for priests and lay ministers that is designed around proven best practices for leadership development, performance improvement, and interpersonal communication.

Leadership Roundtable’s Mission Management Model: The Mission Management Model is a partnership between diocesan leaders and Leadership Roundtable to achieve management and leadership excellence by embedding best practices in the practice and culture of the diocese. The six stages of the Model include an assessment and customized plan to help you envision where you want your diocese to be and how to get there.

Leadership Roundtable’s Restoring Trust: A ten-point action plan for restoring trust in the face of the twin crises of abuse and leadership failures.

Notre Dame’s Flourishing in Ministry Project: This project focuses on the well being of pastoral leaders through research and publications. They study the emerging trends of how clergy can live into their calling, feel a sense of fulfillment, and feel engaged in a very demanding environment.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ V Encuentro Formation Recommendations: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops led a process to address ministry among Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the United States. The process resulted in a series of recommendations, including on leadership formation, in their publication “Proceedings and Conclusions”.

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