In my forthcoming article, I propose that one solution to the priest shortage crisis would seriously make use of the laity in ministerial and pastoral administration in the Church. In business-speak, this is a call to more efficiently leverage the human resources already available to us.
One question I came up against almost immediately is whether or not this is even possible, according to canon-law. Sure, there's Canon 517.2, which reads: "If, because of a lack of priests, the diocesan bishop has decided that participation in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish is to be entrusted to a deacon, to another person who is not a priest, or to a community of persons, he is to appoint some priest who, provided with the powers and faculties of a pastor, is to direct the pastoral care" -- and I do rely on this canon at various points throughout my argument -- but sometimes precedent, in the form of concrete cases, are more telling than are such laws. To what extent can the clergy and laity really work together? What sort of model would we use when trying to accomplish such collaboration?
Thankfully, there are several such cases. I was directed to one such case by my editor, who recommended that I check out The National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. The Leadership Roundtable was formed after an actual roundtable discussion at a conference sometime in 2004 or 2005. It's comprised of high-powered business men and women who want to use their skills and gifts to improve management practices in the Church. One of the main ways they've done that since their formation, is through the composition of a set of best practices that they call the Standards of Excellence. A few years back, the Diocese of Gary piloted these standards, and the results are very encouraging. A study, commissioned by the Leadership Roundtable and carried out by Jim Frabutt -- a social scientist (and now administrator at Notre Dame) -- showed the implementation to have large impacts, and to have been received very well overall.
I followed up on these results with the current director of HR in Gary, as well as the current Bishop, and was told that these impacts have been lasting, too. Even today, HR trainings are more systematized, roles are better defined, and employees feel better utilized than prior to the implementation.
So here's an example of a diocese that saw the many administrational challenges facing their pastor's as an opportunity to implement better business practices, and to reorganize in a way that took better advantage of the resources they already had available to them.
This is exactly the sort of thing I'd envisioned in coming up with my proposal. More lay collaboration can often lead to strategic advantages, and seeing the priest shortage as an opportunity rather than a (mere) crisis could help us leverage those human resources in a way that gives us a way forward. In the next post, I'll detail another such case that is, in my opinion, even more supportive of my proposal, and even more exciting.