Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

November 4, 2010


Large scale departures of Catholics from the faith have been the subject of the Pew research organization, articles by Cathleen Kaveny and Peter Steinfels in the October 22, 2010 COMMONWEAL, and the recent study "American Grace" by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. Many of those who left have established new religious identities with Episcopal, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and other Christian bodies. The numbers and causes of these departures and new affiliations, not the least of which has been the monstrous sexual abuse scandal, are appropriate subjects for study and analysis by our bishops, think tanks, and whoever. In this posting, I will examine what, in my estimation, is a substantial cause of alienation and, what, simultaneously, indicates a remedy: the institutional and personal refusal of the members of the Catholic hierarchy to "listen" and the remedy,"start listening".

An iconic image of the problem: Pope John Paul II in 1979 as he refused to listen to Sister Teresa Kane, when she rose to speak. As a seemingly fourth person of a new divinity, the pope failed to acknowledge her as a person, did not respect her as a baptized child of God. John Paul, also showed his isolation from the real world, when, in the smoke and mirrors of clericalism, he assigned Cardinal Bernard H. Law, driven from Boston by his priests and people for reassigning miscreant clerics, to a prominent church in Rome and continued him in church-governing positions! John Paul simply did not listen to Sister Kane, to the people of Boston, to the world.

After the November 2 election that devastated the Democratic Party, President Obama
declared that the governing party had simply not listened to the people.

Each Sunday's Business Section of the NY Times presents the CORNER OFFICE, an interview with a distinguished leader: a CEO from the business, academic, or various professional worlds to explore LEADERSHIP in their experience in corporate and people management. What is revealed about LEADERSHIP qualities is dramatically relevant to governance in the Church by pope, bishops, pastors, and others exercising church authority. They may have authority in faith and morals. This does not carry with it expertise in corporate management, people management, or public relations. Church authorities can surely benefit from the voices of experience in these worlds. As the following selected excerpts are reviewed, a comparison or a contrast can be made between the recommended qualities and the readers' personal experience of church governance, favorable or unfavorable, as it may be:

1. CEO, advertising, male: You learn a lot from the worst managers, the "command and control" types. One must make people feel they are part of a team. They need to feel their voice is heard and feel completely fearless in having a conversation with me... The ability to thrive in ambiguity is important. How people feel with something that is not black or white, but grey.

2. CEO, business, male: Leadership and communication are the same thing. We believe in communicating everything to every single employee. We're big on what we call the whole brain concept, which is simply to eliminate silos. We probably have more people than we need at each meeting. But, we get a lot of innovation that way... We talk a lot about a person's wake, like a boat's wake. Most people's wake is much larger than they can imagine as is the leader's... We talk about and emphasize foundational principles and how we apply them, and how that makes us cohesive and act as a team.

3. Hedgefund founder, female: Every year, I ask individuals to write a 360 on everyone in the firm, including me. Then, an outsider, a management coach, synthesizes things and says, "These are the directional comments that people have about you." ... At our all hands meetings, every six weeks or so, I tell people what is going on in our different areas."

4. CEO, info services based in the Netherlands, female: Peoples, cultures are different. How they interpret what you've said to them, and how you interpret what they have said, and the rules of engagement about how you are going to make a decision is very important. Remember, as a boss, everything you do is evaluated.

5. CEO, business, male: Are employees and associates more product oriented than customer oriented? Have I succeeded in making employees feel that they are a real part of the enterprize?...I'd like to ask once a year, anonymously, would you like to work with me for another year? Do you have faith in me? Employees, the board, shareholders, customers, my associates?

6. Ms. Drew Faust, President, Harvard University: Understand the context in which you are leading: an organization to which people have a loyalty and which has had a long history of loyalty. This can cause resistance to change. A willingness to change is to be sensitively cultivated. There are different constituencies, each to be dealt with differently. Communication with these constituencies is important to develop a sense of identity and cohesiveness of the whole, wherein each dean or school comes to appreciate the benefits from the larger organization in which it plays a part....If people feel that they are being listened to and their views are being taken into account, decisions will be more graciously accepted. Differences cannot be allowed to degenerate into enmities. Belief in the organization by its participants is essential. It can be secured only if they are being invested in the institution, being made to have a stake in it, as well as being asked to respond to its needs. We are in the people business!

My brief comment: Pope and hierarchy appear as "command and control" types, viewing outside suggestions and recommendations as invasion of their turf and more concerned about "product" than "customer". Neither seeking nor hearing the voice of the "customer" in a litany of issues, John Paul II, in 1998, in the judgment of some theologians and canonists, has attempted to reshape the "product" by adding a new category of doctrine: "whatever is proposed definitively as part of the magisterium". This has been criticized as an effort to widen the concept of infallibility and as part of the papacy's continuing effort to centralize and increase authority, power, and control. Is it another example of "control and command" governance?

A thoughtful recommendation: Pope and bishops should immediately establish relations with Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action, and other groups of practicing Catholics. These are not invading turf, but seeking to be real parts of the enterprise. The rejection by the hierarchy of such a role for the laity may well explain why many Catholics are seeking other religious identity, where they consciously become part of the enterprise of encountering Jesus.

October 31, 2010


Juan Williams, an anchor at NPR, was recently fired from his job because of his remarks on Fox's Bill Reilly's program that he would feel uncomfortable boarding an aeroplane with some passengers dressed in Muslim garb. NPR, very politically correct, discharged him for remarks offensive to Muslims. Curiously, the roof fell in on NPR. Journalists and others condemned his being fired by NPR. Many others expressed the same sentiments about being with Muslim-dressed passengers. The NY Times, after packaged bombs from Yemen were found on a UPS truck in Dubai and on an aeroplane at Heathrow in England, featured a cartoon figure with Muslim passengers exclaiming, "I agree with Williams".

NPR and the initiators of the downtown mosque near Ground Zero, Imam Rauf and developer Sharif el Gamal found Williams' remarks offensive to the Muslim community. They hold that their brand of Islam breathes peace. That message and the proposed mosque near Ground Zero drew considerable support because Rauf and el Gamal succeeded in establishing the term of the controversy as one of religious tolerance rather than as the intrusion of outsiders in this New York graveyard, affronting the sensitivities of so many. The same word or words can be used and heard differently by different audiences: balogna can refer to a cured meat or to meaningless statements, as in "a lot of baloney". "Islam" and "muslim" can mean peace through discipline and sharia law to those of the umma, the world-wide Muslim community. But for contemporary Americans, those two words immediately bring to mind the terrorists of 9/11, suicide bombers, extremist jihadists, and, in yesterday's a report of an assault yesterday in Baghdad on the Syrian Catholic Cathedral. One hundred Catholics at Sunday Mass were taken hostage by an armed group, identified as The Islamic State of Iraq. Thirty-seven attendees and two priests were killed: fifty-six wounded. Legitimate Iraqi forces released the remaining hostages.

As "Islam" and "Muslim" are understood differently by different speakers, so, too, the proposed mosque will be perceived differently by different observers. Rauf and Sharif el Gamal would have observers here see it as a monument to religious freedom; but those in Muslim countries around the world will see it as a symbol of the 9/11 Muslim victory. It will be seen, in yet a third way, by many of us New Yorkers as an uninvited intrusion on the place of our communal grief.

The mosque proponents have a nomenclature problem. What is their Islam? Are they part of the "umma", Islam, the Muslim world-wide community, whose charter calls for world domination? How do they view modern Muslim nations, where there is no religious freedom, where sharia calls for amputations for thieves, honor killings, and death sentences for writings and cartoons deemed sacriligious? That is the Islam of popular understanding!

The local mosque people are of the Sufi component of Islam, peace loving, mystical. But there are questions. As Muslims, how do they relate to the larger Muslim world? Generalities about peace-loving are insufficient. New Yorkers need to be educated on the specifics that warrant that title. Do they publicly reject sharia's death sentences for conversion or perceived insults to the Koran? Do they accept the Qu'oran's permission for husbands to beat their wives, but "not beyond bloodshed"? What qualifies a person for membership in their mosque? What is its charter and mission statement? How are jihadists excluded? Some mosque members become radicalized as has occurred here and in Europe. How is such a member expelled from the mosque, as has frequently occurred here and in Europe?

Such questions are not asked gratuitously. New Yorkers are well aware of our peace-loving Muslim neighbors - professionals, livery drivers, grocers, and merchants. But the Charter of Islam is recorded in its Holy Writ and is exemplified in modern Muslim nations and in history. Muslim, Jews, and Christians effectively lived together in Moorish Spain with accomplishments in art, architecture, and the good things of life. But Jews and Christians were "dimmis" -"protected ones"- paying an annual tax and subject to many legal inhibitions, such as limited to riding donkeys, horses not permitted!

In buying a house or making an investment, full disclosure is required. With Islam, not only a religion but also a form of government, with examples in its history and in the contemporary world, full disclosure of a charter and mission statement of the proposed mosque is not an inappropriate request. The two uses and two understandings of the word, "Islam" makes it incumbent on the downtown mosque people to make clear which is their "Islam" and how it differs from the other "Islam". The same name with two meanings is, to say the least, confusing.

The necessity of full disclosure is further seen in light of statements the like of one by Abu Laban at the Ninth Congress of the Islamic Cultural Institute in 1995 in Milan: "They [westerners] accept Muslims in their midst... We, therefore, must pretend that we accept their religion and their individual freedom. But this is impossible. Islam can accept no one who does not adore Allah."