Accountability and Leadership in the Catholic Church
By Brian Dive Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 220pp, £61.99/$78.95
Brian Dive is a management consultant, and his book is subtitled What Needs To Be Improved. We all know that there is a leadership crisis in the Catholic Church (though some may deny it) and Dive’s book is to be welcomed as a contribution to the debate about how we can find a way out of the crisis, which is costing us Catholics and many others dear.
Thanks to poor leadership, the sex abuse crisis was (and is) considerably worse than it might have been; thanks also to poor leadership, donations are falling off a cliff in the countries that have traditionally financed the Universal Church; vocations are drying up, religious orders vanishing, and worst of all, congregations are dwindling, as people drift away, disillusioned by what they see as the failings of the institutional Church.
Decades ago a well-known commentator described the bishops as the Church’s “incompetent middle management”. No one thanked her at the time, and the situation has since got markedly worse.
Dive, in bringing his secular knowledge to the ecclesiastical field, has some very useful suggestions. Dioceses should be made of manageable size to enable the bishop to know all his parishes and all his clergy, and to enable him to get round the diocese at least once a year. Potential bishops need to be spotted early on and trained for the job. Bishops should have experience of Church life outside their native land; and so on.
He rightly identifies several weaknesses in the current way of doing things: for example, bishops are appointed to dioceses by men in Rome who do not know the individual or the places concerned at first hand.
It is all very reasonable, but, as Dive realises in his final chapter, taking the methods of modern business to the Church may be seen as deforming the Church, and making it just like another NGO (a point made by Pope Francis).
While it must be true that as people called by Christ we must use all means at our disposal to build the kingdom, at the same time, building the kingdom is essentially a spiritual task. Are incompetent bishops simply poor managers, or are they in fact something much worse: bad Christians? Bearing in mind the long career of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a shrewd operator if ever there was one, one fears the latter. The real problem, however, is not management, it is motivation, the motivation that comes from the Gospel.
Dive envisages new parish priests coming into their parishes with a plan and targets, which would be evaluated after a suitable time. This would, one fears, degenerate into another paper-pushing exercise.
I can remember a time when every problem in the Church produced a new “document” that was supposed to be a solution, but did nothing to alter the facts on the ground.
We have had enough of new deckchair plans for RMS Titanic, as these pastoral plans were often characterised. We need a new St Charles Borromeo instead.
Dive’s book is good, and thought-provoking, and it convinces the reader that we cannot go on as we have been doing. Something has got to change, and soon.