Signs of the Times

New Lay Group Formed to Improve Church Management

A group of U.S. Catholic bishops and lay church and business leaders announced on March 14 the formation of a group to be called the National Leadership Round-table on Church Management.

Its goal is to help Catholic dioceses and parishes improve administrative practices and financial and human resource management as the church confronts clergy shortages and the challenges of training effective lay leaders.


At a press conference in Washington, D.C., the group also issued an 80-page Report of the Church in America, reporting the proceedings and recommendations of last July’s national leadership round table at The Wharton School, the prestigious business school of the University of Pennsylvania.

That two-day meeting was attended by lay and clergy leaders of diverse perspectives, who came together in Philadelphia to analyze how church leadership can respond more effectively to the leadership problems that surfaced during the crisis of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy and, more broadly, to the rapid changes taking place in the Catholic church in the United States.

Geoffrey T. Boisi, a businessman from Long Island, N.Y., long prominent in the worlds of business and Catholic philanthropy, introduced the report and new organization to journalists in a 90-minute session at Washington’s National Press Club.

Among the initial projects of the group are:

A program, with six DVD’s and a workbook, that the group plans to distribute to all Catholic parishes and dioceses in the country later this year to initiate a national dialogue on leadership and church management at the parish and diocesan level.

Creation of Catholic advanced management degree and certificate programs at key educational institutions around the country.

The report concluded with 27 priority recommendationsnine each at the national, diocesan and parish leveland 21 longer-term recommendations. Each set of recommendations was divided into three areas of managementgovernance or administration, finances and human resources or personnel.

Many of the recommendations focused on greater use of Catholic lay expertise from business and professional fields in consultative or advisory capacities to pastors, bishops and other church leaders. Many involved implementing more widely programs or policies already in place in some dioceses but not in all.

Some recommendations invoked management practices widely accepted as sound in the business world but not common in many parishes and dioceses, like annual personnel reviews and comprehensive self-examinations of all financial, administrative and personnel policies and practices every five years.

The report proposed the Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector as a basic code of policies and practices that every U.S. Catholic diocese and parish should live up to.

Bishop Dale J. Melczek of Gary, Ind., one of the press conference panelists, said the goals of the new round tablefinding better ways to incorporate lay expertise in the management of church finances and human resources, promoting dialogue on those issues and advancing models of best practices in those areasare very much needed in the church.

Also on the panel was Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, Ga., who said he supports the collaboration the round table proposes. But he warned against viewing problems in the church, like the often-mentioned priest shortage, too negatively. He noted that among the 30 people in his diocesan chancery, I’m the only priest, and he called the involvement of the laity a sign of the church’s vitality.

Boisi stressed that organizers of the round table should recognize that the church is not a business, but that this does not mean that many successful business practices cannot be adapted to the church’s management approach to help the church carry out its mission.

Boisi said the new church management round table will be modeled after various business round tables, with more than 200 members from across the country representing a wide range of managerial and professional expertise in church and secular fields and including at least one bishop from each region of the country.

The round table has established a Web site (, at which are available the text of the report on the Wharton meeting, information on the structure, background and mission of the organization, and news about the round table’s formation.

Cincinnati Panel Splits $3.2 Million Among 117 Abuse Victims

An independent tribunal announced on March 9 that it has divided $3.2 million among 117 people who claimed that as children they were sexually abused by priests or other church personnel of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The same day Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati removed three accused priests from ministry and placed them on administrative leave. Although the purpose of the tribunal was not to establish the guilt or innocence of the accused, the archbishop said the panel’s decision to compensate their accusers was sufficient grounds for the archdiocese to investigate those cases anew. All other priests named were dead or retired or had already been removed from ministry.

Archbishop Pilarczyk had set up a fund to settle cases out of court in 2003 after entering a plea of no contest to charges that archdiocesan officials in the past had failed to report abuse of minors to proper civil authorities.

None of the three priests has admitted guilt. Accusations against two of the priests had been investigated earlier by the diocese, which concluded the claims were unsubstantiated. There were no complaints against the third priest prior to the establishment of the fund to compensate victims. While on administrative leave, the priests are not allowed to engage in any ministry, identify themselves as priests or use the title Father.

Archbishop Pilarczyk said the payments through the fund constitute an act of contrition on the part of the archdiocese for the harm that its agentspriests or lay employeesinflicted on persons who trusted them. While I realize that no amount of money can make up for the harm and hurt that claimants have suffered, I hope that they will take the action of the fund as a sign of our sincere sorrow for what happened, and that they will be able to forgive us.

Vatican Says Displaced Africans, Refugees Need More Help

Facing hunger, rape and death, refugees and displaced people in Sudan’s Darfur region and throughout Africa must be given greater assistance by the international community, a Vatican official said. The precarious and tragic condition of these millions of persons forcibly uprooted from their villages and their lands calls for concrete and prompt decisions, Msgr. Fortunatus Nwachukwu told the executive committee of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Monsignor Nwachukwu, a staff member at the Vatican’s observer mission to U.N. agencies in Geneva, spoke to the committee on March 10. On March 11, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told the U.N. Security Council that the Sudanese government and rebels had not made any serious attempt in the past month to resolve the Darfur conflict.

News Briefs

A recent Harris Interactive Poll showed the strongest opposition in years to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. According to the poll, 52 percent of Americans support Roe and 47 percent do not; in 1998, those figures were 57 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

The departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon will remove the major reason for division among the Lebanese people, said Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, the Maronite Catholic patriarch. If Syria will withdraw from Lebanon, there is no reason to be divided. It’s not that the Lebanese are divided, but someone has divided them, he said on March 15.

Pope John Paul II, who was released from the Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome on March 13, is continuing his convalescence. On March 16 he did not hold his usual weekly general audience, but came to the window of his Vatican apartment and blessed the crowd in St. Peter’s Square.

The Diocese of Fresno, which was listed as noncompliant with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (America, 3/7/03, p. 5), is in full compliance, according to the Gavin Group, which conducted the audit of U.S. dioceses. While the Diocese of Fresno documented it was clearly in compliance as of December 31, 2004, it did not clearly document that fact until after December 31, 2004, reports the Gavin Group.

Some 50,000 Colombians in six rural towns rejected the Colombian government’s intentions to sign a free trade agreement with the United States. In a referendum organized by indigenous and farmer movements in the southern department of Cauca, residents 14 years or older voted against the free trade pact being negotiated between the United States and Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Just 693 people voted in favor of the agreement, according to the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca.

Keynoting a three-day Catholic-Jewish theological dialogue at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., on March 14, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that among the main tasks facing Catholic-Jewish relations in coming years are deeper historical studies, dialogue on fundamental theology and advancing cooperation in charitable and social work. Cardinal Kasper is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and of the council’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

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