Several years ago, I was absolutely blessed to read an article about a consultant who worked with clients to make meetings more efficient.
The short version is this: No one really wanted his services, he learned, because the point of meetings is not to accomplish anything but to reinforce the hierarchy of the organization.
This was great because it relieved me of the endless angst I suffered attending meetings where nothing was accomplished. Once I understood that they were only a forum for acknowledging power relationships in the workplace, I could relax and think about other things until they were over.
It's also been helpful in recent years as I've struggled to maintain a connection to the Catholic Church.
Focus on the gospel, forget the hierarchy and go home.
It hasn't always been easy. The all-male hierarchy just seemed goofy as it bumbled around, a (supposedly) celibate group teaching about birth control, men dressed up in ornate robes, hoisting gold cups, talking to the rest of us about how to function in a complex world.
But I could acknowledge the bad while focusing on the good. That was reinforced by the wonderful, thoughtful, generous people I met who were in the same boat.
Lately, though, it's been hard. The church heirarchy is acting like a really naughty child trying to force us to prove we love him no matter how badly he behaves.
This is what I say: Don't push your luck.
Take the sex abuse scandals: The church leadership has been unable or unwilling to understand that the problem isn't just the abusers, it's also what happened, or didn't, after abuse was discovered. Time after time it's a story of cover-ups, moving the offender to another venue, blaming the victims, paying off the abuser, failing to report to civil authorities. Blame the sicko priests, express sorrow for the abused, say three Hail Marys and forget about it.
Profiles in courage, it's not.
It doesn't stop there. The Vatican Bank— the very name shouts moral authority — is revisiting some of its rich history as a place of power plays, back-biting intrigue and shady dealings.
But for many cradle Catholics like myself, the attack on the nuns is the most perplexing of all.
After a two-year investigation (they've got nothing better to do?) the Vatican says the nuns have had the temerity to "disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals." The sisters have just been too worked up about poor people and social justice to keep up with faith and morals, the Vatican says.
As they say, you can't make this stuff up.
Disgusting, but on another level mesmerizing. It has that same awful fascination as watching Texas Gov. Rick Perry trying to remember the three most important things he'd do as president or former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford blundering on with fond reminisinces of the Appalachian Trail before talking about his mistress in Argentina. Please, you think: Not another word, just stop.
But they can't, and I don't believe the church authorities can either. They're locked in a self-referential loop that makes it too easy to dismiss what they don't want to hear. They have meetings with unhappy parishioners, they'll meet with the nuns, but we know what those meetings will accomplish. And so it goes.
I've written about issues in the Catholic Church a few times and I can anticipate the responses. I'll be accused of being a "cafeteria Catholic" who wants to pick and chose the teachings that feel good to her. I'll be told to leave if I don't like the church. I'll receive arcane lectures on theology with the condescending suggestion that I'm just not up to understanding the subtleties of the church's teaching.
They will all be from men.
Perhaps they're right, I really don't know. Theology has never been my thing and, Catholics though we are, I come from a family that chafes at submitting to authority. Maybe I'm not what they want.
But I do feel quite certain about one thing: An organization that lays claim to moral leadership must do more than simply reinforce its own hierarchy.
Reach Jaci Carfagno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 231-1652.