Over at Cooees, there are rumours that two of Melbourne's auxiliaries have turned down the vacant bishopric of Sale, fearing that they would be torn apart. If true, this is sad on several fronts.
So I thought, slightly tongue in cheek, we should help out any other possible reluctant starters with a few thoughts on the subject of how to tackle the task of a difficult diocese! Herewith my offering...
Sale and many other dioceses?
If the Sale rumours are true (and even if not, I'm sure the situation arises elsewhere), it perhaps signals a bigger problem that in many dioceses, liberals have long reigned both in the pulpit and the pews, leaving a legacy that is not easy for a more conservative bishop to deal with.
A new generation, led by the current Pope, is arising that is demanding that the faith be taught and expressed in the liturgy.
But even if the right bishop was appointed, how does he overcome the legacy of the past and actually make things happen? It is not like you can sack all your priests and start again....
It is not an uncommon problem - and one that will hopefully happen more and more often in the next few years!
Change management is an art and a science
In the secular world, many of us have acquired quite a lot of experience in 'change management'. It is not exactly something that is part of the standard curriculum for priests or would-be bishops however. But maybe it should be. Perhaps all the Auxiliaries and potential/new bishops around Australia should be packed off for an intensive course at the Harvard Business School (who specialise in this subject) followed by a quick tour of a few dioceses that have successfully made big changes.
I should say that knowing the science won't necessarily stop you from being torn apart. There are two brilliant books on leadership that I think are very consistent with a catholic mentality, called Leadership on the Line Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, and Leadership without easy answers, both by Ronald Heifetz (with Marty Linsky on the first).
Both books point out that making real change is inevitably extremely painful and can often lead to assassination, literal or metaphorical. The ultimate example of this, of course, being Our Lord. But that example of course points to why someone sometimes has to take the fall to make salvation possible.
And let's not be coy here. Restoring orthodoxy and orthopraxis is about the salvation of souls. That's why we need holy priests to take up the challenge of tackling these difficult dioceses.
So what would you do?
So, imagine for a moment that you were the newly appointed bishop of one of our more challenging dioceses, how would you tackle the problem? I invite readers to offer their suggestions!
Here are a few of mine.
Personally I've always liked the Prochaska five stages of change model - get people from thinking everything is ok to understanding the need for change, to understand that there is a problem; get them thinking about how to make change and equip them with the tools to do it;
get them act; help them maintain the new way of operating.
How would you operationalise it?
1. Find some holy nuns (or monks) to pray for you and the diocese!
Invite in some traditionally oriented nuns from an existing monastery, sponsor a new order wanting to start up (it might fail, but at least in the shorter term you will get some prayers out of it!), or if you can't find anyone to do that, commission an existing monastery to pray for you and the diocese. Everything has to start from grace...
2. Organise Adoration in your new cathedral or somewhere in the diocese.
Grace again, plus a signal about what is most important to you - the presence of Our Lord. Plus a means of actively engaging the laity in your mission.
3. Suss out whether you have any potential supporters hiding out there.
Interview all of your priests individually. Listening is always a good way of starting, and you need to know the extent of your potential support (you never know, someone might have been hiding their colours) and your potential opposition; and what both sides perceive the problems of the diocese to be. A useful chance too, to pass on a little of the flavour of any riding instructions or feedback about the diocese that you might have been given...and to identify who the key opinion leaders (for good or otherwise) are.
Above all, see if you can find some possible 'quick wins', quick and relatively easy ways of fixing a few festering sores that will help get people on board while you build a base of support for change and work out how to tackle the more intractable issues.
You will need to do the same thing with key lay people of course, but we of the laity have to remember to be patient on this front, because the reality is that we can, at a pinch, be replaced - priests of the diocese are priests (of the diocese) forever!
4. Find some priests asap!
Beg, borrow or steal a few orthodox priests, even if just for one or two year placements, from amongst your friends or from dioceses that aren't too badly off. You need at least someone you can rely on, and there is nothing like having at least a few friendly faces around that table at meetings. And depending how dire the priest shortage is in your diocese, you might want to give some of the clergy a sabbatical to catch up with the latest theological trends (ie send them to re-education camp!), or at least be able to do some reshuffling of parishes.
You also need, of course, to start a serious recruitment campaign. Do you have a seminary - is it orthodox and active? If not, is it feasible to set one up? Set up some chances for young men to talk to you about becoming a priest, get a vocations effort happening in the diocese and overseas asap.
5. Create some teaching moments....
Liturgy is crucial so make the liturgy in your cathedral as splendid as possible - bring in an outside choir to sing Gregorian chant, train your choir, and generate enthusiasm.
Set up a workshop to teach all of your priests the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (they don't have to be compelled to offer it thereafter, just required to know the rite of their church). And there is a lot of evidence that just the experience of saying the EF will help increase their understanding of what it means to be a priest.
Bring in theologians to run 'in-service training' workshops on the liturgy, moral theology and a few other vital topics.
And see what has to be done to get catholic schools to actually teach the faith....
6. Run a mission aimed at bringing back lapsed Catholics
This might seem an odd thing to put in a list of things to do at the beginning of a new episcopate. But a bishop is responsible for all the souls in his diocese, not just those who turn up at Mass or hold bureaucratic positions, and while it won't all happen at once, making a start is important I think.
And there is nothing that works better in terms of changing the dynamic of a parish or diocese than new recruits! Many people left over the years because of the awful liturgical abuses they were subjected to. Their children and children's children know almost nothing of the faith. Bringing in people, young and old, people potentially with fervour, without the baggage of the last few decades will help (not to mention potentially improving your finances!).
So bring in some missionaries, run some parish missions, and set up an orthodox, serious program of catechesis targeted at nominal catholics in the first instance.
7. Set up some performance indicators and track your progress
There are some things you need to achieve - set up some key 'performance indicators' early on, and measure progress against them. Things like the number of priests, financial state, numbers attending mass, number discerning a priestly or religious vocation/seminarians, number of high school graduates who continue to practice, number of church weddings out of all couples in the diocese, baptisms as a proportion of births, and so forth.
There will be ups and downs. But if you don't track your progress, you won't know what is working and what more needs to be done. And getting agreement on what to measure, and having the stats is a perfect way of driving home to everyone in your diocese just how much of a problem you have, and what needs to change.
Bishops (and priests) arise!
So, let's pray that good men will take the challenge of ministering to some of our more difficult dioceses over the next few years. Let's pray for those bishops and priests who are trying to make the necessary changes. And let's encourage anyone invited to take up the challenge with courage, even if martyrdom will ultimately be their fate - the blood of the martyrs, after all, is the seed of the Church!
Though if any would-be bishops want to try and avoid that fate, my management consultancy services are available....