Along with the snow last night, we have sparked quite a flurry of comments in the last 24 hours with our Monday post about Cardinal Sean’s Blog. If our posts might be classified as either primarily “News” or primarily “Opinion,” allow us to tell you in advance that this particular post is primarily “Opinion.” Grab a cup of tea, coffee, hot cider, or hot chocolate, as this post will take you a few minutes to read.
Our wording and the subject of our post yesterday on Cardinal Sean’s Blog may not have made it sufficiently clear we were raising two separate but related issues: i) The blog–what is covered on it and the manner in which it is used as Cardinal Sean’s primary communications vehicle with the people of the Boston archdiocese, and ii) If Cardinal Sean’s blog does accurately reflect how the Cardinal spends his time, what could be done about both the blog and the leadership shortcomings that are manifested in a variety of ways, just one of which is the blog.
We see the two—the blog, and the questions about the Cardinal’s commitment to diocesan leadership–as connected. Objectively, it is hard to look at Cardinal Sean’s blog and not see it as having become primarily a diary of the Cardinal’s travel and social schedule. Objectively, it is also hard to look at the current leadership situation in the archdiocese (as documented here on this blog since June) and not see a crisis of governance or evidence of abdication of episcopal responsibility.(If you do not agree with the last statement, just read the past six months of blog posts). The Cardinal’s blog is a very public manifestation of what many people see as a grave leadership void and governance crisis in Boston that is getting worse, not better. That is why we wrote the post yesterday and are continuing it today.
As is often the case, people posting in the BCI comments sometimes say it much better than we did. We will give our complete list of suggestions further down in the post, but first we share comments from “Carolyn” that restate the situation regarding Cardinal Sean’s blog and how it manifests concerns about his leadership:
He avoids being present in his office, and he avoids contact with the priests and with the faithful unless the venues are large or carefully orchestrated. He can speak to a church packed with 1,000 people at a parish anniversary and seem very in touch, but he will sit in a meeting with ten people discussing a critical need in his diocese and stare blankly at his notebook without giving any spoken or personal follow-through to indicate that he has understood the gravity of the situation. This is not OK.
He does not delegate, he abdicates. There is a serious and deeply troubling difference.
The [Cardinal’s] blog is a squandered opportunity. It can certainly play a large PR role, but it should also be a platform for the formation of the people of God. It can be a public record of his photo ops, but it should also contain unequivocal statements of support for the teachings of the Church.
If you are a Catholic living in the Archdiocese of Boston, and you know where the Church’s primary strengths and weaknesses lie, you are hungry to know that the ordinary knows — and is acting to build up the Church. Compare the public statements of Bishop Olmsted in Arizona, Bishop Neinstadt in Minnesota, Archbishop Dolan in New York, and so on, to the Boston Archbishop’s public statements. Compare the public record on finances and other serious matters, to the discharge of his pastoral and executive responsibility with the reality on the ground in the RCAB.
Knowing these things and reading the blog would leave one believing that the central administration of the Archdiocese of Boston is in disarray, and its ordinary is not personally attentive to (or even completely aware of?) the crises of the local church.
The blog is a squandered opportunity, and a somewhat frightening illustration of what people believe constitutes the governance of the Archdiocese of Boston because it is the only forum in which the ordinary communicates with his people on a regular basis. BCI…does a service to point to such a public example of the disconnect between what is required of the ordinary, as opposed to what the public record indicates he actually accomplishes.
What to do about this?
First about the blog alone. As we said yesterday, we suggest the Cardinal and those responsible for the blog filter out content not likely to be interest to the average Catholic in the pews or priests & religious (ie. his travel and social schedule–especially when it involves photo-opps with rich and famous, trips outside of Boston that seem to have no teachings/sanctifying/governing purpose, travel to be with friends and family, weddings performed). We assume this could save the Cardinal and/or his staff at least 2-4 hours per week, which can be put towards other more meaningful efforts.
Among those more meaningful efforts would be to proactively put together an editorial calendar of important blog topics that help advance the mission of the Catholic Church in Boston. That calendar would be used to drive blog content. (ie. prayer, the sacraments, evangelization, defense of life, marriage and family, bringing God into every moment of your day, etc.). The Cardinal’s celebration of Masses at local parishes and visits to local priests/religious are worthy of coverage still. This editorial calendar would complement that, and be followed weekly as a replacement for what today is almost entirely just a travel and social diary.
Secondly, about the leadership crisis, manifested in a lot of different ways, including the blog. Instead of the Cardinal spending even 1-2 hours/week blogging about his travel and social schedule (and/or dictating the blog), or much worse, him consuming many days each week traveling–which then creates the perceived need to photograph and blog the travels–we suggest he curtail unnecessary travel outside of Boston and instead use that time for Boston-related teaching, sanctifying, and governance, most of which then creates better blogging opportunities!
Here are our newly updated Top 10 Ways to Improve Cardinal Sean’s Blog and/or Help Address Governance Concerns in Boston.
- Teaching: Cover some teaching in Cardinal Sean’s blog from the lectionary’s scriptural readings of the Sunday Mass. Maybe it is a written excerpt from the Cardinal’s homiletic preaching on the Sunday Mass readings. Lately, on the rare occasion when there is a homily posted to the blog, it is usually via video, not text, so many people skip it. Better to write out the key points so people can read them and/or share them, even if a video accompanies it. If the key points come from a hand-written outline of the homily, it is better than nothing.
- Parish Support and Outreach: We assume that the Cardinal and his team are meeting with pastors of the 40% of parishes currently in the red to brainstorm, apply the best minds and resources from the Pastoral Center, cut archdiocesan fees, share best practices from other parishes, and figure out how to help as many as possible become financially solvent ASAP. The ideas generated from these sessions could be blogged to show what the Cardinal and archdiocese are doing to strengthen parishes.
- Central Ministries Governance (Salaries): We assume the Cardinal is concerned with the high salaries paid to a small group of archdiocesan leaders and how this takes away from funding other important initiatives to advance the mission of the Church. His blog can cover how the Cardinal is (hopefully) diving into the issue of the six-figure salaries of his top 10-15 lieutenants, and directing his team and the Finance Council to quickly research comparable salaries in other dioceses and cut $500K-$1 million in unnecessary expense from those salaries, so those funds can be freed for ministries and advancing the main mission of the Church in Boston. The blog can also share the committed timeframe for implementing those cuts.
- Central Ministries Governance (Team): A key challenge for the Cardinal going forward is to make sure he has the right team in-place. Among Jesus’ first public ministry actions was picking his team. He chose the disciples and immediately began proclaiming a powerful new vision of the Kingdom of God. Does Cardinal O’Malley have a team of senior people who share a sense of holy dissatisfaction with the status quo of corruption, conflicts of interest, ethical breaches, cronyism, excessive compensation, and deception? If not, then he should undertake a process of reviewing his team and replacing people (full-time staff and outside advisors) with Catholics who accept and believe what the church teaches and first and foremost want to serve the Church in an ethical manner and build the Kingdom of God. As part of this effort, for those people kept or those who newly join the leadership team, the Cardinal can share on his blog how he is asking HR and functional managers to define job descriptions for each key executive role, objectives, accountabilities, and measurements of success (credit blog commenter, A.J. Constantino, who recommended this as Standard Operating Procedures in his Dec. 9 comments). Those goals, high-level job descriptions, and measurements of success can be published on the Cardinal’s blog for the most important positions when people are announced, and would also be shared by the Vicar General in communicating new hires internally.
- Pastoral Leadership and Support for Priests: If the Cardinal can save 2 hours/week from blogging his travel schedule, that time could instead be put towards meeting one-on-one with 4 priests a week for 30 minutes each to listen to and respond to their needs and concerns. In a years’ time, he will have met with 200 priests and in two years, it will be 400 priests. Officially renewing the terms of pastors that have expired and not leaving them in a state of “limbo” as far as how long they will remain pastor of a parish would be a good part of this effort.We would see the needs of priests and action the Cardinal takes to address their needs as private information and not appropriate for blogging.
- Central Ministries Governance (Spending): We assume the Cardinal and Finance Council wish to get to a Corporation Sole Central Ministries budget that has income and expenditures balanced without the one-time drawing down of special funds (e.g. insurance fund-type assets) done by Chancellor McDonough in 2010 which cannot be repeated year-after-year. Are funds being spent responsibly across every department, and appropriately on the most important ministerial priorities? Are all important ministries provided for and funded in the future, even after certain restricted funds that currently pay operating expenses are exhausted? What efforts are underway to eliminate wasteful spending? The important ministerial priorities can be blogged, as well as the specific efforts to advance those ministerial priorities and to eliminate wasteful spending so that limited donor funds are used most effectively.
- Boosting Mass Attendance: Archdiocesan statistics have said that only about 17% of Catholics in Boston attend Mass regularly, and we hear the number has actually dropped to more like around 12% . Beyond the investment in the “Catholics Come Home” initiative (television advertising, parish events and personal invitations), do we understand why such a small number attend Mass? Are there parishes where a lot more Catholics attend Mass regularly? If so, why? Which parishes are good at evangelizing fallen-away Catholics? How are lessons learned being shared? For those parishes or regions where it is lowest, why is it so low? We assume the Cardinal, the Presbyteral Council, and Archdiocean Pastoral Council have discussed the factors leading to low Mass attendance and best practices for evangelization as the foundation for launching “Catholics Come Home”, and those findings seem like they would be interesting for everyone in the archdiocese to hear more of via Cardinal Sean’s blog, so we know how deal with them and can best support the new outreach initiatives.
- Topics discussed at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council Meetings and/or Presbyteral Council Meetings: Within limits of what is considered confidential, if a topic was considered worthy enough to discuss at a quarterly meeting of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council–and those members are asked to share the news back with their own parish and neighboring parishes, and the minutes are posted publicly–why wouldn’t the Cardinal blog about the same topic for everyone in the Archdiocese to hear? Same would hold for a high-level list of non-confidential topics discussed with the Presbyteral Council, or even the Finance Council.
- Responding to Mail: It is rather well-established by now that most people who write a letter to Cardinal Sean will never see a response—even if the letter is marked “personal and confidential” and handed to him in-person. With some of the time saved from less travel and less blogging about travel, we suggest the Cardinal apply that time towards reading and responding to his personal and confidential mail from the past year or six months, or ensuring that someone on his staff personally responds to all messages that were not of a confidential nature.
- Communication with Catholics in Parishes: The Cardinal went to Dublin and said he was there to listen, but here in Boston we have had no opportunities for the same. Commenter, “Angry Parish Council Member” suggested the following: “a series of ‘Town Hall’ meetings in different regions of the Archdiocese with the Cardinal presenting his priorities for the diocese and people getting to ask him questions and hear his responses. Then he would blog the most frequently heard comments and his responses and follow-up. Just like they are promoting “Catholics Come Home” to bring fallen-away Catholics back to the church, they could call this “Cardinal Come Home” since it would be bringing the Cardinal back in contact with his diocese.” Prior to rolling out the Town Hall-style meetings, perhaps every time the Cardinal says Mass in a local parish, the parish can host a 30-minute coffee hour afterwards so the Cardinal can talk about the top priorities for the diocese and also invite a few minutes of open Q&A.
So, there you have it now—the exclusive Boston Catholic Insider list of “Ten Ways to Improve Cardinal Sean’s Blog and/or Help Address Governance Concerns in Boston.” Any one can be chosen individually, several can be combined from the “a la carte” menu, or for the episcopal leader with a hearty appetite, the buffet offering is also available.
Critics of BCI or this post specifically may say it is inappropriate, disrespectful, and presumptuous of us to publish such a list. We disagree. We believe we are communicating the needs of the faithful in a respectful way, as called for under the Code of Canon Law, Canon 212, which says:
§2 Christ’s faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church.
§3 They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.
We hope that you, our readers, and Cardinal O’Malley and his team receive this in the spirit in which it is intended–that described in Canon 212.
Please avoid personal attacks via comments. If those come through, they will be moderated.