Catholic leaders’ summit seeks to respond to abuse crisis through new culture of leadership in Church

By Mark Zimmermann
Catholic Standard
March 11, 2020

The 2020 Catholic Partnership Summit in Washington, D.C., included a panel on “A Culture with Young Adult Catholics at the Leadership Table.” That panel on Feb. 29 included, from left, the moderator, Jonathan Lewis, the assistant secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington; Jennifer Baugh, the founder and national executive director of Young Catholic Professionals; Nicole Perone, the director of adult faith formation for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut; Darius Villalobos, the director of diversity and inclusion for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry; and Katie Gleason, the director of campus ministry for the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan.

The Catholic Partnership Summit also included a panel discussion on “Envisioning a New Culture of Leadership,” that included from left, moderator Kim Daniels, the associate director of Georgetown University's Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life; Christina Lamas, the executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry; Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph who serves as executive director for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; and Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey.

Jonathan Lewis, the assistant secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, participates in a panel discussion on young adult Catholic leaders during the 2020 Catholic Partnership Summit.

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory gives the homily at the Feb. 28 opening Mass for the 2020 Catholic Partnership Summit, held at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C.

A recent summit of Catholic leaders from across the United States was convened “to continue to respond to the twin crises in our Church, a crisis of abuse and a crisis of leadership failure,” said Kim Smolik, the CEO of the Leadership Roundtable that organized the gathering.

The 2020 Catholic Partnership Summit that met Feb. 28-29 at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C, had the theme, “From Crisis to Co-responsibility: Creating a New Culture of Leadership,” and drew 260 Catholic leaders from 63 U.S. dioceses, including bishops, diocesan staff, Catholic university presidents, corporate leaders, abuse survivors, philanthropists and more than 30 young adults.

Speaking in a press conference call with three other summit participants, Smolik noted that the Leadership Roundtable was founded after the 2002 sexual abuse crisis “to transform the leadership and management culture in our Church.”

Leadership Roundtable, based in the nation’s capital, is an organization of laity, religious and clergy that describes its mission as promoting “best practices and accountability in the management, finances, communications and human resources development of the Catholic Church in the U.S., including greater incorporation of the expertise of the laity.” The organization offers programs, collections of best practices and consulting services tailored for dioceses, religious communities, parishes, and for Catholic schools, charities and organizations,

The summit had panels on envisioning a new culture of leadership in the Church, building a culture of ethical financial management and stewardship, and inviting young adults to the leadership table, followed by roundtable discussions among the participants.

Smolik said the summit of Catholic leaders demonstrated that “people want to come together, and they want to be part of the solution moving forward, and they want to be invited to do that, and not just be on the sidelines.”

She said a summit report will be written this spring and distributed to Catholic leaders and made available to Catholic institutions across the United States.

Also in the press call, Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph from Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, who serves as executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said the gathering offered “a very powerful experience of the vision of the Vatican II Church,” of a Church “as pilgrim people and people of God” walking together, approaching Church leadership and governance in a spirit of co-responsibility and co-partnership, with the Church drawing on the gifts of all its members.

“What I found was a lot of energy in the room across all the sectors, in terms of how might the Church as an institution practice more faithfully that pilgrimage idea of walking with both our ordained brothers and the laity,” she said.

Another participant in the press call, Jonathan Lewis, the assistant secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, said he felt encouraged after moderating a panel on the empowerment of young Catholic leaders.

It was humbling, he said, “to listen to a diversity of voices on that panel and at my table, but also a privilege to be listened to seriously as a young Catholic, as a young Catholic leader, in the life of the Church.”

Building on that diversity of perspectives, he said the gathering fostered “a unity of vision of our focus on forming a Church that looks more like Jesus,” and working toward a pastoral conversion of both hearts and structures.

Lewis, who was appointed by Pope Francis as a member of the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, said an aspect of what the pope has called a synodal Church is “that we increase the number of voices at the table,” and listen to voices that are often not heard, especially the marginalized, who can include not only the poor, but also young people.

“We are facing, in some places sooner than others, a new crisis of dis-affiliation of young people, of a generation that is lost or is being lost, drifting away,” said Lewis, who added, “the way to counteract that is being the best Church we can be, knowing people by name, the Jesus method of evangelization, getting people to walk with us, one-by-one, building peer intergenerational mentorship in everything we do, and a long-term spiritual accompaniment with people, especially in parish life at those special touch points – marriage preparation, RCIA (and) registering for a church…”

Another participant in the summit, Father J. Bryan Hehir, who serves as the secretary for health and social services for the Archdiocese of Boston, noted in the press call that the Leadership Roundtable’s origin was in the sexual abuse crisis.

One underlying theme at the gathering, he said, was, “We must remember what happened, because we owe it to the victims, we owe it to the families, we owe it to the Church itself, and we owe it to the society we serve. We cannot forget how many mistakes we made that led to that tragedy. At the same time, it is important to remember the past and to refuse to be paralyzed by the past. Never forget it. But the question is, what are you doing about it?”

The Catholic Church in the United States, he added, also has to remember that “one of the major consequences of the abuse crisis was a loss of trust in the Church between the community of the Church and the leadership, and a loss of trust in American society of the Church.”

Father Hehir said that means a key challenge before Catholic Church leaders “is rebuilding the trust between American society and the Church in the United States. This is a crucially important reality, because we try to serve this culture by health care, by education, by social service, but in order to serve, we need the trust of the wider society.”

During the press call, those participants were asked what takeaways from the summit might be offered to Catholic leaders regarding challenges they are now facing, including how to respond to the spread of the coronavirus and the future release of an anticipated Vatican report on former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Father Hehir, who also serves as the Montgomery professor of the practice of religion and public life at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said that regarding the coronavirus, “I am sure that every diocese is going to pay attention to the CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and what it tells us, and also draw upon knowledge from within their own communities, and adopt the standard measures that all of us are going to have to face. But my impression is that no one in this society has a complete game plan on how to do that, so this is an area the Church has to listen to wider secular society in health care and do what is right and best according to best standards, but everybody in this society is right this minute in a matter of trying to develop that game plan.”

Regarding the Vatican’s expected report on McCarrick, Sister Carol Zinn said that as Catholics react to it, she hopes “the Church would take a listening stance rather than a defensive one,” to acknowledge it and recognize that “the institutional Church, cannot govern itself the way it has governed itself before.”

In 2019, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis, at the conclusion of a process conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, imposed on Theodore McCarrick the penalty of his dismissal from the clerical state, prohibiting him from functioning in any type of priestly ministry. McCarrick, who had served as the archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006 and earlier was a priest and auxiliary bishop in New York and the bishop of Metuchen and the archbishop of Newark in New Jersey, was found to have engaged in “sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” The Vatican report is expected to spell out how McCarrick rose in the leadership ranks of the Church despite accusations of misbehavior having been made against him.

Sister Carol Zinn added that as leaders of the Church listen to reaction to the McCarrick report in a spirit of humility, it’s important as the Church seeks to “make reparation, learn and keep moving forward in a new way,” to remember Christ’s Paschal Mystery, that the Lord’s passion and death came before his resurrection.

Lewis said the McCarrick case offers a reminder for Catholics of their own call to holiness, and to try to live that “in all facets of public and private life.”

“The sacrament of Confession teaches us that the first thing we do is say we’re sorry, and then we receive penance, to resolve to live differently,” he said.

And when asked what takeaways the summit might offer for young adult Catholic leaders across the United States, Lewis said, “Well, I think the message to young people in the life of our Church is to not wait to be involved and use your gifts. Be emboldened by our life of faith, our baptismal call, to get in the game. I remember one comment, young people shouldn’t wait and feel they have to pay their dues in order to take on a leadership role in the Church. So reflect on your gifts and be willing to boldly put them in action, not only in the parish, but in our daily life, there’s a need to really lift up people in every strata of public life, to be Christian witnesses.”

Lewis added, “Certainly when we talk about Church management, there’s a need for young people who work in the business community to use and leverage those gifts on behalf of the wider Church. We certainly shouldn’t be in the back pew waiting for someone to tap us on the shoulder to get involved and to ask those questions.”

In his homily at the Feb. 28 opening Mass for the Catholic Partnership Summit, Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory noted that the prophet Isaiah could be called “the Pope Francis of his own time,” calling on people to serve the poor and others on the periphery of society. That priority, he said, offers a message for Lenten fasting, and for leadership in the Church.

“Leadership within the Church, when properly understood, has always been identified with service and never merely to be equated with title or rank, as Jesus repeatedly on multiple occasions reminded His first disciples and all of us as well,” said Archbishop Gregory. “We all need such reminders, because we are prone to forget the irrevocable link between service with leadership. Indeed that link will be a key focus of this conference dedicated to the evolving future of Church leadership.”

Washington’s archbishop noted that emphasis on service resonates with young Catholics “that the Church so desperately needs in leadership for our common future. They are not necessarily irreligious, agnostic, or even hostile toward faith and its practices and customs. They simply follow a pattern that Isaiah first recommended centuries before Christ and that Christ Himself confirmed and perfected when He established His Church.”

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United states, was the main celebrant at the Mass, and the concelebrants included Los Angeles Archbishop Josè Gomez, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., the archbishop of Newark. The choir from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland, sang at the Mass.

Following the Leadership Roundtable’s 2019 Catholic Partnership Summit, the organization issued a report titled “Heal the Body of Christ: A Plan to Create a New Culture of Leadership and a New Response to Abuse in the Catholic Church.” The recommendations were shaped by guiding principles that included transparency, accountability, competency, justice and trust, built on clergy-lay collaboration and co-responsibility. That report found that the root causes of the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures that covered up the abuse included a lack of bishop accountability, a lack of co-responsible governance structures and a need for synodality, a lack of transparency, and clericalism.

That report recommended that laity – including diocesan and parish leaders and lay experts – need to be involved in creating a culture of accountability for all Church leaders. The report also called on bishops to commit to a preferential option for abuse victims and families, to publicly acknowledge the leadership failure and cover-up, and to create ministerial codes of conduct that include the bishop and that recognize abuse of power not only against children, but also adults. The report noted that “bishops need to accept the leadership failures and cover-up that contributed to the twin crises” and “create standardized processes for accountability with checks and balances.”

In a letter at the beginning of that report, Smolik noted that Catholics throughout the United States and around the world have felt the impact of the crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church.

“The body of Christ has been gravely wounded,” she wrote, noting that, “Leadership Roundtable seeks to provide a path towards recovery and reform for the Catholic Church in the United States. We trust that God is with our Church as we commit to healing for abuse survivors and to a transformation of the leadership culture so that the people of God may flourish again.”


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