Cardinal Pell: Church administrators must put Christ's mission first

Cardinal Pell: Church administrators must put Christ's mission first

Cardinal George Pell

All of the decisions we make about the temporal goods of the Church must be actively directed towards furthering Christ's mission, and to furthering the key parts of that mission which the Church has identified over time - that is, such activities as regular worship, supporting marriages and families, spreading the Gospel, educating in the faith, supporting the poor and suffering, etc.

Of course, if progressing the mission can be achieved while also stopping waste, and doing so justly, that is a very good thing indeed. But saving Church money and resources is of no value whatsoever if the saving does not show clear progress in forwarding the mission.

In other words, we must be able to demonstrate that through savings and efficiency at least some of the following effects are occurring: Mass attendance and prayer are increasing, marriages and families are growing in numbers and in stability, more adults are converting to the faith, more children and students are accepting the truths of the faith, the poor and suffering are being helped effectively.

If I can speak personally, I have always believed in taking a prudent risk. By that I mean that when we can afford a project such as a drug counselling agency, a new university, an institute for marriage and family, or a major conference, we should seriously consider doing so.

In the secular world, this might make no sense: "Why risk it?", people might say. "Will it ever become self-funding?" But our mission is not the secular one of increasing our resources or making a profit: it is Christ's mission of saving souls.

In each field of every Catholic bureaucracy, and in every agency, what matters is recognising resources as opportunities for spreading the Kingdom of God.

If the bishop or priest wants a new catechetical program, new set of text books, or whatever, the accountant may well panic; but his task is, after giving prudent advice, to make it happen. It is important that advice be clear and accessible and that priests and bishops have the consequences of their policies clearly outlined.

A commitment to Christ's mission is completely compatible with professional excellence. Church administrators should be recognised for their professional competence and should, in many ways, seek to set standards that others in the secular world will want to follow.

It is sometimes said that the Church is not a good employer; that our attitudes towards, for example, women at work or justice issues in the workplace could be better. No doubt each and every one of us could do better - though I think our record is on the whole pretty good. But what is certainly true is that the Catholic Church must give the lead to the world in showing justice and charity in the workplace.

Social teaching

The world needs to see Catholics applying Catholic social teaching. We need to take the lead here, and that lead begins at home, within our own dioceses, and in our own chancery offices.

Since the Church is not a business but is the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the world, surely it should go without saying that ethics should have a high profile in the professional development of Church bureaucrats. If ethics seminars and presentations are standard practice within many giant corporations, should this not be normal practice too within Christ's Church?

One approach I am keen to adopt in the Archdiocese of Sydney is to take not just a financial audit of our agencies, but also a missionary audit.

This need not represent an enormous change or place any undue burdens. It is simply an opportunity for those at the coal-face to describe how they have used the Church's resources in the past year to implement the Gospel; to show to what extent they have succeeded in healing broken marriages and families, attracting converts, increasing the reception of the sacraments, enrolling more adults in faith enrichment courses, and so on.

Our Lord will one day require of us all an account of how we have used our resources, as the Parable of the Talents reminds us. It might be worth preparing for that great ethical audit well in advance

The immediate future may well prove difficult for the Church in Australia. There will be opportunities, challenges, hurdles and disappointments. Everyone knows the facts about declining Sunday Mass attendance, confusion about sacramental discipline, breakdown in family life, rejection of Church moral teaching, and so on.

It would be easy to switch our administrative operations to maintenance-mode; to note that contributions are likely to decline and so to pare back the works of the Church to just keeping parishes and schools ticking over. If the main aim is to plan for priest-less parishes, we are likely to achieve that. This is exactly what Pope John Paul II has been telling us must not happen.

The Pope has pledged the Church to the task of re-evangelising the world in the new century. He made clear in Novo Millenio Ineunte that this was not so much a matter of new pastoral plans but rather a return to the great plan: seeking holiness, increasing prayer, revitalising the sacraments, rediscovering the Word of God. It is not maintenance-mode that the Church in Australia requires today: it is evangelising-energy.

This is a shortened version of Cardinal Pell's address on 24 October launching the first Catholic Administration Conference at Brighton-Le-Sands in Sydney.

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