Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Finn-fest Continues
The Catholic Culture web site has posted its own summation of Kansas City's Bishop Finn. I suppose conservative Catholics online need somewhere else to go to get the NCR story, but without the troublesome bits that send them to the liquor cabinet or the antacid shelf. Concerning Finn's mission, Dr Jeffrey Mirus states: The great complaint, of course, is that these changes were made without consultation, and made by a man with an “agenda”. Again and again in news reports, the mantra of non-consultation is chanted loud and long. I think the more serious charge is that changes were made without competence. Mirus's own nine-point plan is a bit more tainted than his readers might suspect. Concerning: "Dismissed the lay chancellor and replaced him with a priest" and "Dismissed the female religious who served as vice chancellor and replaced her with a layman with a track record in Catholic apologetics." What Mirus doesn't tell you is that these people were invited back to their jobs just a few weeks after they were pink-slipped. In one instance, the bishop went begging to dismissal number two not once, but three times. Regarding consultation, it's more for the benefit of the person making decisions, especially if the person is new to the job. Bishop Finn continues to impress me as a sincere, humble, and generally nice person. But let's face it: he stumbled in his first steps in reorganizing the chancery. I know that few of us have an entire year to get up to speed on a new job, shadowing our predecessor and learning the lay of the land. Twice in my own career, I've had surprise hires on about two weeks' notice. Despite Mirus' protests to the contrary, it is indeed necessary to go slowly. What is true for a liturgist--an admittedly sensitive position in most parishes--is equally true for a bishop. You need to have knowledge and information on who and what is going to make your job easier. Jean Beste, former diocesan vice-chancellor, was complaining less about not "being consulted" than by the clear lack of a grasp her new superior(s) had about the job she did:

Although Finn told NCR that he had planned to hire a full-time human resources person, Beste remembers the few weeks after Finn’s succession as confusing. She believes that it was not until she began to turn over tasks to the new administration that they realized the scope of her work.

“I had planning, I had personnel. I had priests’ retirement. I had pastoral administrators. I had parish-based ministries. I did a lot of stuff and they were beginning to realize all this stuff that no one was picking up,” she said.

Moreover, it was the peak time for new hirings and contract renewals for diocesan offices, parishes and schools. In mid-June, Finn asked Beste to stay through mid-July. Beste said she couldn’t because she had planned a home visit in July and couldn’t change airline reservations.

Shortly after, Beste recalls, “Brad Offutt came in and said, ‘I heard you told the bishop you weren’t able to stay a month longer. If I asked you, would you be able to do that?’ ” Beste again said no. He asked if after vacation she would work two days a week for three months, and Beste said she couldn’t answer him right then. A day or so later, Offutt returned with another request: If I asked the bishop, would you stay another year? She said she answered: “ ‘No, Brad, I could not work here another year.’ That was out completely.”

She told NCR, “You know, if they are asking me to stay one more month or to come back for a year, do they plan well?

“No,” she answered. “I figured, it was their loss.”

My sense is that Catholics--lay and ordained--who work for the Church in significant roles have a certain expertise that assists pastors and bishops. Just like lay people who work in the secular sphere, we have certain competencies on which our bosses rely. That's why employees are hired: to do the work superiors can't do or don't want to do. The disadvantage for the narcissistic boss is that employees know the job, the business, and the day-to-day stuff much better than management. When the new bishop realizes, "Oops; who do we have on child abuse prevention?" and the new chancellor sure as heck isn't going to take that piece, then yes: there will be a bit of an unprofessional scramble. Mirus concludes: There is more to come in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. It is too soon to tell how successful Bishop Finn’s approach will be. If he succeeds in reshaping his diocese without losing a substantial number of the Catholics within it, this will upset all the conventional wisdom—the wisdom by which nearly every diocese and the Church as a whole has been governed for almost 50 years. It will become clear that quick, public, and decisive action constitutes effective leadership. It will force other bishops to question whether the only possibility is a slow war of attrition, often so slow that the objectives are forgotten. Like Archbishop Vlazny, Mirus doesn't get it. Conservative Catholics have been the poster boys and girls for leaving the Church these past few decades. It's been conservatives, not liberals, who have pulled their children from parish schools and RE and homeschooled. It's been Latin Mass folks who have either gone into schism or sought out extra-parish communities in which to worship. Few liberal KC Catholics will pull out of religion because of Bishop Finn. They will yank their subscriptions to the diocesan newspaper, but pastors will still need to pay for the required number of subscriptions to prop up the budget. When Finn pulled McBrien, they gained 30 subscribers and lost a hundred. They might cut their donations to the diocesan budget. The thirty-for-a-hundred trend would be a tough pill to swallow on that front. There is a certain physics of sociology that even bishops cannot contravene. People are watching Bishop Finn closely. Some are rooting for his success; others awaiting his failure. Eventually, both groups will shrink, and as they should: the diocesan expression of Christ's Body is not dependent on the job performance of the shepherd. Bishop Finn is right for emphasizing the call to holiness. I think I mentioned earlier this week that was one of his two main points in his confirmation homily at our parish. The critics and the fan clubs have no appeal to me. But the call to holiness in my personal cooperation with God's grace, in my guidance of my family, in my apostolate as a liturgist and church musician: these are of far graver concern to me. I can't say the previous bishop did much to assist on those fronts. Sometimes all one can ask is that the new bishop doesn't obfuscate on them. But I think an authentically holy bishop would be able to inspire holiness in lay people across the board. If Bishop Finn manages to move in that direction, and as I'm sure his administrative lessons will be learned, he might turn out okay in the end.

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