– of the sex abuse scandal and its coverup is effectively destroying the credibility of the Catholic Church. (“Disaster” is not my word: It’s Cardinal Dolan’s; but I couldn’t agree more.) And as for impact on the church’s ability to do its job, consider these figures from a recent (Sept. 10) Economist/YouGov poll:
|Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of churches in general?||Favorable: 55%
|Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Catholic Church?||Favorable: 29%
Self-identified Catholics still have a favorable opinion about the Catholic Church (although less-favorable than about churches in general); everybody else has an unfavorable opinion – by almost 2:1.
I’m going to put my organizational-psychologist hat on here: If any large business (well, maybe except cable companies) had these poll numbers, the senior leadership would be out on its ear in a heartbeat. It wouldn’t be a matter of proving wrongdoing, or of ethical lapses (although those are important to uncover and address). The issue would be that the leadership is unable to have the organization do its job in a way that’s acceptable to the general public.
Along those lines, I’m going to speculate that until this crisis few people paid attention to how church leadership is selected, trained, evaluated, supervised, and (when necessary) disciplined. (A personal vignette: I have only twice in my 46-plus years as a priest been professionally evaluated for the quality of my ministry and given appropriate feedback. And that happened once because I engaged a private consultant and paid for his evaluation of my work myself; and again during my three years of leadership training with Gallup – which I also sought out and paid for myself. There were certainly selection processes when I was accepted to the seminary, accepted for ordination, and appointed and then renewed as a pastor; but those processes were hardly what would be expected in a modern large organization – which the church is, although it’s of course also more than that.)
I don’t have to argue that some church leaders did not belong in their positions; but how they got there and how they stayed there are pressing questions that need to be answered, and soon. And with many more people now interested in how it happens, the processes for selection and promotion (and evaluation and discipline) of leaders need to be transparent and most likely radically revised.
I admit that these issues shouldn’t have to be on the radar for lay people. If I go into a Mazda dealership to buy a car I don’t want to have to care how the vice-president of engineering got her job – I just want a well-designed car. You have your own Christian lives to lead, with the daily challenges of raising children, earning a living, dealing with all the joys and the messes of ordinary life; you shouldn’t have to pay attention to how your priest or bishop was selected and is being supervised. But events are showing every day that the existing process isn’t working; and as in most bureaucracies things will only change when there’s a spotlight on what happens in the back rooms.
I never thought I’d have to write the series of columns that I’ve written since August; but the church’s mission is clearly at risk (look again at the numbers above). We have no credibility to preach what is always a difficult Gospel to hear. The world needs the church to be a “light to the nations”; we’ve now got it firmly under a bushel basket of suspicion and mistrust.