Without solicitation, Barry Kearney (a parishioner of St Anne’s Parish in Park Orchards) has forwarded his vision for the “Future Church in Australia” to a very large number of folk in the Archdiocese. He rather innocently suggested that we should “feel free to forward or reproduce in full or in part any of these observations, or to criticize”, so I thought I would do just that. I will send an email to Barry letting him know that I have “blogged” him, so “Hi! Barry, and welcome to Sentire Cum Ecclesia for the first time!”
Barry begins by noting that “The Catholic Church in Australia is in serious trouble”. He identified its “main problems” as:
- Falling attendances
- Priests are ageing and are an endangered species
- Its message is not being heard
- Lack of leadership
He dismisses (rightly, I would say) the usual answers (“Allowing women to be priests, allowing priests to marry”)—issues which he believes “are important”, but which “miss the main point ie there are almost no young men or women attending Mass.” You have to admit, that is a good point.
He comments: “Young men of the future cannot be priests if the Mass and the sacraments have no part in their lives. Allowing priests to marry will not bring young men to the Eucharist. Allowing young women to be priests will not bring them to the Mass either. Nor will allowing young women to be married priests.”
He goes on to say: “Church leaders are sometimes encouraged by large numbers of Catholic Youth attending international or national rallies, but those attending are the exception and the reality is that very few 15-30 Catholics go any where near a Church except perhaps at Christmas and for children’s Baptisms and First Communions. And certainly not at Easter, the most significant liturgical celebration of the Church.”
He has a point there, but I would say that it is precisely in these “exceptions” that the hope of the future Church lies, because those who remain are really committed, perhaps more so than the Catholic youth of any previous era in Australia. I might suggest to Barry (and to you, dear Reader) that he have a look at the Spirit of Generation Y report. It is worth a blog entry all of its own.
At this point, Barry gives us some sense of the solution he is proposing. He suggests a “SWOT analysis” such as any business would use “to review where [the Church is] going”.
Now, the Church has been compared to many things (Vine, Bride of Christ, Temple, Household of God, People of God, Body of Christ), but if there is one model that it is totally inappropriate for the Una Sancta Catholica et Apostolica Ecclesia, it is the “business model”. [Of course, that doesn’t mean that parish priests, bishops, parish councils, and archdiocesan business managers don’t occasionally fall into the trap of viewing the Church in this way.] This is the guts of my criticism of Barry’s paper, so if you don’t want to read the rest, you have it right now. But give Barry his due, and read on to see what he has to say.
Anyway, SWOT, it turns out, stands for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats”.
I reproduce his analysis in full as follows:
- Is the largest Church in Australia.
- Has Jesus Christ as its founder.
- Has as its main source of enlightenment the Bible, which has stood the test of many centuries and is also the inspiration for all Christians.
- Is immensely wealthy, owning real estate worth billions of dollars
- Is involved in popular community endeavours such as primary and secondary schools, hospitals, social welfare eg St Vincent De Paul, Catholic Family Welfare Bureau, overseas aid
- Has an opportunity to give religious education to Catholic children in its primary and secondary schools
- Has thousands of talented employees including bishops, priests, religious orders, teachers, doctors, nurses, ethicists, administrators, pastoral workers
- Has tens of thousands of talented business people and administrators who are willing to offer their gifts
- Has 1,500 Parishes with many talented parishioners eager to make a contribution
- Is fast running out of priests
- Is organised into Dioceses and Archdioceses and Independent Religious Orders and has no National or even state structure and so suffers from duplication and fragmentation
- Has no national marketing plan and probably no marketing plan at all
- Mass attendance is dropping eg an NCLS 2004 article by John Bellamy and Keith Castle reports that from 1996 to 2000 attendance dropped from 18% to 15%. As older Catholics die and other factors contribute this figure is probably fast approaching 10%.
- Men are outnumbered by about 2-1 in Mass attendance
- Youth are deserting all church involvement after leaving Catholic schools
- Women, despite dominating most functions are denied priesthood
- Priests cannot marry and so many have left the priesthood and good potential candidates are lost
- Leadership seems almost non-existent or is inappropriate or misguided
- Church leaders seem afraid to lead
- The authorities in Rome are either not aware of the crisis in Australia (and USA and Europe) or have no idea how to solve it
- Possible changes to solve the issues are not considered because of the ramifications they may have in 3rd World countries
- There are too many Parishes and this means resources are duplicated and wasted
- Religion is not being taught effectively in schools or more young people would stay connected and involved
- Lay people and clergy are often involved in social justice issues which are divisive eg industrial relations, environment, and which have no religious relevance or priority
- Sexual abuse reports have given the priesthood a bad name
- Australian Youth are looking for spiritual leadership and experiences
- The Church has a captive audience of hundreds of thousands of Catholic children in Catholic schools
- It can get access to the parents of Catholic School children by using School based masses and religious celebrations
- It has millions of dollars that can be made available to research and execute a Marketing Plan/Reorganisation Plan to overcome its problems
- It can use TV and the internet to get its message across
- It can use PR and marketing experts to promote its message
- As the Church attendances and priest numbers dwindle, there is a danger that Church leaders will take up popularist causes eg environmental and broad based social issues and lose sight of more fundamental doctrine
- The Church may retreat into itself and do nothing, alienating itself from its members until it becomes just a provider of community services eg education, health, help for the poor, and dependent on Government Funding
- It may controlled by extremists who either want to make the Church a relic of the past or the opposite extreme
- It will run out of priests
- It will run out of money as it tries to maintain too many Parishes with too few attendees and contributors
- It will lose members to other faiths or denominations or movements that are more forward thinking or seem more appealing
Now one could argue about the details, but many of his points are valid. However, if you have read this far, you will notice already that there is a certain leaning toward the “business model” of the Church. He talks about resources a lot—both financial and human. Under “Opportunities” we start to hear the language of marketing and public relations. His final comment under “Threats” is about losing members to what might be called “the competition”: “other faiths or denominations or movements that are more forward thinking or seem more appealing” (ie. the mobs that I spend most of my working day liaising with!).
All this points already to what his solution might be: It is this:
- Employ a Marketing/Research Company to carry out 2 years of Research into how to Market/Organise the Church in the future. The marketing brief would include every aspect of Church activities from the Mass, Structure, the Sacraments, Schools, Community Activities, PR, Doctrine, Leadership, Using the Media including Internet, Church Buildings of the future, Vocations
- Apart from essential doctrine, the Marketing company could look at all aspects of Church organisation and activities eg women priests, married priests, national structure, parish restructuring, Religious Education for children, financial, and the future of Religious Orders.
All entirely consistent with the “business model” of the Church, but entirely inconsistent with the real nature of the Church (more on this in a mo).
He ends by giving his own view of Australia’s “Future Church”. It is nothing less than a thoroughgoing restructuring of the Church without much consideration of the essential nature of the Church. Suggestions include the following:
- A proper National structure without independent Dioceses and Archdioceses.
- All Catholic Religious Education under National Church Control.
- All religious orders and their assets under the control of the National Church
- New mega Churches (catering for at least 1000 to 3000 attendees) to replace the archaic local small Churches, which could support married priests and their families or a community of priests, Youth Leaders and Youth programs, better live music ministry and Children’s Liturgy and stronger bases for community outreach.
- A National Marketing and PR Organisation, using Australia’s top Marketing and PR companies, for TV, internet, Cinemas and Newspapers.
- Schools would be used to gain access to the parents of Catholic children to try to bring them back to the Church, and to influence children to attend Mass [I think this is most revolutionary suggestion! – Schütz].
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess the performance of all Catholic organisations
He concludes by saying that this “is how all Best Practice Businesses operate. We should expect nothing less than best from our Church. We are not getting best practice presently.”
Now, I have a great deal of sympathy for Barry’s perspective. He and his wife are (according to their website) successful business managers, and it probably frustrates the hell out of them to see what an inefficient, lumbering mess the Church is from a business point of view.
One cannot defend a lot of the nonsense that goes on in the Church. But the Church is a society of human beings—more akin to a family than to a business. Anyone who has seen “The Sound of Music” even only a dozen times will know that you can’t run a family on the “Captain Von Trapp” method. Good leadership in the Church has more to do with responsible and loving fatherhood than good business sense (cf. 1 Timothy 3). Business models are entirely inappropriate when what we are dealing with on the one hand are human souls and on the other hand the Gospel of reconciliation between man and his divine Creator.
The real solution is a whole lot simpler—and harder—than Barry’s analysis suggests. The Real Strength of the Church is Jesus Christ. The Real Weakness is human Sin. The Real Opportunity is millions of sinners in the world who need the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The Real Threat is that we do not appreciate our Real Strength enough and at the same time underestimate our Real Weakness so much, that we will not take the Real Opportunity when it is handed to us on a platter.
Thanks Barry, for your thought-provoking piece, but like I said in a previous blog, it ain’t rocket science—and it ain’t business management either.
If you want a full copy of Barry’s paper, just email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org