The red-eyed pathos of Kevin Rudd’s parting speech to the press as Prime Minister was moving to all but the hardest of hearts: a man of good intentions unable to all that he had hoped for reasons tied up with his personal limitations as a leader.
But swift as Rudd’s departure from the top job was, to my certain knowledge his command of the Labor Government was in doubt at least four months ago. Senior Cabinet members had agreed he had to go. The question was when and opinion in March favoured his removal after the next election.
Obviously opinions changed and a combination of Tony Abbott’s and the Coalition’s rise in popularity along with Rudd’s continuing Presidential style of non-consultation, indecision and equivocation meant the Party had had enough of him. The saviour of the Party became the millstone around its neck.
So, out he goes.
The sacking of a Prime Minister is just a more visible instance of something that happens every day on a less spectacular scale: leaders are held accountable and judged on their performances; people in relationships assess the sustainability of the union and act on the assessment; executives, workers and business partners are under constant scrutiny for their effectiveness in and value to the enterprise they serve. And the continuation of employment and engagement terms are assessed, judged and acted on.
Life in many regards is not sentimental. Ask John Howard. When things fall apart, the separation is always painful and can be messy That’s why we have industrial law, family courts and civil litigation: to settle disputes about assets and entitlements due to various parties when their engagement is over.
Life in the service of the Church can be unsentimental too. Things fall apart, disputes need resolution and there are parties to be reconciled.
In the Church two types of activity carry with them different types of status and authority. Amid the myriad services the Church provides, the assessment of qualifications and experience of candidates for positions is done by selection panels that appoint people to positions in education, health and welfare services. The customary review and measurement of Key Performance Indicators are used to evaluate performance and renew appointment. Where the outcome is disputed, the relevant laws and courts are available to the parties..
The other line of status and authority in the Church comes from formal authorisation through ordination and vows – as clergy or religious who are the ones recognised in public as the carriers of the community’s story, the ones whose lives are explicitly identified with the mysteries of our religion in ways that set them apart.
Bur frequently they also have significant roles in administrative, financial and managerial leadership. But when the roles are conducted in a way judged incompetent by comparison with a similarly positioned professional role, there is often a problem. Religious Congregations often have processes but other parts are less equipped to meet the challenge. Except with sex or only sometimes with money, the Church has no structure of appraisal or method of action on the appraisal. Clergy – priests and bishops - are not accountable in ways their professional equivalents would take for granted.
Europe is awash with front page newspaper stories of senior clerics in all sorts of bother as a direct consequence of this lack of accountability and transparency. Cardinal Sepe, the current Archbishop of Naples (whose predecessor lost all credibility and was shamed out of office for financial dealings he had with the Mafia) is himself under attack for the sale of a very substantial Church-owned property for 25% of its valuation to a “friend”. In Germany, there’s the tragic comedy of the alcoholic bishop of Augsburg with various types of abuse question marks over him as well, resigning in shame only to come back directly petitioning the Vatican for reinstatement. And in Belgium, a bishop fell on his own sword over sexual abuse allegations.
And it’s not as though each of these clerics is a first offender. Each of them had well known “form” in Church circles before the current issues arose - in the case of the alcoholic in Augsburg when he was translated to that diocese from his previous Episcopal See and the Cardinal of Naples when he was President of Propaganda Fide.
Most Catholics don’t know how bishops are selected and appointed or how parish priests are appointed and replaced. Much less would they know how one might be “impeached” and removed. So when it comes to major (though not sexual) abuses of power, what redress does anyone have and what processes can be followed?
Clergy and religious can go to Church Courts and in the last decade, I know of some notable successes in those courts by clergy and religious over the arbitrary and abusive use of power (the Court’s findings) by Australian bishops. But for the sake of the whole Church, occasional moments of transparency and accountability are not enough.
In 1997, when he made the first public report on the Towards Healing process then recently introduced by the Australian bishops, the responsible bishop, Geoff Robinson, was strenuously cross-examined by the media on sex abuse and other forms of the abuse of power in the Church.
His response was to say the Australian Church had made a great start on sex abuse but that it was only a start. Let the process end where it will in the revision of Church views on sexuality and in having Church officials accountable for their actions, he added.
That was over 13 years ago. It’s an international issue and not restricted to Australia. But I don’t see much happening. The scandals will continue as long as there’s no objective, transparent and accountable process of appointments, review of performance and readiness to listen to experience outside confined clerical circles.
We have done it with sex abuse. There are plenty of secular parallels that provide for accountability, assessment and transparency in the workplace. Why can’t we search the field, see what’s on offer and adapt to Church needs?
Michael Kelly SJ is founder of Church Resources and currently executive director of Union of Catholic Asian News.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.