“You ask really hard questions! Are you always like this?” I hear that a lot in my consulting
work with Catholic parishes and dioceses and have for more than 20 years. And I remind those who are commenting that one of the reasons to bring someone in “from the outside” is they don’t know which closets the skeletons are in, and what topics piss off the priest. Consider this blog a visit from an “outsider” to your parish/diocese. And receive it as a call to get the log out of your own eye…a plea to heal blindness…a call to Jesus-like honesty…a fulfillment of Pope Francis’ call for Synod2024 to begin to teach us parrhesia, the ability to speak candidly, asking for forgiveness for the pain it will cause, and openness to the truth it will reveal.[i]
The first blog in this series was about trustworthiness. It is intended to help us all see clearly that we have a real struggle on our hands when it comes to trustworthiness. TED talk presenter Onoro O’Neill made this clear to me when, in her talk, she lays out the case that we do not need more trust in the world…we need more trustworthiness. Her examples are simple. Here’s one: it’s possible to trust another person to be a really great gardener. But that trust does not extend to that same person when you need a brain surgeon. They are simply not qualified for that. They are not trustworthy in that sense.
“Of course,” you are thinking. “Don’t be silly. No one does that. We all know people need qualifications if we are to trust them and we are good at making judgments about that.”
Keep reading. You might be surprised at how often the Church does this very thing.
As you know, this is the second blog in the continuing series on Foundations for Synodality-Trustworthiness. The premise is that without this rich soil of trustworthiness, Pope Francis’ call for synodality as the necessary culture of the Church in the third millennium[ii] cannot take root. It will be, instead, the seed sown on rocky ground.[iii]
Pretend with me that I’m in your parish/diocesan offices and I am asking these questions.
1. How many “meetings after the meeting” take place, where smaller groups of people say what they did not say in the larger meeting? Why is that happening?
2. How many decisions are announced that do not have reasons attached to them or names of individuals who participated in making the decision revealed?
3. When was the last time a decision was changed, citing new learnings, unintended consequences or failed thinking?
4. What qualifications do the primary decision-makers have to actually be a decision-maker? How often are others with differing qualifications invited into the conversation?
5. With what frequency are decisions met with skepticism and/or disdain? Why is that happening?
6. What mechanisms exist to provide decision-makers with feedback? What are the reason(s) for these choices?
7. How many water cooler conversations have happened between two or three people, that begin with “the truth of the matter is…” and whatever is shared after that is to be held in confidence? And how often is what was said there indicative of a climate where this cannot be repeated?
8. Do the people in the parish or in the diocese understand how decisions are made, by whom, with what processes, inputs, expertise and mechanisms for testing intended or unintended consequences?
9. When people “vote with their feet” and leave their affiliation with the parish or the diocese, is there an attempt to hear their reasons? To evaluate their perspectives to discover truth that needs to be reckoned with? With what certainty does your parish/diocese even know who is still affiliated and who is not? Why is that the case?
10. How fast does misinformation travel throughout the parish/diocese? Why is this so? And how much time/energy is spent in undoing misinformation? Is this a good use of the finite amount of energy available? Why or why not?
So, what’s surfacing? My guess is a lot of the above happens for these reasons:
Father wants it that way. (The subtext here is that you can’t persuade Father, because he’s not open, humble, human.)
It’s always been done that way.
There will be the least amount of push-back with this decision. (The sub-text here is the culture of non-confrontation and “nice.”)
It’s fine because no one will ever know. (This is the outcome---apathy---of systems that are not transparent.)
We don’t have the means to follow-up with those who leave. (Lack of empathy is the greatest destroyer of trustworthiness. What’s being called for in this instance?)
This is just how this parish/diocese is. We can’t change it. (Leaders have given up, and if they’ve given up, so has everyone else.)
No one really cares as long as we do something. (Real commitment has been replaced by activities that distract.)
False peace is better than truth-induced dialogue/debate/controversy.
What’s really at work here? The parish/diocese is not seen as trustworthy. Why? The element of "Qualifications." (If you don't know the anatomy of trustworthiness in general, see last week's blog (Click here ) Decision-makers are not qualified to make decisions in all the areas they are working in and they don’t engage with those who are.
It could also be a lack of transparency. Secrecy surrounds decisions.
Or perhaps no humility: No one ever gets it wrong and changes a decision, even when it is blatantly wrong and maybe even illegal.
It could be a lack of empathy. Leaders do not care what others think or feel and the “others” know that.
And perhaps it's that false peace and culture of nice. Well, "nice" is not Jesus’ way. It’s not walking the Jesus talk…the One who says he came to divide, to set a fire on the earth, to have us choose between him and other ways. "Nice" is not authentic for followers of Jesus. There’s a log in the eye…so take it out!
The journey we are on together now…the journey to make synodality a possibility…is one of being trustworthy. What does your parish/diocese need to address to start on this journey?
Remember one of the characteristics of a synodal parish/diocese: forget "fast". This will take a while. Want to see other characteristics?
Looking for some assistance with all of this? Get on our contact list so you’ll get notified when the next blog comes out! Check out our freebies on trust/trustworthiness . Want to talk this through? We can do that with you as well! Join us on the #synodjourney at www.pentecostvigilproject.org.
And yes, I always ask those really hard questions.
[i] Richard Nordquist. “Parrhesia in Rhetoric.” ThoughtCo. Updated January 22, 2020. https://www.thoughtco.com/parrhesia-rhetoric-term-1691582 This article gives great examples and nuances of parrhesia. Pope Francis embraces many of them in his notion of speaking the truth in love, that is, in willing the good of the other. [ii] Courtney Mares. “Pope Francis: Synodality is what the Lord expects of the Church.” Catholic News Agency. November 29, 2019. https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/42963/pope-francis-synodality-is-what-the-lord-expects-of-the-church Accessed 7-2-22. [iii] Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Photo courtesy of Unsplash by Joel and Jasmin Forestbird