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Blueprint for Operating a Diocese

CEO Michael Caspino on Sound Business Practices

BY Joan Frawley Desmond

Senior Editor

July 27-Aug. 9, 2014 Issue | Posted 7/25/14 at 9:31 AM

 

As Pope Francis acts to reform the Vatican Curia and financial institutions to improve transparency and more effectively respond to the needs of the universal Church, U.S. dioceses are also re-evaluating their own policies and practices to determine how they can better support the mission of the local Church.

Michael Caspino is a lawyer and the CEO of Busch & Caspino, a legal consulting group, which, among other services, helps bishops develop a road map for the renewal of diocesan institutions and practices, from social outreach and fundraising to teacher contracts.  

During an interview with the Register, Caspino explained how some 21st-century bishops are taking a fresh look at the challenges that lie ahead.    
 

 

A Catholic bishop’s job is harrowing in any climate. In our current situation, with constant assaults on religious liberty, sniping by secular forces and our own internal clean-up burdens, the work of a Church leader seems near impossible. Meanwhile, the “business” side of any diocese comes with another set of complex issues and demands. How can bishops develop a more effective style of management? 

Every day, our cardinals, archbishops and bishops face a host of challenges, and to successfully take them on, they need a solid base of support — an organized, efficient team standing behind them. Before they go out, they need to make sure their own chanceries can provide the support they need. Otherwise, a Church leader won’t be effective.

A bishop needs a team to deal with finances, human resources, property, etc. When we are invited by a diocese to review its practices, we begin by focusing on the bishop’s mission and on his priorities for the parishes, schools and ministries of that diocese. 
 

 

Why are well-intentioned bishops not always successful in achieving their goals, such as improving social outreach or raising the standards of diocesan schools?

Our Church has not stressed accountability and leadership from the standpoint of the mechanism of chanceries. We often find that there are no job descriptions or performance appraisals for chancery positions. We need to hold people in chanceries accountable for their performance. We need solid people at that level.
 

 

In one sense, dioceses face conflicting institutional pressures: They need to be flexible and meet the needs of those they serve, but the fundamental instinct of any tradition-based religious institution is to preserve rather than to innovate. How does this reality affect a diocese’s ability to renew itself and avoid stifling bureaucracies that hinder rather than help the stated mission?

The priorities of the chancery need to be clearly set forth by the bishop. Once they are set up, everyone has to follow the shepherd of the diocese. Sometimes, the people in place cannot carry out that mission or the institutional culture stifles attempts to innovate. 

When we go into a diocese, we figure out whether the right people are in place and whether they have received the right instruction and can carry out the bishop’s priorities.
 

 

However, you are also dealing with a unique religious institution that is not like other for-profit or nonprofit workplace environments. How does that fact shape your approach to developing a plan for institutional reform and renewal?

When we come into a diocese, we have a lengthy checklist of items that we review. 

We look at 10 years of budgets. We look for trends and red or yellow flags popping up that require further investigation. We look at people in finance positions to see where they need additional training and whether we have the right people in place.

[But] you can’t come into a diocese and help a bishop accomplish his mission without a prior understanding of the mission of the Church and of the magisterium. That knowledge is essential. Most consultants gauge effectiveness by looking at dollars and cents. To help the bishops, a consultant needs to gauge effectiveness based upon evangelism and saving souls.

 

 

Can you provide an example of what you mean?

Recently, when a secular consulting group looked at the viability of a group of struggling Catholic schools, they said, “Close them down; they aren’t worth saving.” But we understand the Church and know that the closing of a school is like a death in a family to a parish, and we know that a Catholic school is a means of evangelization. We find ways to keep them open, whether by increasing revenue or reducing costs elsewhere.  

In this type of situation, it is key to tap into the local Catholic business community. Many business leaders love getting involved in these efforts. They have a great deal of management expertise that can be shared with the leadership of the school. Enrollment drives and increased tuition assistance can certainly bring the student count up to levels that keep the schools open and running well.
 

 

A common organizational pathology in apostolic work is to construct a false dichotomy between “business” and “ministry,” as if they conflict with one another.  

A typical problem is what we call the “silo effect.” [In the chancery,] finance is on one side, along with other temporal issues, and ministry is on the other side. We come in and break down those silos and find ways for people to work together.

So in one diocese, with a cabinet structure, we advised them to address specific challenges or problems by bringing together people from different departments to work on the project, rather than those departments addressing problems in isolation. 

If that diocese wants to save a school or a parish, it establishes a team and sets clear goals, with responsibility and accountability for each member of the team: Finance will do this, development will do this, and schools will do this — everyone is given their own responsibilities and held accountable. This approach has done wonders to save schools, parishes and ministries.  

The reason that a school or parish fails has typically more to do with a history of a lack of leadership and accountability. If a diocese wants to save a school or a parish, it needs to put a team in place that will establish goals and be held accountable.  

For instance, if the issue at a parish is that low collections have led to financial distress, you need to objectively consider why this is the case. Sometimes, interviews with key parishioners will lead you right to the problem — a problem that parishioners might be hesitant to share with their pastor. It can be anything, from a perception that homilies have gotten stale to a change in Sunday Mass times. Fixing a number of simple things can really turn things around quickly. 

Many of our chanceries are 20 to 50 years behind the curve of best practices for a collaborative approach for addressing projects. When we come to a diocese, we often see the silo approach and not the collaborative approach that has been adopted by consensus in the business world.
 

 

How can sound business practices improve or complement the work of the New Evangelization or perhaps a specific goal, like reaching out to divorced-and-remarried Catholics? 

I have to draw a line on where our work begins and ends. We don’t come in and tell anyone what the mission should be. We spend time with the bishop and listen to him, and if he tells us, “I want to get out there and bring in divorced Catholics, but I don’t have money or a ministry in place to do that,” we make his goals happen. 

We would look for ways to increase the level of funding that could be found through fundraising or streamlining operations in the chancery. Our job is to make sure the resources are available to get the job done.