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An Open Letter to Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Congregation for Bishops.
Canon Law 212 §3, "According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons."
The following letter was sent to Cardinal Ouellet on two occasions, Jan 2, & April 13, 2011. As I did not receive a reply, I decided to post it here.
Marc Cardinal Ouellet, PSS
Congregatio pro Episcopis
Palazzo della Congregazioni
00193 Roma, Piazza Pio XII, 10
RE: Selection and training of Bishops
Second letter. I must assume that my first letter, dated January 2, 2011, has been lost in the mail, as I did not receive an acknowledgement.
In the death scene of Edmond Rostand's 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano rails against his old enemies; falsehood, cowardice, and compromise, conceding that he has lost his fight against them. I submit that, in many countries, the Catholic Church is also losing the fight against these same foes. Rather than a vibrant Christianity, secularism now permeates society and anti-Christianity is the order of the day.
According to the most recent (2010), statistical data released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), during the past ten years the Catholic Church in the U.S. has declined by 5,846 priests, 761 brothers, and 22,270 sisters. During this same period, 1,278 parishes were closed, and currently 18.93% of parishes are without a resident priest pastor. Additionally, the percentage of U.S. Catholics declined from 22% to 21%, which equates to approximately 800,000 souls. Alarmingly, only 22% of Catholics attend Mass one or more times per week. In addition, 30 million Americans now identify themselves as “former Catholics”. These losses, however, have been partly offset by the number of people who have changed their affiliation to Catholicism (2.6% of the adult population) but more importantly by the disproportionately high number of Catholics among immigrants to the U.S. The result is that the overall percentage of the population that identifies as Catholic has remained fairly stable. Growth is required, stability is an indictment against our Catholic leadership.
As you know, the purpose of the Church is to win souls for Christ. Yet, evangelization has simply not been a priority among the majority of bishops. The fact remains that bishops are stewards of souls, who will one day stand before the Master to give an accounting. Referring to those who aspire to be bishops, St. John Chrysostom wrote, “The loss of one soul carries with it a penalty which no language can represent. For if the salvation of that soul was of such value, that the Son of God became man, and suffered so much, think how sore a punishment must the losing of it bring!” (Homily III: Acts I. 12). There is no middle ground in this war. Rev. 3:15-16 states: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”
There is no standing still in mid-stream: advance or decline is the law of nature and of life. We are seeing a blatant attack on all that Catholicism stands for, and those leading the attack know exactly what they are doing. Yet, most of our bishops and priests have not even entered the fray. Unless we strive to reverse this trend, the forces of secularism and irreligion will continue to lead us into the ever-widening abyss of paganism. Even the most faithful bishops in the U.S. have poor records when it comes to evangelization. It has been estimated that there are 100 million Americans do not have any religious affiliation. Potentially, these are lost souls.
“The bishop, as servant of the Gospel, is a beacon of light, leading people to Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life.” Why are these lights of the Church so obscured in our world today, and what can be done to change this situation?
Unfortunately, bishops have Job Security. The Peter Principle is the principle that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull formulated it in their 1969 book The Peter Principle. I believe this applies to many of our bishops. Too many bishops simply tread water where they are, in hope of being assigned greater responsibility. I could name a good number of U.S. bishops who, after failing in one diocese, were promoted to positions of greater responsibility in another.
I propose the establishment of a Leadership School for bishops and prospective bishops. It should be obvious to the most casual observer that the present training in the “Baby Bishops School” is designed to train sheep, not shepherds.
The present appointment process is fatally flawed, and as long as second-rate bishops are allowed to recommend candidates, the process will not improve. It is highly unlikely that an unsuccessful bishop will nominate someone to replace him who has the leadership capacity to out-shine him. We are drowning in mediocrity, because we allow the blind to recommend the blind. Only bishops with proven track-records as evangelists and administrators should be allowed to nominate candidates for the episcopacy, and these candidates should have proven track records as well.
Great bishops are lifted upon the shoulders of priests they help to build. Every priest should be groomed by his bishop to become a bishop. A good bishop is a father to his priests. In many cases, priests, rather than loving their bishop, fear him and have to be on their toes not to offend him. Much too often, enthusiastic young priests are relegated to positions far below their capabilities. I can cite a good number of examples where good, faithful priests ran afoul of their bishop because they were “too orthodox” in their teaching and/or celebrated Holy Mass without innovation. These good priests ended up as hospital and nursing-home chaplains, or pastors in the smallest, out-of-the-way, parish the bishop could find. Many of these good men, gave up the struggle and left the priesthood because they were not allowed to live up to their potential.
In the U.S. Naval service, a person has to demonstrate that he/she is fully qualified for the next level of responsibility, before they are promoted. I submit that a priest should be required to demonstrate his leadership and management competence before he is presented with a miter and shepherd's staff. Hard questions should be asked: Is this man truly a holy priest? How many vocations has he produced? How many converts has he generated? Is he a true leader? Do other priests look to him for guidance? Being a patron of the bishop, or having a solvent parish is just not enough to qualify. The future of the Church depends upon dynamic leadership.
69.89% of Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have either declined or had zero growth over the past ten years. Why has the Vatican not taken to task American bishops who have categorically failed in their primary responsibility to evangelize? Where is the accountability on the part of the Holy See?
In November 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published The National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States, entitled Go and Make Disciples, which set forth three goals and their objectives.
Goal I: To bring about in all Catholics such an enthusiasm for their faith that, in living their faith in Jesus, they freely share it with others.
Goal II: To invite all people in the United States, whatever their social or cultural background, to hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ so they may come to join us in the fullness of the Catholic faith.
Goal III: To foster gospel values in our society, promoting the dignity of the human person, the importance of the family, and the common good of our society, so that our nation may continue to be transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ.
While the National Plan was well written, I submit, it did not go far enough; it simply laid out objectives. It did not suggest or recommend methods on how to accomplish these goals, and as a result, the goals have not been realized. Priests and laity must be given the tools necessary to get the job done. In the 1950s, seminarians had four-years training in apologetics and evangelization. Today, a person would be hard pressed to find even one seminary in the U. S. that requires these courses. A practical plan of evangelization is desperately needed, and such training should be made mandatory in every seminary.
I would suggest that when bishops make their Ad Limina visits to the Holy See that they attend leadership training in order to acquaint them with their responsibilities as evangelists and to present them with concrete ideas and methods that will enable them to fulfill their primary responsibilities. As I see it, these responsibilities are three-fold, evangelization, orthodox catechesis, and providing the sacraments to the faithful – in that order of accountability. Bishops must understand that their primary responsibility is to save souls; everything else is secondary. They also need to understand that if they do not measure up within a stipulated period of time, they will be retired or asked to serve, once more, as a humble priest; certainly, not promoted.
Prospective candidates for the Office of Bishop, identified by their Ordinaries, could also be sent to leadership school where they would be properly trained and evaluated. Once the priest successfully graduates from the program, his name could be entered on a prospective candidate list, selected and installed as the need arises.
The top level of U.S. Navy leadership is its admirals. There are 238 of them. They have responsibility for more than 390,000 members of the Navy and control an annual budget of more than $130 billion. The Navy’s Executive Leadership program, begun in 2002, has been a tremendous success. The Navy is now widely regarded as a producer of senior leaders who can rise above their functional areas and not only see but act decisively on big-picture issues, a capability that makes them very attractive to corporations in every industry after they retire from their military careers. Companies—including Microsoft, FedEx, Clorox and Barclays—that seek to learn from the best have all joined the Navy for collaborative activities. They have done so to see what they can learn and adapt from the Navy, to weave into their own cultures of leadership learning and development. The Catholic Church could do the same.
Might I suggest you access the following web site to learn more about the U.S. Navy’s Executive Learning Office or Senior Leadership School: http://navaleadership.blogspot.com/2010/04/inside-us-navys-leadership-school.html.
I retired from U.S. Navy. My last assignment was as a Senior Management Consultant. While in the Navy, I completed Master’s Degrees in Management and Human behavior and graduated from the Navy’s lengthy management training program. My responsibility was to assist Commanding Officers when they were having difficulty with some aspect of their responsibilities. These Commanding Officers requested our services because they realized they were ill equipped to handle a particular problem, which usually affected operational readiness. They knew that if they did not get the job done they would be held accountable. Asking for help, was not considered a weakness, but good decision-making.
I would like to suggest that such teams, headed by a successful, respected, bishop, be organized, and made available to bishops who seek help in various aspects of their responsibility.
One final thought for your consideration. It usually takes a bishop six to eighteen months to get up to speed. During this period, it is not uncommon for him to expend his energies where they are not needed, while neglecting areas that need his attention, or he does not act, fearing to make an incorrect decision that he may have to live with later. This happens whenever there is a “feeling out” period. Bishops needs to know what is going well and what is not, as soon as possible, in order to positively direct their energies. His subordinates need to know what is expected of them from the outset of his administration. They also need to know the bishop’s management style. This can eliminate political maneuvering and miscommunication, down the line.
One of the services offered as a Senior Management Consultant was an “Upper-level Transition Management Workshop.” The Navy realized that six to eighteen months was far too long to wait to have a smoothly functioning team. In the Navy’s case, lives could be lost. In the Church’s case, souls can be lost.
Simply put, a consultant would lay a foundation for the workshop by confidentially interviewing the key members of the staff, (all the priests and department heads) before the arrival of the new bishop. In doing so, he/she would get a good handle on the areas that would have to be addressed in the workshop. The flow of the workshop would be as follows: The bishop would introduce himself to the group, and ask them to be candid in their comments and participation. Then he would exit as his presence could stifle input. The consultant (facilitator) would ask the participants a list of questions such as: What is going right and does not require the bishop’s attention? What is not going right? What questions do you want to ask the bishop? (One usually asked is: What are your pet peeves?) etc. This usually takes an entire morning, depending on the size of the group. The categorized questions and answers are posted on large paper sheets around the room. After lunch, the bishop returns and one of the participants takes the bishop through the questions and answers. The rest of the day is spent on the bishop’s responses. While this system does not eliminate all the potential problems that might arise, everyone concerned will have a good understanding of the bishop’s management style, what he expects of them, and what support they can expect from him. Invariably, all concerned greatly benefit from such an experience. This workshop can be used to facilitate the management transition of any senior executive or department head.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of service. In Corde Jesu.
Victor R. Claveau, MJ