Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Bureaucracies, Dioceses & Souls
"So many signatures for such a small heart."
Bureaucracies rely on programs and procedures. They tend to be process focused, not result oriented. The truth that most often escapes bureaucrats is that the main source of creativity and progress comes from the individual mind and its response to everyday challenges. Indeed, true progress depends on the competence, or in the case of the Church, on the holiness of individuals. However, when errors and transgressions multiply, the bureaucratic solution is to multiply new provisions and policies. But as with any bureaucracy, "paper work increases as you spend more and more time reporting on the less and less you are doing." This points to a profound weakness of how the average diocese is structured and why very little gets done.
We often associate bureaucracies with State governments; but during the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, Catholic dioceses have multiplied the middlemen between the Bishop and his people. With this, diocesan departments have proliferated as well. And as with any multi-layered organization there is an irresistible temptation to place more importance on the process than on the real spiritual need at hand. Policies, meetings, commissions, programs, conferences, consultations, lawyers and litigation all too often end up becoming the air the Bishop and his staff breathes; and worse yet, methods turn into ends in themselves rather than the means to a spiritual end. It is no wonder why one bishop said the following to me: "People perceive bishops as administrators, not Shepherds."
Christopher Dawson once wrote that "we are perhaps too much inclined to look to authority to lay down beforehand a program of action when the initiative must come in the first place from the spontaneous personal reaction of individuals to the circumstances of the moment." He goes on to say that "the organizers of this world do not know what is going to happen from one day to another." Indeed, a fresh assessment of the circumstances from a live, breathing human being is far superior than habitually relying on pre-planned programs or strategies.
The point to be had is this: The closer we base our ministries on the circumstances surrounding the individual person, the closer we are in fulfilling real spiritual and moral needs. The whole thrust of the Gospel appeals to the soul of the individual. The saving work of Christ presupposes that if the individual is saved, the associations and social structures which flow from the individual will be saved as well.
No doubt, there is something to be said for diocesan strategies, programs and departments. They have made contributions worth noting over the years. But every strength has a corresponding weakness; and the weakness of your average diocese, as I have argued, is that the multiplicity of meetings, procedures and programs can create the illusion of progress when in fact little is being accomplished. What is more, like governments, a Catholic diocese can focus too much on the risk and liability of any given initiative, hence stifling the creativity of the Spirit.
Bishop Fulton Sheen warned Christians in the 1950's that in prosperous times there is a temptation for shepherds to become administrators. As such, pastors, who used to be out and about among mortals i.e. people, subsequently turn their attention to motar, that is,bricks and material well-being. Then they settle into a comfort zone which ends up taking on the appearance or the likeness of an administrator behind an office desks. Venturing into the streets and the public square, which characterizes the missionary spirit, slowly becomes boxed up within the confines of the church building.
Sheen went on to say that the renewal of the Church, on the other hand, will be inspired by "creative minorities," a few zealous souls- such as the Apostles and seventy disciples -who will follow the Spirit wherever it leads; the same Holy Spirit whose comings and goings is sometimes mysterious and perplexing. Unfortunately, this will make any bureaucrat nervous. As our Lord Jesus himself said, "The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)
No one knows this better than St. Philip who had just baptized a Ethiopian eunuch. The book of Acts states that after the baptism the "Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away." The funny thing is...it wasn't pre-approved by the administration at the local church. The Holy Spirit needed something to get done and St. Philip was not only more than willing to do it but he was at liberty to do it. The Apostles did not put any unnecessary burdens on him. To be sure, the early Church was hierarchical, structured and organized but it gave ample room for the Spirit to move where he willed.
Are today's dioceses around the world adapted to the Spirit's spontaneity, creativity and boldness? Is the spiritual ambition of a Saint or the uncompromising conviction of a martyr fostered there? Or are they just as burdened with the kind of bureaucracy that keeps governments from being efficient?
An honest answer to these questions may lead to a more effective evangelization on both the local and universal level. Subsidiarity and de-centralization is paramount in unleashing the saving work of Christ!
Posted by Joe at 8:32 PM