We follow the voices speaking today for Catholic Church reform. In this issue, two writers have taken different paths but both are travelling in the same direction.
Chris Lowney presents five specific ideas that have the potential to catalyze profound change in every parish. In his book, Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church, these initiatives are designed to change culture and leadership. The author explores how the Catholic Church’s worst crisis in centuries can be reversed by a new strategy, culture, and leadership style, and the book charts the invigorating, hopeful path forward.
Bob Betterton chose a different genre, the world of “ reality fiction.” His novel builds a story of a successor to the current Pope Francis, who makes radical changes in the hierarchy of the church. The new pope dismantles the current institutional structure and introduces creative ways to replace it.
We invite our readers to join this conversation. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church
By Chris Lowney
Our church has such vast potential, so much of it lies untapped, and what we offer can mean so much to the world. We’re not bringing sand to the Sahara, so to speak, but life-giving water to a society that is parched. We offer pathways to inner peace amidst a world that has grown noisy and media saturated. We stand beside the world’s impoverished and marginalized amidst a culture that is increasingly bewitched by wealth. Contemporary culture champions the Darwinian struggle to get ahead; we instead preach service of others and the common good. Our divisive era pits one religion, ideology, political party, or tribe against another; we profess that our neighbors are all those in need, whatever their color or beliefs. Our first priority is not those with power and influence, but those who lack worldly status: the poor, jobless, refugees, persecuted, or infirm elderly.
Above all, we follow a path to salvation. Jesus is that path; our values are those he embodied. For sure, we have been very imperfect followers, but we can improve. And by doing so, by turning our church into what it can be, we will turn the world into what it should be. By rebuilding our church, we will renew the world.
But rebuild we must. We are the generation of Christians privileged to live at this in inflection point in the church’s history, the ones called to the mighty purpose of revitalizing the church and realizing its vast promise.
That’s why this book will begin not with uplifting good news but with a bracing appraisal of our challenges, a call to action: the time has grown urgent for Catholics to show leadership and revitalize the church they love. The first thing that must change is our culture, the ways we think, operate, and make decisions. Such change never comes easily, above all to a church with a sacred tradition and a venerable history. For that reason, we must create a “burning platform” for change, a widespread conviction that the status quo is no longer sustainable. That burning platform for change is not yet ablaze in our church.
Equally worrisome is the lack of response to these challenges. Imagine a faulty but nonetheless revealing analogy: any major corporation that was losing customers at a similar pace would long ago have been catalyzed into an urgent quest for solutions. Everyone from chief executive to junior staff would know key facts and be enlisted in the fight to reverse the damaging trends. New approaches would be tested and their results monitored closely. Inexplicably, nothing like this is happening in our church.
Pope Francis seemed to understand that the time for new thinking is long overdue. His first major pronouncement, Evangelii Gaudium, frankly urged change. He said that the Church’s pastoral efforts ought to “abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’” The Pope invited all Catholics to be “bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods” of outreach. He exhorted each bishop “to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.” He advised these shepherds to walk behind the flock from time to time, letting lay Catholics take the lead, “allowing the flock to strike out on new paths.”
When we Catholics attend Mass, we sing from the same hymnbook. On pronouncements of faith and dogma, we Catholics absolutely sing from the same hymnbook (or else we get an unwelcome phone call from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). But when it comes to revitalizing our church, we don’t even have a hymnbook.
We can’t articulate the three things (or five, as the case will be). What priorities are most crucial right now as we steward the church into the twenty-first century? I asked that question of various Catholics and heard a very wide range of answers, too wide. Many have no idea what the church’s priorities are or should be; others offered their own ideas, typically focused on a particular church doctrine or practice that irritated them. Taken together, the ideas were a cacophonous collection of notes that didn’t coalesce into the integrated harmony of a coherent approach.
We will never succeed like that. An empowered army can create a supremely chaotic mess if their energies are not channeled. Think of a billion Catholics, like so many loose cannons, each ring in whatever direction looks promising, with more than a few of us ring at each other, as is unfortunately the case now.
The solution is not micromanagement; rather, we need to articulate strategic priorities in a way that will empower individual Catholics, parishes, and ministries to take initiative. Strategy is not a spectator sport that leaves one billion team members on the sidelines, watching a relative handful in Rome. Vatican and Papal initiatives are crucial, of course, but as our early Christian ancestors teach us, the action is not in headquarters but out in the field. Local leaders will know best what works in their own backyards. To put it in terms of Catholic social teaching, strategic “subsidiarity” will empower those on the scene to take all the initiative and responsibility that they legitimately can. We have loads of great parish pastors, for example, who are blessed with eager lay collaborators; we want to liberate their energies and creativity on the Lord’s behalf.
Above all, we want a strategy that embodies the church’s core mission, not anyone’s personal agenda. We’re not inventing a different mission for the church but expressing our timeless mission in language that enables every person, parish, and ministry to contribute more proactively. Accordingly, what follows is nothing more (or less) than a reflection of Jesus’s core commands: “to make disciples of all nations” and to “love God with all your heart . . . [and] love your neighbor as yourself ” (Matt. 22: 37–39). Or those with a predilection for sophisticated theological terminology could map the strategy against what Pope Benedict XVI called, “the Church’s threefold responsibility: proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)”; these three lofty ideas are broadened and translated into more accessible language.
The EASTeR project is a pathway to accomplishing all of this. We will focus on becoming a more Entrepreneurial and Accountable church that Serves all in need, Transforms the spiritual lives of its members, and Reaches out widely to engage the world around us. Entrepreneurial and Account- able; Serve, Transform, and Reach out: those five ideas can revitalize our church, if embraced both bottom-up and top-down, that is, by individual believers and by those with hierarchical authority. It’s an EASTeR strategy for an Easter people, who are filled with hope, joy, and renewed energy. us, the five pillars of our EASTeR project for church renewal.
This is the world to which the Holy Spirit calls us to minister, and we will only succeed by becoming more Spirit-led, like those early Christian leaders who adapted their rituals, language, worship styles, and organizational structure in order to engage the new cultures they encountered. Spirit-led entrepreneurs behave differently because they see opportunities where others see only problems: they see a Church abundantly blessed with gifted men and women and will imagine ways to unlock all that talent, just as that Nairobi pastor developed new roles in which Lucy, Samuel, and the other jumuiya leaders could serve the church.
The word “entrepreneurial” will trigger alarm bells among some: does it imply a freelance church where religious hucksters can twist dogma to suit their ambitions and make themselves rich? I’m saying no such thing; no idea advanced in this book contravenes church teaching. But I am saying this: our mission is to lead others to an encounter with Jesus that changes them and the world, and we are not accomplishing that mission nearly as well as we can and will. To improve, we will become more nimble, exploit modern technology, express our message creatively, share information more widely, empower our laity, vary prayer and worship styles to accommodate our very diverse populations, offer meaningful spiritual growth opportunities, make better use of our talent, and, overall, be not only open to new ways of doing things but eagerly seek new approaches. Doing all that will require an entrepreneurial spirit.
To cite one example of many: my Catechism teaches, “those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love” on the church’s part. Preferential love implies a clear commitment: how do we verify that we are living that commitment in deeds? Sure, we could point to examples, like church-run soup kitchens or a hundred other worthy efforts. But tossing off anecdotal examples is not the same as holding oneself accountable: the plural of anecdote is not data. We will therefore be more conscientious in monitoring, evaluating, and assessing how well we are fulfilling the various mandates Jesus gave us, whether our stewardship of money, our service to poor communities, or the effectiveness of our parishes in drawing members closer to the Lord.
The process of becoming a more accountable church will be uncomfortable; it will require us to ask ourselves difficult questions. We believe, for example, that the church facilitates spiritual growth through a deeper encounter with Jesus, but we don’t really know how consistently that is happening; we don’t ask ourselves or parishioners whether that’s going well or poorly, much less track our results over time. The process of doing so will not come naturally to us, but what we learn will make us a more effective, credible church.
Our church’s mission, says Vatican II, is to lead others, “to the faith, freedom, and love of Christ.” whose words make clear that our church should be a place where lives are transformed for the good, where “conversion” happens, not primarily in the sense of changing from one religious belief to another, but in line with the word’s Latin roots, which connote a turning around, or a return. If folks are on the wrong path in life, we will inspire them to “turn around” and walk in the way of the Lord. If they are already growing in faith, we will enable a turn toward even greater peace, faith, and inner joy.
We’re not currently fulfilling this part of our mission well enough. Consider, for example, that a whopping 71 percent of former Catholics in the United States who now worship elsewhere say that they left us in part because their spiritual needs were not being met. The Holy Spirit is surely speaking to us through that damning statistic. Let’s commit to transforming our church into one where transformation happens.
Enough of all that. Pope Francis called for a more joyful church, and this strategy invites talented Christians to wield their gifts joyfully and to have some fun along the way. Like all good strategies, this one can be supercharged by “top-down” leadership, as bishops and others in authority embrace and disseminate it. But our strategy doesn’t depend solely on top-down leadership; no one gatekeeper will derail the movement to renew our church. Rather, every Catholic and every Catholic ministry can discuss these ideas and conceive of ways to implement them, without waiting for instructions from “headquarters.”
The centerpiece of that plan is an “EASTeR” strategy, five transformational principles that describe how church culture must change and what priorities must be emphasized:
• Be Entrepreneurial – A church that has been slow to change must eagerly seek new approaches: to worship, outreach, management, and communications. The church must become more nimble, exploit modern technology, and empower the laity, particularly those with the imagination to help the church navigate a changing world.
• Be accountable – Great organizations hold themselves highly accountable, and our church must get better at monitoring, evaluating, and assessing itself. What’s going well or poorly in our financial stewardship, worship quality, people management, outreach, and in all else.
• Serve all in need – The church, already the world’s largest charity provider, will capture the hearts of its members and the attention of an increasingly self-absorbed world by striving to serve and seek justice for all who are poor, marginalized, or excluded. Service to those in need will become core to our “brand” in the world.
• Transform the hearts and souls of our members – Research shows that millions of Catholics have left the church because their “spiritual needs were not being met.” We must become a church where spiritual needs are met, where those who come to us find the inner peace and deep happiness that our faith promises.
• Reach Out to the world beyond our doors–Increasing numbers of people regard organized religion as irrelevant to their lives, so the church must become proactive at reaching out. We will heed Pope Francis’s warning that, “a church that doesn’t go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms.”
The above passages are from the book:
Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church
By Chris Lowney
(Available through Amazon. $16.96 hardcover; $14.39 Kindle version)
Chris Lowney is chair of one of America’s largest hospital systems, Catholic Health Initiatives. A one-time Jesuit seminarian, he is the former Managing Director of JP Morgan & Co. in Tokyo, Singapore, London, and New York. Chris is a popular keynote speaker who has addressed numerous audiences in some two-dozen countries on topics ranging from leadership to change management to decision making. He is the author of several books including Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads and the bestselling Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year Old Company That Changed the World.
2020 Vision: The Plot to Change the Catholic Church
A Novel by Robert Betterton
Pope Francis died on February 6, 2019.
The reaction to the news was unprecedented. This very special man had resonated with billions of people—not just Catholics but others as well.
The conclave to select the new pope began two weeks later. Everyone agreed that it would be very difficult to elect a Benedict-like authoritarian traditionalist as successor to Pope Francis.
No one knew that better than The Brethren, a small but powerful group of cardinals, some retired, who were pledged to Benedict XVI’s ultra-conservative theology and philosophy. They were not about to change. Instead, their strategy was to search for another man with a Francis-like personality but far less energy and conviction. They wanted someone like John Paul II, someone who could be manipulated as effectively as Cardinal Ratzinger had manipulated his predecessor, someone who old enough for his reign to be short. Then they could return someone to the throne of Peter a man even more traditional than Benedict. It could be the end of the Catholic church, but they didn’t believe that. Nor did they care.
Their final choice was John Atcherley Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, and Metropolitan of New Zealand, who was elected pope by a narrow margin on the second ballot and chose the name Francis II. He had been elevated to cardinal by Pope Francis in February 2015. The Brethren were satisfied with their choice.
In his own words, Cardinal Dew was “a fairly ordinary Kiwi kind of a bloke,” and many hoped he would remain that as Pope Francis II. He was plainspoken and gave the impression that he had no personal agendas on anything.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, had requested a private meeting with Francis II at his earliest convenience. It was scheduled for eight a.m. on the new pope’s first day of work, February 25. The cardinal was a few minutes early and was shown in immediately.
“Good morning, Your Holiness.”
“Good morning, Pietro. Sit down.”
“Did you have a pleasant, or at least somewhat restful, weekend?”
“Well, I’ve had better … this pope business is a bit daunting.”
“I would imagine it is, but you will adjust, I am sure.”
Parolin took a thick notebook from his briefcase and placed it on the table between them. “Pope Francis instructed me to pass this plan on to you, with his sincere request that you consider implementing it as soon as possible. But first I would like to tell you about its development.
“Almost a year ago, Pope Francis invited Cardinal Ouellet, Cardinal Stella and me to a private and highly confidential meeting in the palace. We were pledged to secrecy.
“He talked about his work on Curia reform, which he said would be in vain if the role and culture of the diocesan bishops were not completely changed to the way it once was and should be. He said that the bishops must become representatives of the Vatican and at the same time advocates for the baptized. He said they also must become an efficient channel of communications between the persons in the pews and the man on the papal throne and not self-appointed barons.
“He charged us with bringing that culture change about in the more than 3,000 dioceses in the shortest period. In the Foreword to the plan, I have described the process we went through; the research we did; the alternatives we considered; and the conclusions to which we came. “He was ready to implement the plan, which is described in detail in this notebook, when he learned of his illness. Only we three cardinals—and now you—even know of the plan’s existence. “The plan is dramatic, and for some it will also be highly traumatic, but we believe that it is the best alternative. I suggest that you read it and then we discuss it at your earliest convenience.”
The pope stood, picking up the notebook. “Thank you, Pietro. I will read it carefully, thoroughly, and with great interest. As you know, since everyone is here in Rome, I have invited you and all of members of the council of cardinals to a private dinner tomorrow evening in the palace. There is no planned agenda, but after dinner I would like you to make a brief presentation of the proposed plan. It should be no longer than twenty minutes or so, and then I would like you to give each of them a copy.”
Dinner with the pope’s council was held in the formal dining room of the papal apartment in the Vatican palace. The atmosphere was light and optimistic about the papacy of Francis II. The conversation over dinner followed that mood.
Afterward, when they had moved to more comfortable chairs, and each had been served an after-dinner drink, the new pope said, “When I invited all of you to dinner last week, I had no idea that I would be saying what I am about to tell you.
“My first official meeting yesterday was with Cardinal Parolin. He told me about an assignment my predecessor had given him and Cardinals Ouellet and Stella about a year ago, to develop a plan to change the church for the better and forever. After a struggle of several months they completed the plan and Francis accepted it.
“Sadly, by that time Francis knew that his days were numbered, and he asked that Cardinal Parolin pass the plan on to his successor with a strong recommendation that it be adopted. Pietro did that yesterday morning and I read it last night. I must tell you that it is a remarkable piece of work and my first inclination was to adopt it, but that would be a foolish way for me to begin our new relationship.
“Therefore, I have asked Pietro to give us an overview of the plan, which he assures me will take no more than half an hour. He will also give you a copy of the plan to read.” He said gravely, “You are not to share anything you read in it with others outside this room or to make a copy.
“We will convene here tomorrow morning at nine for a discussion that will last as long as it takes. Then you will return all the copies to Cardinal Parolin, who will destroy them. Any leaks of the contents of this plan will be treated both quickly and harshly.
“Following tomorrow’s discussion I will spend some time in prayer and consideration before making a final decision.
“I have one more thing before Pietro begins. Several of you will find that the plan will seem to personally affect you significantly. Be assured that we have given that considerable thought and you will see how that will be handled later in the plan you will be reading. Cardinal Parolin, please take the floor.”
Parolin spoke to a transfixed audience for twenty-seven minutes before distributing the plan books. Then, strangely, the council members spontaneously applauded, and left with a quick “Good night.” Neither the pope nor the cardinal could say what that meant.
The Brethren were a diverse, complex and, in some ways, incongruous group. Some had serious, contentious relations with one another in the past. Their fierce belief that the church should be highly conservative in everything it does held them together. They hated the memory of Vatican II and worshiped the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Almost all of them despised Pope Francis.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had passed away in the spring of 2018, but his death had energized their desire to return to the conservative path he had laid out for the Catholic church. In truth, they were determined to “out-Benedict Benedict,” if possible, ensuring that Pope Francis II would accomplish as little as possible during his papacy, which would lead to the election of a more Benedict-like pope next time around. They had vowed to be extremely wary of anything that would make the church even more liberal than the first Francis had left it.
Their core members were four Rome-based American cardinals: Bernard Law, James Stafford, Raymond Burke and William Levada. The leader was Cardinal Law, 87 who had fled his Archdiocese of Boston in the dead of night to avoid arrest as the “worst of the worst” protector of priests who raped children. Given a posh job of little practical significance before his retirement, he had cultivated the myth that he was a sort of brilliant elder statesman.
Cardinal James Stafford was also 87. Although years before he had been Bishop of Memphis and Archbishop of Denver, he has been a career Roman Curia member since 1996, most recently as Major Penitentiary Emeritus of the Apostolic Penitentiary, from which he retired in 2009.
Next in age at 84, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was formerly Secretary of State and one of three Brethren who previously had problems with one another.
Cardinal William Levada, 83, had been Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco and Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. MSNBC once reported that Cardinal Law was “the person in Rome most forcefully supporting” the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a large group of American nuns. Cardinal James Stafford strongly supported Law in this, and the investigation had been handled by Cardinal Levada. Now retired and no longer eligible to vote to select any future pope, all four men were still strong believers in Benedict XVI’s authoritarianism.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 78, was currently the only non-cardinal in The Brethren’s leadership and certain to remain so. He had previously had trouble with both Cardinals Bertone and Parolin. Viganò was assigned by Benedict XVI to investigate corruption in the Vatican Bank, where he was doing too good a job. To prevent him from exposing any more incriminating information, Bertone sent him to the United States as apostolic nuncio. During Pope Francis I’s first trip to the U.S., Viganò arranged for an anti-gay activist to be present at a meeting with the new pope. The press was all over it. Since he was just a few months from retirement, Bertone’s successor Cardinal Parolin had allowed Viganò to retire, but it was clear that he would have preferred to fire him.
Bertone and Viganò had put all of that behind them in their zeal for the work of The Brethren. At that point, they still thought Parolin shared their enthusiasm.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin at 64 was the youngest member of The Brethren. A rising star in the Curia, he had replaced Cardinal Bertone as Secretary of State. He and Gerhard Müller were among the first to be elevated to cardinal by Pope Francis, although Müller was considered more of a Benedict leftover. Cardinal Law watched Parolin very closely.
Cardinal George Pell, 78 had been both a supporter and a critic of Benedict XVI and represented a challenge to Cardinal Law regarding leadership of The Brethren.
On the surface, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 75, appeared to be a prototypical Benedict XVI partisan and therefore a strong member of The Brethren—or at least Law thought so.
Cardinals Gerhard Müller and Raymond Burke, both 71, were protégés of Benedict XVI and rabid Brethren.
Cardinal Law lived in a large, luxurious apartment in the Palazzo Della Cancelleria, a palace built in the fifteenth century that became the home of the first Medici pope, Leo X. The Palazzo, in Rome just outside Vatican City, was owned by the Holy See, so those who lived there were beyond the reach of U.S. legal authorities.
The Brethren met for dinner and conversation at Law’s opulent residence at least once a month and whenever events of interest occur. This particular evening, they were tired of rumors about the new pope and hungry for facts when Cardinal Parolin arrived.
When the greetings were over and each was relaxed in his favorite chair with a drink in hand, Cardinal Law looked at the Secretary of State and said, “Well, Cardinal Secretary, I understand that you were the first to meet officially with His Holiness.”
“Since I don’t know anyone else who has the extensive access to the Pontiff’s appointment book that you seem to have, Your Eminence, I will accept that as true.”
“And what did you boys talk about?”
“I am sure you know precisely how long I was there. It was strictly routine business.”
“When are you going back?”
“When I am called.”
Both men were chuckling throughout this fencing match.
Burke jumped in saying, “Come now, Pietro. There are no secrets among the Brethren,” but was ignored.
The meeting went on, but Parolin made an excuse that he hoped they accepted and left shortly after dessert. When he arrived home, a message from the pope’s secretary asked him to meet on Monday for breakfast after Mass.
Several months later… Pope Francis II delivers the Commencement address at Catholic University in America
“I want to speak to you today about the leadership we need in order to bring those who have left our church back to communion with us both literally and figuratively, and to help lead all of us in a church that finds solutions instead of alienating people. That is the way it was in the beginning – pastoral and loving toward all of us.
“But for reasons we felt were beneficial to us—and for a time they were—we cast our lot with those who wielded physical power, military power and oppression. We emulated those people in dress, in ceremony and in philosophy. That worked for a while in a world much simpler than the one we live in today.
“Then the world discovered democracy which predates our church but not our theology. Our protectors lost their power and their ability to oppress, but we continued to use that tool to save our people from themselves instead of giving them the latitude and guidance to do that with us.
“This modus operandi worked for a while, often only because our leaders were better educated than the people they led; they were able to defeat our arguments in that far simpler world. We accepted oppression as the cost of salvation.
“But the world became more complex and among our Christians, people were able to find ways to holiness in the absence of oppression.”
“But we persisted in our ways, declaring science and progress to be symptoms of Modernism, which was to be resisted at all costs.
“Our hierarchy became authoritative. We decided our pope was infallible. If there is one thing I don’t believe, it is that I am infallible. Neither were my predecessors.”
“And that is a serious part of the problems facing the church today.
“As you all know well, because I am sure you heard on this campus, the first Pope Francis spent the last six years reforming the Roman Curia, a task his predecessor, Benedict XVI, said couldn’t be done. It had become corrupt in some areas, generally archaic and nearly dysfunctional.
“It took him much longer than he thought it would, and it kept him from addressing what he considered to be not only a larger problem and certainly one more challenging: the operational hierarchy itself.
“Many of our bishops, who in the early years of the church were its leaders, have become its oppressive enforcers. Their primary task became to resist change in any form. The Curia took what they believed a pope wanted—even when his health didn’t allow him to know what he wanted—and turned it into doctrine to be handed down to the people by the bishops.
“The faithful lost their voice, concerning their very lives—issues like basic equality, especially for women who felt the call to serve in ordained roles; people of different sexual orientation, who wanted to be recognized as equals; hardworking good parents who could not afford to raise and educate more children so they used any means to prevent pregnancy; priests who were not allowed to be married and ordained, even though that restriction was not observed in some parts of the church; and those who had troubled marriages and divorced, were denied annulment and told that, if they remarried, they could not receive the sacraments.
“There is no ‘no’ in Catholic and, in fact, the very definition of the word “catholic” makes that clear. Yet few if any bishops deliver that message up the chain of command to the only person who could currently change this. Instead they are very cautious about discussing these things with other bishops.”
“If the church is to survive in this changing world, we must change that culture. By that, I mean that our upward communication and support of the feelings of the laity. Our bishops must once again become advocates for their people. If they don’t, eventually all those people will leave. That exodus has already begun.
“There are currently 2,851 dioceses and archdioceses in the world. With coadjutor and auxiliary bishops, that means we must change the culture of over 3,000 bishops and archbishops. However, to attempt such a task one bishop at a time, or even in groups of fifty or more, would take years to complete and even then would have to be repeated from time to time—and closely monitored. That is impractical.
“A detailed, more efficient plan must be followed, and in the last months of his life, Pope Francis commissioned such a plan, which he asked to be delivered to his successor for implementation.
“Today I am announcing it.”
“As I began to speak, envelopes with a letter and a form to be completed are being delivered to the homes of all of those more than 3,000 bishops, auxiliary bishops and archbishops in those 2,851 dioceses and archdioceses. I expect that all those letters will all have been delivered by the time I finish today.
“The letters request that all those bishops and archbishops complete the enclosed form requesting early retirement with full benefits, plus a retirement bonus effective on November 15, 2019. They are to return the signed retirement request in the addressed envelope provided to the apostolic nuncio in their respective countries by the end of the workday on Friday, May 31, 2019. If there is no nuncio in their country, the forms will be sent directly to the Vatican Substitute Secretary of State.
“If his completed form is not returned by that time, the bishop or archbishop will be in contempt of a lawful order of the pope and will be dismissed immediately with loss of all non-mandatory benefits and, of course, the retirement bonus.”
“Similarly and at the same time, letters of instruction will be delivered to the chancellor of each diocese and archdiocese. These letters will tell them about the request to the bishops and archbishops.
“It will also instruct them to form nominating teams of nine people—four lay women, three lay men and two priests—to select two pastors of their diocese or archdiocese who will compete in an election to determine their new bishop or archbishop. All baptized and confirmed members of each diocese or archdiocese will be eligible to vote.
“Details of this process and the qualifications for candidates will be announced in a press conference on Wednesday at the Vatican embassy.
“Beginning immediately bishops will serve six-year terms, with one re-election allowed. All bishops and archbishops will be subject to recall for cause if 75 percent of the baptized and confirmed members of a diocese or archdiocese sign an official petition on a form issued by the chancellor.
“The election of bishops and auxiliary bishops in every diocese and archdiocese will be held every day during the last full week before November 15. Details of this will also be available on Wednesday.”
“These changes are essential. For far too long, many of the baptized have suffered from inequality, especially women; people with different sexual orientations; innocent partners in marriages who have been divorced and remarried and are denied the Eucharist; those abused by their own priests; and even the poor, while church funds are used for less important, often frivolous things. The voices of the baptized have been ignored by the system and the people who run it. Although these changes are fundamentally necessary, I hope that they will bring back many of those who have given up on us.
“I know these changes will be disliked by many, especially by the affected bishops and archbishops; by ardent Catholic conservatives who think that nothing should ever change; and by the large financial contributors whose real interest is to buy our support on political issues.
“I have been warned by friends that this anger constitutes a threat to me and the people who are helping. We cannot allow our fear to weaken our resolve.
“If it does, or those threats turn into action, we will have lost, and our church is doomed.
“Last Tuesday I had dinner with the President of the United States. Because of the concerns I have just mentioned, I have asked for and been given temporary political asylum in the United States for myself and for those who have travelled here with me, until the elections have been completed and the new bishops can be consecrated in time to enter the 2020 church year in office.
“May God bless our church!”
The above passages are from the novel:
2020 Vision: The Plot to Change the Catholic Church
by Robert Betterton
(available through Amazon)
Robert J. Betterton majored in English and Social Studies with the Jesuits at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. He followed this with a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Journalism and Public Relations from Fordham University. He served in the U.S. Navy, worked in Public Relations for the USPGA, and is the author of three non-fiction books. This is his first novel.