PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish


August, 2019

Keys That Control

                The statue to the right is of St. Peter holding the keys to the Church.  At various times throughout history these keys have been construed as a symbol of dominance.  That is not what Jesus taught.  “Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest, and whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all.” (Matthew 20:27)  The Christian community began with a flexible and inclusive structure  A few centuries later it became the official religion of the Roman State and its way of governing changed.  As it grew in numbers and spread into new areas, a hierarchical, top-down model developed that fostered power, prestige and privilege. 


A Shift In Emphasis

            The Second Vatican Council challenged this top-down way of operating, but the vision lost momentum as those in control spoke the rhetoric of “servant leadership” but failed to put it into practice. Then the election of Pope Francis held out hope for a new way of leading.  In his “Letter to the People of God” published on August 20, 2018, he said, “It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. . .  Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of the people.” (Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism, Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, 2019, p 4.)


A Culture Without Accountability

            Cultures come into being when those with similar intentions, expertise or identity interact to fulfill a common task or service.  For example, teachers at the beginning of a new school year regroups to welcome newcomers, affirm their dedication to their students and plan was to work towards inculcating knowledge and character into the minds and hearts of their students.  They form a tight-knit unit as they make decisions together, knowing that they will be held accountable by the principal, parents and outside evaluative boards and organizations.  There are, in other words, built-in checks that keep the teachers’ culture in balance.  Such is not apparent with the hierarchical culture, as the recent crisis regarding sexual abuse has manifested.


Changing the System

            In any system, if one part changes, however small it might be, the whole is affected.  Accordingly, if the local parish changes, the entire Church experiences a shift.  In the present ecclesial structure the pastor is the one “in charge.”  This means that he has within his power the ability to change the way the parish operates.  For instance, suppose a pastor chooses to initiate a “checks and balances” process for himself.  He decides to hire a part time partner to work with him in handling many administrative duties of the parish, including personnel issues, conflict management, staff development, pastoral council formation, strategic planning and many other tasks he has had little time to cover.  The pastor begins by forming a task force to suggest possible candidates to be his partner.  From the list, he interviews a few he feels would possess the right chemistry to work with him and would bring out the best in both the staff and pastoral council.  After confiding with those he feels know him well, he picks one person who hopefully will complement his leadership skills and abilities, someone who will be forthright in offering suggestions a manner he can receive.  Part of the job for this new partner will be to help him accomplish such duties as the annual progress reports for staff members, formation sessions for the pastoral council and other leaders, listening to comments and complaints from parishioners who are afraid to address him directly.  The willingness of the pastor to be held accountable serves as a model for the staff and council to do the same.  It expands into many other areas.  It expands into many other areas.