Speakers at the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management's annual meeting June 30 in Philadelphia emphasized that the church should adhere to the same business practices expected of institutions and governments worldwide.
The gathering, with the theme: "The Francis Effect and Transforming Church Culture: Advancing Best Managerial and Leadership Practices" began with a discussion on Pope Francis' initiative to reform Vatican business practices in the wake of financial scandals by appointing Australian Cardinal George Pell as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy with a mandate to reform the system.
Speaking to conference participants on the issue through a televised link from Rome was Danny Casey, an accountant who was the business manager for the Archdiocese of Sydney and who now assists Cardinal Pell at the Vatican.
"We are entrusted with a patrimony that is not our own," he said, noting that the church "inherited much from the people who came before us and they are watching. If we don't do good today, we are compromising the work of the people who follow us."
He also told the story of a meeting with Vatican officials when he stressed the importance of accountability, with everything, including income and expenses, on the books.
"Everything? What about what we do in cash?" one official asked. "How much do you do in cash?" Casey inquired. "About 90 percent," was the reply.
"It didn't mean there was wrongdoing, but there were no controls and it had to stop," Casey said.
Another panelist was Elizabeth McCaul, partner-in-charge of the New York office of Promontory Financial Group, a regulatory compliance firm and also a former superintendent of banks for the state of New York and former chair of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, who went to Rome to assist Cardinal Pell and Casey in compliance matters.
"When the papal conclave was held in 2013, there was a real crisis in the church and it was caused by a lack of transparency, a lack of controls and a lack of adherence to international regulatory practices that create confidence," she said.
Almost immediately, she said the pope identified financial reform as a top priority so that the good works of the church can continue.
With reforms in place on the issues of transparency, governance, regulatory compliance and sustainability, "the days of ripping off the Vatican are over," she added.
Good financial practices are just one of the concerns of the Leadership Roundtable, which was founded in 2005 originally to assist the bishops in response to the child sex abuse scandal, according to the founding chair, Geoffrey Boisi, a retired vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase.
"My expertise as a layperson was on the temporal side," he said. "If you get that correct, as you lead to healthy governance management, human resources development, financials and communications, you can avoid a lot of problems. We brought together leaders from all walks of life to focus on developing best practices to help the church in its work. I think we have made a lot of progress."
Another speaker was Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd of Montreal, whose primary responsibility is oversight and ministry of the English-speaking parishes in his overwhelmingly French-speaking diocese. He also happens to have a degree in international business and finance.
"Money discussions don't scare me," he said.
When he became bishop, he made it his custom to make extended pastoral visits to the parishes to stay with them for a week, meeting with all of the parish groups, getting to understand their concerns.
"Investing in human relations, getting to know the people, telling them what I observed so we can be on the same wave-length is important," he said.
He also required all of the priests in the parishes to give him their personal email, so if he had something important to discuss it wouldn't be lost among the many messages sent to the parish.
Collaboration with the people is very important, he believes, and in a way, Montreal is unique in this respect. It is probably the only diocese in North America where the parish properties are almost always owned by the bishop as a corporation sole and passed on to his successors, Bishop Dowd explained.
Barbara Anne Cusack, a canon lawyer and chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, echoed the importance of a team approach in making decisions for the diocese.
Jim Herrel, a parish administrator at St. Ann's, a dynamic and growing parish in Marietta, Georgia, also agreed, saying this type of teamwork will help the parish meet its mission.
In his view the laity are not just collaborators, they are co-responsible for the work of the church. As he put it: "Faith is not a spectator sport. It requires us to be involved."