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A call for transparency and accountability in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

At issue is an archdiocesan capital campaign to raise $165 million from lay Catholics for archdiocesan programs.

cathedral of st. paul
Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis want a voice at the decision-making level of our church.

A growing number of lay Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are abandoning the “pay, pray, and obey” attitude of an older generation. We want a voice at the decision-making level of our church. 

At issue is an Archdiocesan capital campaign to raise $165 million from lay Catholics for archdiocesan programs. A feasibility study, facilitated by the Steier Group of Omaha, Neb., is now on Archbishop John C. Nienstedt’s desk. Archbishop Nienstedt is quoted in the April 10 issue of the archdiocesan newspaper The Catholic Spirit: “The purpose of this formal and confidential study is to gather valuable feedback from our priests and lay leaders so that I can make an informed decision regarding how to proceed.” The archbishop’s decisions are promised for mid-July.

It is precisely this desire for an informed decision-making process that we share with our archbishop. The survey methods used by the Steier Group – and the questions included in the survey – do not equip the archbishop to make important decisions about the financial future of the archdiocese, decisions that are informed by genuine engagement with the local laity. 

The survey questions used in this study were based in an assumption that the general goals laid out by the archbishop are satisfactory for the local Catholic community. Thus, rather than infusing the archdiocese with broad and creative contributions in envisioning how the church serves the world, the results of this survey can only tell the archbishop to what extent local Catholics approve of his preset priorities. 

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Among the questions that could elicit such new energy for the local church – and allow for more informed decision-making by the archbishop – are questions about the kind of clerical leadership people would like to see fostered in seminary training. The question was about how much money to allot to the training currently provided.

Other questions that could offer the archbishop the feedback he seeks as he makes these crucial financial decisions include:

  • What kind of leadership do we want our Catholic culture to produce? 
  • How can Catholic schools become more productive in developing that leadership?
  • What percentage of the church’s income should be allocated to helping people in economic need? 
  • What is the ratio of money dedicated to Catholic Charities to money spent on institutional upkeep?  Should that ratio change?
  • How do we increase the percentage of registered parishioners going to weekly mass (currently estimated at one-third)?

The Council of the Baptized, a panel of lay Catholics offering a collegial forum for Catholics to express their hopes and concerns, has published “A Call for Transparency and Accountability: A Recommendation to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis” [PDF].

In this position paper, the Council of the Baptized recommends that the archbishop design and implement a regular channel of two-way communication between the lay people and archdiocesan decision-makers in matters of financial accountability and the use of archdiocesan funds. It also recommends that the archdiocese join the National Leadership Roundtable for Church Management and implement its standards of excellence and policies of openness in all matters of finance and governance within the archdiocese. 

Archbishop Nienstedt responded to these recommendations by letter on June 26, writing that the call for transparency and accountability was not welcome from people who “dissent from the teaching of the Catholic Church.” We deeply regret his stance. 

We continue to ask the archbishop to open a dialogue on the model of church that people are praying for. Is the current model working? Is there a way to bring the faithful into the decision-making processes with confidence that the Holy Spirit is also speaking through them? If the archbishop opens this process, it would be a step in the direction of transparency and accountability. It might even help to earn trust. And it would certainly allow him to make more fully informed decisions about the allocation of archdiocesan funds. With this common goal of informed decision-making, we hold the archbishop in prayer and hope as he faithfully considers the financial priorities of this capital campaign.  

Paula Ruddy and Paul Mohrbacher wrote this piece on behalf of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and the Council of the Baptized.

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