Church can’t be renewed without change at the top

THE 2009 annual report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children highlights the need for radical change requiring nothing less than a major step away from the defensiveness of the past to a more open and accountable present.

But it highlights serious shortcomings in several dioceses because those in leadership had difficulty changing their attitudes. How can there ever be accountability if such individuals are allowed to remain in pivotal positions when they are clearly not meeting fundamental vicarious obligations?

There are no precedents of real organisational change being accomplished anywhere without a concurrent change in leadership, culture and attitude.

The process of accomplishing change in any organisation can be extremely challenging, even impossible, especially when it is dominated by individuals with prolonged tenure, overwhelming influence and fuzzy accountability. This is abundantly evident, for example, in the financial services industry with consequential costs that are incalculable both in terms of money and national reputation.

It is also extremely difficult to reconcile the announcement by Cardinal Brady that he intends to continue as Primate of All Ireland at a time when the church is in such urgent need of sustainable and credible transformation. He celebrated the 15th anniversary of his appointment to his current role last February and even in the best of times a new leader with a fresh mandate would be desirable after such a prolonged incumbency.

But the culture of secrecy that surrounded his long relationship to the Fr Brendan Smyth saga directly conflicts with the vision for the future of the church outlined in this report.

Should this fundamental incompatibility not have prompted the introduction of a fresh generation of leadership and should the mandate to lead the traumatised church in Ireland be based on qualities and criteria other than self-endorsement? Radical change requires radical leadership of a calibre that people passionately believe in.

The process of transformation is not a one-man show based on passive lip service. If the grievously wounded church is not to get the dynamic and effective leadership that it so urgently needs to facilitate recovery, it will be like a patient with a gaping wound whose surgical dressings are never changed and whose restoration to wellbeing is thwarted by recurring episodes of infection and other setbacks.

Myles Duffy

Bellevue Avenue


Co Dublin

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

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