Today's crisis of faith demands strong leadership in both Australia and the United States. Being orthodox and holy are minimal requirements for any bishop, but if the Church's internal and external challenges are to be addressed effectively, the qualities of courage, confidence and clear vision are also essential.
A recently appointed American bishop is approaching the task of reviving his diocese in an unusually direct, no-nonsense way that runs counter to conventional thinking on Church leadership. If he succeeds in the longer term, his example will be a potent one for other bishops keen to address similar problems in their dioceses.
The general view has long been that any reform-minded bishop should move slowly, with a five or ten year plan that includes limited objectives. Caution and sensitivity should be the watchwords, with adverse reactions and hostile media coverage to be avoided.
However, this is no longer the case in Kansas City, Missouri. Here, as one commentator put it, "reform in Kansas City is moving at Internet speed, under Bishop Robert Finn".
Our feature report (pages 6-7) sets out in detail what Bishop Finn has done so far, while this month's reflection (page 20) includes an outline of his expectations of Catholic schools and their RE programs.
Bishop Finn served as coadjutor of the Kansas City-St Joseph diocese for about a year beginning in March 2004. On his predecessor's retirement, he took sole charge in May 2005. Since then, he has made dramatic changes to key diocesan personnel, structures and budget allocations. Priestly and religious vocations have been made a top priority, along with orthodox teaching in Catholic schools and educational institutions.
As coadjutor, he visited 70 out of 100 parishes in the diocese, talking with and listening to a large number of "ordinary" people in the pews, rather than the pastoral planners, education bureaucrats and other experts.
Australian Catholics will wish Bishop Finn well in his efforts to revive the faith in his diocese. His example needs to be more widely emulated.
Michael Gilchrist: Editor (email - firstname.lastname@example.org)