CathBlog July 10: Six ideas for a lay adviser to the Holy Father

There are many useful insights that could be offered by the people of God, in matters of critical importance to the whole Church, writes Garry Everett. Please take up the invitation, or invite yourself. The Church needs you.

The Pope is seeking some help to reform the Curia. He has invited a layman, independent of the Vatican, to assist with the reform process.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to offer the expert some humble hints, from members of the Church at large, to consider before beginning the process. I am sending my six suggestions.

 I invite you as readers to consider offering your piece of the wisdom too. In this small way, we might show that the people of God can participate in important matters, which are decided at quite a distance from us. If we choose not to speak, then we choose to ignore our Baptismal call. Whether we are heard or not, is someone else’s choice. If they don’t know we have an interest, they can’t be responsible for seeming to ignore us.

Suggestion 1     Read the signs

The perceived problems in the Curia, are also the perceived problems within the Church at large.

They cluster around: loss of focus on mission and vision; the priority given to power, prestige, privilege, position and control, over the mandates of the Gospel; decreasing levels of transparency and accountability.

These problems surface from time to time in dicasteries in the Vatican; in dioceses; parishes; synods; councils and committees. Regular reviews could correct such imbalances. However, unless the imbalances are corrected in all structures within the Church, little will be gained by reforming the Curia alone. Nevertheless, it may be a good place to start. It could become a model for others.

Suggestion 2    Culture is the focus

Any significant change in the structure and operations of the Curia will necessarily be a change in the culture of the organization. Culture embraces attitudes, values, norms, beliefs rubrics and loyalties. Perhaps this is the problem identified by the Cardinals in pre-Conclave discussions.

The age-old culture within the Curia might need a complete over-haul.

This will not be achieved by tinkering with staffing; changing a structure or process; issuing new edicts about standards.

Changing culture is a slow, careful and demanding process.

If the reform focusses on efficiency and effectiveness, then ultimately the prevailing culture will restore the status quo. As the old saying has it: ‘If the water is toxic, the new fish won’t survive either.’

Suggestion 3   Form follows function

This self-evident truth guides the world of design. The form of the Curia must serve the functions it is given.

Those functions are directly determined by the mission and vision of the Church.

Pope Francis is showing by example as well as by words, what he believes that mission and vision are in the contemporary world. 

The danger in any change process is to assume that one knows unambiguously what the functions are, and hence can quickly determine the forms necessary to support those functions.

The Church is not a bureaucratic, corporate organization with a commercial agenda, so the strategies to change the Church are not always those derived from managerial techniques developed by secular corporations.

Suggestion 4    Respect grief and hope.

All change is characterized by death and resurrection. Some things end, and others begin.

Often the dying is accompanied by denial, and the change agent has to be sensitive to the experiences and feelings of all those affected by the changes envisaged.

The Pope’s change agent would find invaluable help in this regard from re-reading the Emmaus story in the Gospel of Luke.

Here is the Christian approach to letting go and living in hope. It is a story of the new kind of life that comes with experience of resurrection. Just as importantly, it is a story of how Jesus allows the disciples firstly to grieve over what they thought they had lost; to grieve over their own weaknesses and fears; to grieve over the uncertain future as they saw it.

Then, Jesus guides them into the discovery of new life in Him.

Suggestion 5    Ideas are not behaviours

Often in the change process there comes a point when the new structures and processes become clear to the change agent, and they can be easily communicated.

However, the change still needs to be implemented. In the end, the change must move from theory to practice; from idea to beliefs and behaviours.

This is the most difficult part of all change processes, and the one most often overlooked or under-resourced.

Many commentators made this observation a few years after the Second Vatican Council concluded.

In essence, while the desired changes are to be made to the Curia, other parts of the Church must also take responsibility for ensuring that the changes occur, are monitored, and evaluated regularly.

Suggestion 6   Matters of principle.

Every good change process is built on respect for some important principles.

Here are four such principles.

Firstly, the Church believes in sudsidiarity but does not always practice this principle. Leaving to local decision-makers, to decide what is best decided at a local level, will be an important principle to observe when reviewing the structures and operations of the Curia. Over-centralization should be avoided at all costs.

Secondly the principle of serving others should help throw light on those aspects of the Curia where service has been supplanted by self promotion, or empire building.

Third is the principle of transparency. Far too often, the ways in which things are decided are not known to those affected by the decisions. Secrecy, appeals to unjustifiable confidentiality, the use of authority which cannot be questioned, are all examples of lack of transparency.

Finally, there is the principle of accountability which requires that people accept responsibility for their actions, good and bad.

In offering these six ideas, I am not implying that the expert, employed by the Pope, would not be using them.

There are many other useful insights that could be offered. The point of offering them is to show that the people of God are keen to assist in whatever ways they can, in matters of critical importance to the whole Church. 

Consultation, collaboration and sharing wisdom, are solid principles also for the guidance of the Church.

Please take up the invitation, or invite yourself. The Church needs you.

Garry Everett is currently Dep. Chair of Mercy Partners in Queensland; a former Dep. Director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission; and  a previous Chair of the Archdiocesan Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.

(Image from: Flickr)

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