The Gospel teaches us that we are accountable. Jesus taught the parable of the king who entrusted ‘talents’ to his ministers: one received ten, two others five and one. When the king returned he demanded an account (Matthew 25,14-30; Luke 19,12-28). This obviously applies also to church leaders, but are they only accountable to God? Surely not. Paul gives the example in his address to the elders of Ephesus. “You know what my way of life has been ever since I set foot among you … I have never asked anyone for money or clothes . . .Here and now I swear that my conscience is clear as far as all of you are concerned . . . I have never asked anyone for money or clothes . . .” (Acts 20,17-38). He was rendering an account to the community of Ephesus. See note 1 below. The trouble in the present-day Catholic Church is that church leaders are only considered accountable to those ‘higher up’ in the hierarchy:laity to clerics, priests to bishops, bishops to the pope. Some bishops have given a good example by publishing accurate financial reports of the diocese or by publicly explaining their actions. But by and large this does not happen. Church leaders act as if they are only responsible to God and their ecclesiastical superior. There is no proper mechanism by which those in authority can be held accountable by the people in their care.
Not a pyramid of power . . . !
“The debate over authority and accountability is not in the end about political structures in the institution, but about whether the Church is a divine or human reality. Of course, it is both human and divine, but the insistence on unthinking obedience to a hierarchical structured polity is the reduction of the church to a purely human reality. Liberals who stop at a simple critique of the dysfunctional elements of the present church structures are playing into the hands of the institution by accepting the rules of the game as the institution understand them. The truth is that good order in the Church is God-given, but it is a structure of openness, accountability patterned on the divine life, not on the pyramid of power that has bedeviled the Church since the Middle Ages. . . .” Tom Kyle
When thinking people of all persuasions look at church leadership, they raise questions about, for example, real participation of the membership in its governance and how in fact church leadership is to be held accountable, and to whom. If the Church and its leadership profess to follow the values of the Gospel and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, then its internal life, its methods of governing and its use of authority will be scrutinised on the basis of what we profess. Bishop Kevin Dowling — Read his words!
The Church, too, is accountable. In the past, at times, some Catholics acted like the Church was above reproach, exempt from the demands of accountability, on its own, above it all. That was wrong. That was tragic. As your archbishop, I am accountable to many, and I’m glad that I am, because I am weak, imperfect, flawed. Daily do I examine my conscience. Every two weeks I tell God, “I’m sorry,” in the sacrament of penance. Often do I meet with people, boards, and councils to whom I report, and ask for advice and criticism. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan — Read more!
NOTE 1. Accountability is implicit in this description of the bishop’s task: “A bishop, since he is sent by the Father to govern his family, must keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to lay down his life for his sheep. Being taken from among people, and himself beset with weakness, he is able to have compassion on the ignorant and erring. Let him not refuse to listen to his subjects, whom he cherishes as his true children and exhorts to cooperate readily with him. As having one day to render an account for their souls, he takes care of them by his prayer, preaching, and all the works of charity, and not only of them but also of those who are not yet of the one flock. who also are commended to him in the Lord. Since, like Paul the Apostle, he is debtor to all people, let him be ready to preach the Gospel to all, and to urge his faithful to apostolic and missionary activity. But the faithful must cling to their bishop, as the Church does to Christ, and Jesus Christ to the Father, so that all may be of one mind through unity, and abound to the glory of God.” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium § 27.