NEW YORK — When the Leadership Roundtable has to make a decision, there’s no longer one person in an office weighing the pros and cons. Instead, the organization has adopted a partner-based managerial model that makes sure different perspectives are heard.
The organization, which focuses on management, finances, communications, and human resource development for the Catholic Church in the U.S., hopes the change will trigger its next phase of growth while also serving as a model for the rest of the American Catholic church of co-responsibility.
“When this pandemic hit, the church in the U.S. was already facing several crises. We were already facing the abuse crisis, the crisis of leadership failures and a financial crisis was emerging,” said Kim Smolik, Leadership Roundtable executive partner. “These are symptoms of a systemic problem in leadership culture of the church, and it requires all of us lay and ordained to work co-responsibly to solve it.”
Leadership Roundtable is an organization of clergy, religious and laity founded in 2005. The decision to move away from a hierarchical model was the result of recommendations from its 2020 Catholic Partnership Summit, which brings together church leaders on an annual basis to find solutions to pressing issues the church faces.
Patrick Markey, the executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, will join the organization as the inaugural managing partner this spring.
He spoke at that February summit – a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic – where he too recognized the church faced a financial crisis. However, from his perspective, the crisis is less about the amount of money the church did or did not have, and more about “letting money dictate who we are and what we do.”
With that in mind, he said one silver lining of the pandemic is it provided parish and diocesan leaders the opportunity to reassess their financial approach.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has really stripped away a lot of that security and that certainty and that’s a grace from God that we need to be able to take advantage of and see what does it mean to be the church if we don’t have all those things and then follow that direction,” Markey said.
In a conversation with Crux, Markey noted that doesn’t mean COVID-19 hasn’t had a significant impact. He said the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program has been huge. But also cautioned financial hardship isn’t going to end anytime soon.
“At least throughout this year we’re going to have a large number of people out of work. A large number of people are hurting. A large number of people need services that the Catholic church and Catholic churches offer,” Markey said.
“Catholic Charities, Saint Vincent DePaul, all of our works of charity, our hospital systems, our school systems, and so we’re going to be struggling to find funding to keep our schools open so parents can send their kids when they can’t pay tuition, or, go to our social services, and so there’s going to still be a need for funding, a lot less funding is coming in,” he continued.
Round three of the PPP loans is underway. In response to a recent AP article that alleged the Catholic church had more than $10 billion in assets it could’ve used to meet financial needs instead of turning to federal aid, Markey said if the loan would keep people in their jobs then church entities “have a moral obligation to apply for the funding. Period.”
“If instead they’re going to be OK and they don’t need the funding, then they have a moral obligation not to apply for the funding,” he added.
Markey and Smolik also said the shifting services and donations online was instrumental in preventing the higher financial drop that was anticipated early on. Plus, it’s a feature many parishes didn’t have before.
“We intend to have a model moving forward that’s a hybrid, which will have things that happen in person, because we believe in the value of that in-person engagement, but we will utilize what we’ve done during the pandemic, taking the crisis and turning it into an opportunity and utilize our new online resources,” Smolik said.
As for Leadership Roundtable, Markey said he sees the organization as a “convener” that helps church leaders “think of big solutions to big problems,” describing the new management model as another step towards co-leadership Pope Francis talks about.
“Pope Francis is talking about that constantly. Obviously, he’s the Pope and obviously the bishops have their role, but at the same time Pope Francis is really calling us to what he calls synodality,” Markey said. “That we walk together. That we journey together.”
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