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Our Church is in what some are calling its most serious crisis in 500 years (since the Protestant Reformation.)[i] The crisis is one of use and abuse of power. The most egregious example of this is the global evidence of the sexual abuse of children and its organized and approved cover-up. While this is the example needing immediate and persistent attention, the use and abuse of power in the current governance system of the Roman Catholic Church has multiple expressions.
The Roman Catholic Church’s leaders have created a culture where the abuse of power is systemic .
History and our own experiences teach us that the concentration of too much power for too long, in too few hands, will always lead to the abuse of that power. Sexual predation and child abuse are perhaps the most heinous forms of power abuse, but there are others: corruption, larceny, fraud and the manipulation of people and processes to achieve an outcome. Over time concentrated and unchecked power rewards itself, enriches itself, and feeds on itself. [ii]
The Roman Catholic Church has concentrated its power in the hands of the ordained clergy. On July 28, 2018 there were 224 members of the College of Cardinals.[iii] As of the end of 2017, there were 5,304 bishops in the world [iv](that number is continuously changing). If you add the number of bishops to the numbers of men ordained to the ministerial priesthood (deacons and presbyters), the total number of ordained men, as of the end of 2015 when the last numbers were gathered, is 420,960.[v] In 2016 there were 1.29 billion Catholics in the world. [vi] What is the point of sharing all these numbers? So that you can see that just 3.24% of the Catholic population is responsible for leading the way, according to the current structure. All of them are men. That is a concentration of too much power for too long in too few hands.
I am now deliberately moving from global numbers to statistics for the Church in the US for two reasons: it’s easier to manage the numbers and the Church in the US is the milieu within which I serve. With that in mind, let’s let the numbers tell us a little more. According to the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, in 2016 (the last year for which this data is published), there were 37,192 priests in the US[vii], serving a Catholic population of 70,412,071.[viii] That is 5.2% of the Catholic population holding the power and providing its governance. Too much power in the hands of too few people, for too long.
There are women serving in roles within the Catholic Church where leadership can be exercised. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in their 2011 study on Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership in the US, 80% of all lay ecclesial ministers are women and 49% of all people on parish staffs in the US are women.[ix] What remains true in almost all of those situations however is that while these women have titles, responsibilities, spheres of influence, education, and experience, in the current governance system, they do not have power. Their sphere of influence is ultimately governed by the ordained, which is especially true if they work in parishes or other Catholic organizations whose daily authority is exercised by someone who is ordained. They serve, lead, create, innovate, companion and accompany only insofar as the pastor/bishop/cardinal wishes or permits.
In this situation, where the ordained men have led the Church to this most critical crisis since the Protestant Reformation, is it not time to consider adding women, the other 50.6%[x] of the population, into leadership that has both power and authority?
THE CAVEAT: I am not referring to ordaining women. I am referring to imagining and then creating systems and structures that provide the opportunities for women to exercise real leadership that has both power and authority while at the same time does not call into question the current system of ordination. The Church and her mission cannot wait for that system to be changed. The crisis is current and cries out for more immediate changes than the consideration of women’s ordination permits.
What we do know is that we must seize this moment and bring to it all the potential, possibility and problem-solving capacity available to the Church. That means realizing the shortcomings of this approach to governance, having the courage to embrace women’s contributions and then joining with the Holy Spirit to create some new systems and structures that will help lead the Church out of this crisis and restore her as the Bride of Christ, His visible presence in this broken world.
What we also know is that women need equipped with leadership training and skill development so that when they come into these new systems and structures, they will do so bringing vision, direction, good questions asked with the right timing, and skills to help navigate both the change and the new ways of being. That’s what Equipping the Saints is all about…seizing this moment to offer women already serving the Church a chance to receive leadership development concepts and leadership skills so that as they move into different roles, they will be equipped!
[i] Massimo Faggioli. “The Catholic Church’s Biggest Crisis Since the Reformation.” 24 October 2018. https://www.johnmenadue.com/massimo-faggioli-the-catholic-churchs-biggest-crisis-since-the-reformation/ Accessed 11/4/18
[ii] Carly Fiorina. “Church Scandal Proves Power Concentrated is Power Abused.” The Hill. August 22, 2018. https://thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/402849-Church-scandal-proves-power-concentrated-is-power-abused Accessed 11/4/18
[iii] “College of Cardinals.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_of_Cardinals#Organization Accessed 11/14/18/
[iv] Annuario Pontifico. 2017. https://www.quora.com/How-many-bishops-are-there-in-the-world Accessed 11/4/18
[v] Ibid. https://www.quora.com/How-many-Catholic-priests-are-there-in-the-world#ans86549428 Accessed 11/4/18
[vi] Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2016. https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/9241/increase-in-number-of-catholics-worldwide-according-to-vatican-stats Accessed 11/4/18
[vii] Rev. Dennis Lewandowski “590 New Priests for the US Catholic Church in 2017” National Federation of Priests’ Councils. http://nfpc.org/nfpc-this-week/priests-in-the-news/590-new-priests-for-the-us-catholic-church-in-2017/ Accessed 11/4/18
[viii] US Bishops. Official Catholic Directory 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_the_United_States#Demographics Accessed 11/4/18
[ix] https://cara.georgetown.edu/caraservices/parishes%20phase%20one.pdf p. 3 Accessed 11/4/18 While these statistics come from a 2011 document, the USCCB website is still using numbers from 2005. FAQ#7 in “Lay Ecclesial Ministry FAQs” http://www.usccb.org/about/laity-marriage-family-life-and-youth/lay-ecclesial-ministry/lay-ecclesial-ministry-faqs.cfm#q7 Accessed 11/4/18
[x] United States of America Population Clock (live). https://countrymeters.info/en/United_States_of_America_(USA) Accessed 11/4/18