Top 10 Ways to Improve Cardinal Sean’s Blog and Address Governance Concerns in Boston : Part 2

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 BlogIf 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

13 Responses to Top 10 Ways to Improve Cardinal Sean’s Blog and Address Governance Concerns in Boston : Part 2

  1. Hoodwinked Priest says:

    I commend BCI for putting these points out and can’t see where anyone would dispute the merits of any or all of them. With such a full list, I hate to add to it, but I think the list needs a few more items:

    11) What specifically are the plans to fully fund the Clergy Retirement Fund and Employee Retirement Funds?

    12) With all of the money being spent on Catholic schools (salaries, superintendents, new academies), what is being done to enhance Catholic teachings and the “Catholic identity” of the schools, not just build and renovate buildings and make them a public school equivalent that teaches the Jack Connors version of the faith?

    Sorry to be adding to your fine list. BCI’s once again scored a home-run with this, and it deserves to be posted to the Cardinal’s office wall, maybe just with a few additions to get it to the “Top 12.”

    Know that my prayers are with the BCI team this Advent and Christmas.

  2. Roamin' Catholic says:

    BCI, your suggestions are right on the mark – realistically and charitably stated. The additional suggestions by Hoodwinked Priest are also worthwhile. Thank you for this invaluable service.

  3. SAd Boston Priest says:

    I have always been concerned with the inequality of $pending on “parochial schools” and old “CCD”… We spend much more to ‘spiritually form’ the few and spend / toss scraps to the MANY ????

  4. Michael says:

    Viva la BCI!

    I suggest the Cardinal relieve his current ghost blogger of further blogging duties … fire Mary Grassa O’Neill. I am sure the several other deputy superintendants should do just fine ruining our Catholic schools … oh I meant running.

    Then distribute her gigantic salary to each of the BCI bloggers (I am assuming five or six of you). Let’s say you each get $50,000-$60,000/year to help the Cardinal Blog. If there are more of you, then simply fire Terry Donilin and pay the rest of you to help the communications department as well.

    What an archdiocese that would be!!!

    What is amazing to me is that the Archdiocese is in need of a leader, a shepherd. BCI is acting in the role of the shepherd’s shepherd. Is anyone at BCI single? Maybe you could go through an accelerated program at the seminary and head straight to the position as Bishop:)

    Where is the leadership? Why does it require BCI to kick sand in people’s faces before any real action is taken?

  5. A. J. Constantino says:

    Good Wednesday Morning!

    I re-read the BCI post, early this AM, and came away with several thoughts:

    Regarding the criticism of the Cardinal having pictures taken with “high-profile” contributors. Have you ever been to any of these events? In my experience, it is not the Cardinal, who wants to pose; it is these “high-profile” individuals, who are looking to have their pictures taken with him.
    2.) Balance seems to be the real issue. The blog can be used as a teaching tool and a PR vehicle. The question is how to balance the two and who is most qualified to determine, what the correct balance is. We have a Communications Secretary and outstanding weekly newspaper, let’s use these talents
    3.) Several of the topics suggested by BCI are excellent (Teaching) and the reality is, all of them need to be given attention by the Cardinal. However, I am not sure that the blog is the proper vehicle. I truly feel that personnel issues are best kept private.
    4.) Greater insight into RCAB initiatives such as “The Light is On” etc. Are these initiatives working and what the future is for these and other initiatives?

    I read and re-read this blog and always leave with the same thought: Do we have a Master Plan for the RCAB? I hate to use such a secular term but do not know any other way to express it.

    Here is an example: Department of Catholic Schools.

    Without question, the RCAB has a very qualified and nationally recognized Superintendent of Schools.
    First: What is the Mission Statement of the Office of Catholic Schools for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston/ More than once, I have read, in this blog, concerns from readers about the commitment to the teachings of our Catholic faith! Should that not be the prime mission/ State it – let the people know why the office exists!

    To go on, I am concerned about: what initiatives Dr. O’Neill is developing, why they are being developed, how do they strengthen our schools, what resources (human and monetary) are in place to support these initiatives, The plan- the goal – the steps that will be taken to meet the goal and how each step to meet the goal will be measured. Those questions are the accountability the people of God should expect.

    Ever RCAB Manager should develop a Business Plan for his/her area of responsibility. Once this is done all Managers should meet with the Cardinal, Vicar General and Chancellor to develop a “Master Plan” that is clearly defined and cohesive. Go out and sell it to the people of God; let them share in this vision

    In addition, I feel that each Department should be able to use the resources of another.

    I have long been concerned about the number of Catholic Schools that have been closing. The schools are the future of the Church!
    Why can’t the School Office and the Office of Institutional Advancement work together to assist schools in creating a Development Office, that would show the schools how to develop a more focused and sophisticated ways of fundraising and how to better utilize Alumni resources. Why not maximize the resources the RCAB has?

    One of the best comments, I read is about “Town Meeting” type of visitations. The Auxiliary Bishops have an annual visitation, why not open the meeting up to the entire people?

    I apologize for going on so long, I truly wish we could get away from the personalities and focus on issues that will lead us all to the Kingdom promised by a loving and merciful god.

    Peace of Christ! Merry Christmas!

    • A.J.
      Thanks for the feedback and excellent additional insights. All 4 points are valid. We are short on time and you articulated the points well–we do not have much to add to what you said!

      We do not have evidence of a “Master Plan” or the likes for the RCAB. In one of our very first posts six months ago, we said, “It is not clear to us what Cardinal Sean’s vision for the archdiocese is, and where we would find a written statement of that, so it is also not clear to us how anyone…would make it reality.”

      We believed that six months ago and still feel that way today.

      Proverbially speaking, is the captain at the helm of the boat? Does each crew member know their defined responsibilities? Are the crew members qualified, committed and all rowing in the same direction? Which direction? How do they know which direction to row in? Is there a rudder? How durable is it–what is it made of? What happens when a storm hits? What if/when the captain is not at the helm?

      No need to apologize for the length. We also wish we could get away from the personalities and focus just on building the Kingdom of God, but we feel people need held to accountability, and naming names is the only way to do it.

    • DBP says:

      AJ – you ask whether BCI has considered that it’s the high-profile people who want to have their pictures taken with the Cardinal. This is very possibly true – in fact, I’m certain that’s the primary motivation for the photo in the overwhelming number of cases. But that doesn’t mitigate the Cardinal’s responsibility.

      In fact, knowing their desire to be photographed with him should give him a certain amount of healthy skepticism about their reasons for wanting such a trophy.

      Himself has to realize that by agreeing to pose with these folk he gives them a PR benefit; by appearing to be close with the shepherd, they often purchase the perception of being a (leading? special?) member of the flock. I should think he would want to be circumspect about those upon whom he confers this benefit.

      In a world where, as we priests are told constantly, perception is reality, we have to be very careful about being perceived as having close ties to any one group – particularly politicians.

  6. A Priest says:

    This post and the comments on said post are all excellent and right on. Good job BCI and friends. If only the workers and highly paid managers would listen!

  7. Ray Neary says:

    Thank you for this beautifully done message. It is clear, full of substance and charitable. May all enjoy the blessings of Our Savior during this beautiful Christmas season, as we ponder the teachings and celebrate the beginning of His earthly life.

  8. MT says:

    I’ve long thought that the cardinal’s blog is a sort of glorified parish bulletin. I heartily agree with doing away with most of the events, etc., that he attends, in order to focus on more substantive issues.

    For example, to bring up a sensitive point, I was dismayed that when Ted Kennedy died, there was not even any attempt (as far as I know) to inform that faithful that Kennedy’s actions as a long-time supporter of abortion legislation in the senate was a problem. So I put a comment on the blog, and it was not posted. I called the office to ask about it, and was told that there were too many comments (later, however, my comment was posted, I think because of my phone call). It dismayed me greatly that this opportunity to explain Catholic teaching on abortion was lost. It could have been done in a pastoral way sensitive to the family, etc., but something should have been said. The brief mention of it on the cardinal’s blog was very dissatisfying to me.

  9. Michael says:

    I posted a letter from a priest explaining why the funeral was not appropriate. They did not post that letter. The priest’s letter was simply an explanation of the Catholic Church teaching on the proper time to give a Catholic burial. I have to say, for the Church to be suppressing legitimate criticism is strong evidence that the Cardinal’s blog is not interested in pursuing the truth … just a tool of propaganda. What a tragedy.

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