by Father William J. Byron, S.J.
The National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management held its seventh annual meeting in June. It aimed to bring business executives and church leaders together to discuss the application of “best practices” from business to the management needs of the Catholic Church.
The previous six meetings were held at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. This year the venue shifted to Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
Holding the gathering at a business school lends credibility to what happens in these meetings. Shifting the location from Philadelphia to Washington signaled an interest on the part of meeting planners to become better-known nationally and to encourage local diocesan officials to participate.
Good things have happened since former J.P. Morgan Chase vice chairman Geoffrey Boisi, a Boston College and Wharton School alumnus and a well-connected Catholic member of the national business community, came up with the idea of bringing church leaders and business executives together to discuss tools and strategies to overcome management deficits.
These deficits became so obvious in recent years in the wake of public disclosures of mismanagement related to the clergy sex abuse scandals.
Inasmuch as financial embezzlement is likely to be the next major scandal to confront diocesan officials, the need for these conversations will have some urgency for years to come.
It is regrettable that so few members of the hierarchy have chosen to participate. There has also been a drop in the number of front-ranking business executives at these meetings.
But a strong band of committed lay and clergy participants continues to show up and generate solid ideas. More than a few of these ideas are taking hold.
Signs of Progress
Anyone interested can simply go to the organization’s website at www.TheLeadershipRoundtable.org to see the signs of progress. Listed there are the names of the Roundtable’s board of directors as well as projects, programs and reports of Roundtable activity.
The website provides a “Data Central” (click “Church Data”) and is the home of “ChurchEpedia,” an encyclopedia of best practices for all areas of church management. Also available there is a category for Catholic “Standards for Excellence.”
Any bishop who is sufficiently curious would do himself a favor by spending an hour or so at that website this summer. There is absolutely no danger of curiosity killing any ecclesiastical cat in this kind of exercise. There is, however, the probability that something of value is waiting there to be discovered, and exposure to this resource will likely boost participation of bishops in future Roundtable meetings.
In response to calls for help from church officials over the past two years, the Roundtable organized the recent Georgetown meeting around the issue of the future of Catholic schools. Present was a strong contingent of Catholic school superintendents, pastors and planners. The philanthropic community was in on the conversation, and concrete ideas emerged to reinforce the hopes of those fighting to save schools.
“From Aspirations to Action: Solutions for America’s Catholic Schools” was the theme for this 2011 meeting. One participant remarked that, if the proposed solutions are to find their way into workable programs in 2012 and beyond, “the bishops themselves are going to have to become more active and vocal in support of Catholic education.”
There is plenty of room at the Roundtable for more bishops and their diocesan officials to sit down and search out solutions that will save the schools. Meanwhile, the Roundtable will be doing all it can to bring best practices closer to executive decision-making in other areas of church management.
Jesuit Father William J. Byron is a professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. He can be contacted at email@example.com.