I recently sent out a short piece called “Corporation Sole” accusing the bishops of substituting a corporate definition of Church for the definition of Vatican II. The Council definition I am referring to reiterated the traditional understanding that the “Church” is a loving community inspired by the teaching and example of Jesus to imitate the generosity of “God.”
One reader, who felt my condemnation of the entire hierarchy was over-generalized, declared that there are differences among bishops, and intimated that in this regard, the bishop of Brooklyn is not like others.
I disagree. I have been informed that at the June 12th annual bishop’s “convocation” with married priests, many of whom had been forced to resign, that when questioned about the documented voluntary withdrawal of over 200,000 Catholics from the Brooklyn Church, the bishop responded: “hey, we’ve still got 1.5 million. We can live with a quarter million less.” I was shocked, but not surprised. Concern for the “salvation” of those who left, or questions as to why so many would feel impelled to leave, were not even considered. Apparently the fact that the remaining constituency was still large enough to guarantee the Diocese’ corporate status, was enough to allay any misgivings the bishop may have had. The only thing that seemed of concern to him was corporate strength and continuity, not the loss of almost a quarter million “souls” or the implication that perhaps something was lacking in the category of “loving community” to account for it.
The fact that such attitudes mirror those of the CEOs of major corporations is usually excused as the unfortunate but inevitable by-product of “efficient management.” But, I’m sorry, this is no harmless technical foible. It must be seen squarely for what it is. It is the crass substitution of the goals, structures, motivations and operating dynamics of a commercial business enterprise for a community of the followers of Jesus who function on the unique loving motivations inspired by his teaching and example. We are not dealing with a moral question here, it’s much deeper, and much more important. It’s a question of fundamental identity. Just what are you? Are you a Christian community concerned about your people, justice, widows and orphans … or are you a corporate commercial enterprise concerned principally about your buildings, their occupancy, utilization and remunerative “productivity”?
Last November (2011) the same Brooklyn Diocese published a “Strategic Plan 2011-2014” for Catholic Schools. The language used in that document reflects this corporate commercial mindset. It is called officially, “Preserving the Vision,” and it can be found on the Brooklyn Diocesan website (http://dioceseofbrooklyn.org/ ). It includes the announcement that all Catholic Schools in the Diocese will be converted into “academies” by 2017, thus completing the privatization of all parochial schools and their final separation from the parish and any semblance of a “loving Christian community.” Education for the paying elite (regardless of religious affiliation) will be the official order of the day — the “product” the Church sells to whomever can afford to buy.
The mission statement for the “strategic plan” includes this following bit of jargon, I’m sure you will find it familiar: Goal #2: “Increasing enrollment through effective marketing and outreach to the diverse communities within the Diocese.” Effective marketing? Diverse communities? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what is being proposed here. Catholic schools never had to be “marketed” to Catholic people; you “market” when you are out to find new customers and clients. “Diverse communities” obviously refers to non-Catholics, presumably those who appreciate up-scale “Catholic Academies” and are willing to pay for it.
Are we to suppose this is part of the Diocese’ missionary mandate to spread the gospel to all nations? … or are we seeing a clever and lucrative way to avoid providing education for the hundreds of thousands of immigrant poor that now make up more than ½ of the Diocese’ Catholic population? Catholic Schools were originally the main tool of the early 20th century strategy of supporting the immigrant populations from Europe that were Catholic: Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian. Catholic schools kept them “catholic” and prepared their children for success in a hostile sectarian environment. They were poor, but the “Church” always found a way.
Apparently the current flow of immigrants no longer merit such efforts, and one wonders, why? Are they any less “Catholic” than our people were? Are they any less in need? Are they any the less in danger of “losing their faith”? They are not able to pay … but neither were our people! And the church always found a way. What explains why these particular “Catholics” are now passed over for education in favor of non-Catholics and non-Christians who just happen to have money and a recognition of the “value” of not sending their kids to public schools. If this is not explained by a new commercial priority for the church, please tell me what does explain it.
“Marketing” isn’t the only “buzz word” that reveals the commercial nature of the ecclesiatical endeavor. There are many more that emerge from the whole section on “marketing.” The following (p.13) are a good example. They are strategic goals for the “marketing” effort. Notice the commercial language and the real goal behind “preserving the vision” — building utilization:
Goal 16. High priority will be given to effectively marketing Catholic schools and academies within the Diocese of Brooklyn in order to build a strong educational brand throughout the Diocese and increase K-8 enrollment by 10% each year so that buildings are fully utilized.
16.1 To maximize effectiveness and clarity, marketing and branding messaging at the diocesan and local school and academy levels will be presented to all diocesan constituencies in a “single minded” manner and delivered with “one voice.” Schools, academies and various offices within the diocese will work collaboratively to ensure this consistent branding and messaging.
16.2 Specific marketing resources will be identified and committed to fund an integrated marketing communications program of branding Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn and to support individual school and academy recruitment activities.
I found that these ideas and this use of terminology curiously coincided with a similar anomaly of speech uttered by Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when he commented on his recent June 11th meeting with the nuns of LCWR:
“Too many people crossing the LCWR screen, who are supposedly representing the Catholic church, aren’t representing the church with any reasonable sense of product identity,” Levada said.
Am I the only one appalled at this talk of “branding” and “product identity”? The fact that this non-religious terminology is used in such disparate and unconnected circumstances gives rise to the suspicion that the Church managers, generally, are now defining the Church as commercial corporate enterprises … everywhere. They are spontaneously using words that reflect that self-identity.
The only time Jesus really lost it and might have set in motion the reactions that ultimately were to cost him his life, is when he encountered the money changers in the temple. The remarkable fact is that what they were doing was not “immoral.” But the fact that they had converted the Jewish relationship to the nameless “God” of Sinai into a commericalized enterprise centered on animal sacrifice (standard practice throughout the Greco Roman world) was more than he would tolerate. It suggests that what we are dealing with in the commericalization of religion is not immoral … it is worse! “Sin,” as we know, was no big deal for Jesus. But “turning my father’s house into a den of thieves” was more than his patience would abide.
I doubt that further research will uncover any glaring difference between the Church bosses and the Church businesses that vie with one another for clients and paying customers in the “diverse market” on whichever side of the East River they may be located.
John Allen “Vatican official warns of ‘dialogue of the deaf’ with LCWR,” NCR June 12, 2012