Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is It Time To Separate Governance From Spiritual Leadership In Catholicism?

Ogalala Souix Holy Man Frank Fool's Crow in Cardinal red in his Cathedral. Photo is from a series by Horst Wackerbarth. In spite of his other wordly healing abilities, Chief Fool's Crow never had a dime to his name and certainly did not own this couch.

I keep rereading Cardinal George's interview and one of the things which has struck me really forcefully is that he never discusses the role of a bishop in any terms other than that of governance. The idea of servant leader never passes his lips. When I think back on the last year or so, the idea of servant leader never passes the lips of any out spoken bishop. Bishop Martino is probably the most perfect example of someone who saw themselves as unilaterally governing a Roman province rather than serving his people as Jesus called for repeatedly in living His own ministry. Bishop Martino lived from the Imperial Pontius Pilate school of leadership, rather than the Jesus Christ school of leadership.

One of the really major differences between Native American tribes (which see themselves as a cultural/spiritual communion) and the Roman Catholic church is precisely in the separation of the roles of tribal governance and spiritual leadership. Rarely are both forms of leadership held by the same individual. Spiritual leaders are not prone to be political agents, although they can influence the political process by reminding the political leadership of how the central concepts of their native spirituality should be reflected in their governance decisions.

It isn't always a smooth dialogue, as functioning well in the greater American society sometimes involves more compromise and capitulation than traditional spiritual leaders appreciate. The prime example of this kind of dialogue in tension is over gambling and casino revenues. Some tribes have found remarkable ways to handle this tension, and some have failed miserably.

It could be the USCCB fails at both governance and spiritual leadership because they are mandated to do both roles and there fore do justice to neither role. They failed horribly in their governance role regarding the sexual abuse scandal because they chose to protect the spiritual legitimacy of the ordained as their primary obligation. Had they been free to operate solely from a spiritual role, they would have had an easier time seeing their primary obligation as servant leaders was to alleviate the suffering of the victims.

The role of a separate governance agent would not have been encumbered by notions of protecting the spiritual legitimacy of any priest or bishop because that wouldn't have been that agents primary role. His/her role would have been to handle these situations as per the dictates of civil and Canon law, exactly as a Native political leader must handle situations according to both federal and tribal law. He/she is not so much concerned with spiritual legitimacy as with the health of the community.

Diocesan governance and spiritual leadership are two distinct and very different roles, especially in modern times when American Catholicism is handling billions of dollars and holds billions of dollars of assets. Cardinal George himself admitted that the model for leadership amongst today's bishops is that of the businessman-- which in America means our dioceses are acting more and more like rogue corporations than centers for spiritual development.

These ecclesiastical corporations have gotten to the point where they are now attempting to use the legal separation of Church and State to give them even more freedom to act as rogue corporations completely outside any over site agency. They seem to want the legal protections of both corporate and religious law. (Perhaps they are jealous of Native reservation status and desire to turn their Cathedral complexes into casinos.)

Jesus was very careful to separate notions of spiritual leadership from civic or political leadership. He said one can not serve both God and mammon. He said one must separate the things of Caesar from the things of God. It is too easy to sacrifice the spiritual mission for the sake of mammon, secular power and community prestige. We American Catholics have certainly paid the price for the consequences of our spiritual leadership losing sight of their spiritual mission.

I really believe that in the coming Emerging Church we will see definitive lines being drawn between the spheres of spiritual leadership and community governance. Ideally this will allow our spiritual leadership to focus exclusively on developing their spiritual gifts while allowing the governance issues to be handled by people whose gifts and training are actually in governance.

This is not a new ideal. It's a return to a very traditional ideal, one embodied by Peter who did not have responsibility for the actual governing of the Jerusalem Church. James did. Unfortunately Cardinal George's models for bishops didn't go that far back in the Tradition. Not surprising I guess, given the amount of mammon, power, and prestige the current bishops enjoy. Better we all become 'simply Catholics' and let them keep it, even though we pay for it and our own spiritual needs go largely unmet.


  1. Is that one of the issues that frightens the bishops about women religious, that they may be seen as having a deeper spiritual leadership role and therefore are a threat to their authority?

  2. I think you have identified one of the underlying issues with the LCWR. I suppose this also had something to do with banning reiki from Catholic hospitals.

    The authority of our religious leaders is more or less based in Canon Law, while Jesus's authority was based in who He was and the real concrete evidence of His spiritual gifts.

    Other than the Last Supper, He is not recorded to have engaged in or led what we would call a spiritual ceremony. He engaged in spiritual acts. So too the Apostles after Pentecost. None of our Episcopal leadership derives their authority from these kinds of spiritual acts. That's certainly not true for Native spiritual leaders.

    Frank Fool's Crow was a consumate practioner of spiritual acts, not just ceremonies and is revered to this day for who he was and the authority he wielded. When Frank opted to talk, everyone listened-- even if they didn't like what he said.

  3. That is such a wonderful photograph - powerfully prophetic and a sign of contradiction. It sums up your whole article = an image of authentic spiritual leadership - out in the wild, stripped of all of the accouterments and status of a secure institution (not even the sofa is his property), relying on trust in the Spirit alone.

  4. I'm not sure if the hierarchs would even acknowledge that there is a distinction between the two.

    I would argue that governance of the institution and spiritual leadership already have been separated. How many people really look to their bishop for spiritual leadership?

    You're talking, of course, about an official, de jure separation, I understand. I'm not really sure how that would work, though. The failure of bishops to provide adequate spiritual leadership during the sexual abuse scandal was, I think, more a reflection of the quality of the men occupying those positions rather than any problems with their job descriptions.

    The real problem, in other words, is the selection of bishops. Doctrinal orthodoxy and blind obedience to Rome ensure neither good governance nor spiritual leadership, and yet they are the litmus test.

  5. The messages that we are receiving from all sources now is very simple and very clear: the old ways have to go, they dont work, never have worked, and never will work. It is the reason the population of traditional catholic congregations (all mainstream religions as well) is diminishing rapidly, and the reason alternative spiritual congregations are forming and growing as astronomical rates.

    I see it with the 20-30 somethings I know. I wait until after I get to know them to let them know that I am a minister. The reactions are almost the same - youre not like any ministers we have ever met - where is your church? Answer: I dont have one, dont want one, dont groove on the fire brimstone doom and gloom mentality. My message is simple: Love is Freedom. Anything that limits freedom is not love. The latter pretty much sums up the allness of traditional christianity - limitation of freedom.

  6. Colleen, another great blog. I was turning Cardinal George's interview over in my mind a good portion of the day. What he has said reveals the truth of what we've been saying for quite some time about the hierarchy. The Church has become like a corporation. Lots of rules and everyone is put into hierarchal order and "its my way or the highway" mentality. The spiritual aspects of the Church, like Jesus and the Gospels, come in second as far as the leadership is concerned, behind the money. The People of God are running far ahead of the hierarchy in spirituality while they dress themselves up and are the first seated at banquets.

    The artist, Horst Wackerbarth, has some very interesting work and I loved all of the questions that he asked in the link. I love the picture of the violinist/conductor, Lord Menuhin Yehudi, on the red couch reading a Bach score and he is surrounded by mounds of garbage. Many artist/musicians that I know complain about the cookie cutter quality of music that is promoted these days. They say things like "keep the music alive." That picture really got to me and it is a very powerful message.

    The picture of Frank Fool's Crow "in Cardinal red in his Cathedral" juxtaposed alongside the pictures of another Cardinal dressed like a King of a former age with flowing yards of red silk shows as evidence just how far gone they are and into their love of riches and power and glory to themselves. They've lost their way and are not following Jesus. This is why people are leaving the Church and why there is a priest shortage. People might be fooled some of the time, but eventually they catch on and will not be fooled all of the time. Time is up for this old Church that serves mammon and not God.

    The seeds of the new emerging Church were planted at Vatican II. There is no turning back.

  7. Authority involves the ability to secure willing obedience. Hannah Arendt.

    Contemporary [Catholic] bishops are painfully learning that they can either function hierarchically or they can exercise healthy authority but that they cannot do both.

    Hierarchies are designed for the exercise of power, that is, for authoritarian control. They depend on structures rather than human relationships.

    Authority, however, depends completely on human relationships. It derives from the Latin augere – to create, to make able to grow. Parents author their children. Their authority over them is a function of that special relationship through which parents commit themselves to their children’s growth, to their human fullness, to their emergence from dependence. So, too, the authority of teachers, pastors and popes is essentially relational, ordered to the growth of their students, their parishioners or their worldwide flock.

    Bishops who have been trained to relate structurally through their roles and the rules of hierarchy and who have been conditioned to manage rather than expose themselves to the risks of human relationships find it almost impossible to exercise their authority effectively in an institution that insists that they exercise it as impersonal control.
    Eugene Kennedy, The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality.

    Authority resides in a person who by actions as well as words invites trust and confidence. It rests neither on external legitimization nor on power but on trustworthiness, or in Augustine’s words, on truth. Its purpose is to clarify and illuminate, i.e., to aid understanding, and its instrument is argument, not coercion. The first question a Christian intellectual should ask is not "what should be believed" or "what should one think," but "whom should we trust?"
    Robert L. Wilken, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, The Christian Intellectual Tradition (article), First Things, June/July 1991.

    It is not so much the authority one questions in the Roman Catholic church as the lack of the qualities of good leadership, including respect for the persons involved, the efforts at persuasion, and the explanations to which associates and subordinates are entitled - in fact, the lack of ordinary good manners.
    Abigail McCarthy, Mending Catholic Manners/Of Several Minds (article), Commonweal, January 11, 1991.

    Authoritarianism is authority that has ceased to struggle to become leadership. Richard A. McCormick

    Jim McCrea

  8. Mr Old Geezer, these are a wonderful set of quotes. I especially like the Eugene Kennedy quote.

    Way back when I taught management to Mining Engineers I concentrated on one thought. Management is about two primary relationships. One is accountable to upper management and responsible for subordinates. Responsible derives from the word able to respond.

    When there is no accountability there is also no sense of responsibility. Add to his equation the fact our bishops are trained essentially not to relate to anyone, it's not surprising we have the mess we have--especially when you add in the $$$$$$