The need to change patterns of leadership in the Indian Catholic Church

by John Wijngaards, National Advisory Council Meeting, Bangalore, 11-13, November, 1974.

Self-reliance in Personnel

The discussion of “Self-reliance in Personnel” must take its starting point from a clear understanding that what is meant in the Church by the term “personnel”. It corresponds sociologically to ”leaders”. The Church will be self-reliant if she possesses competent leaders for all tasks implied in her mission.

Assessing the situation in India it is found that the problem is not so much a quantitative as a qualitative one. The growth of new dynamic leadership is impeded by antiquated concepts of social organisation which are, mistakenly, believed to be part of sacramental authority itself. Genuine leadership will more readily emerge. If the church reforms its external organisation to fit better Christ’s notion of leadership as service, the organic model of organisation and a discipline of free expression.

For training, recruitment and re-allocation of personnel, some new structures would need to be established.

1. The Church in India will be self-sufficient in personnel if and when she will have competent leaders to take charge of all the various tasks the Church will have to perform.

1.1 The Catholic Church in India has at present 7.666.285 members. To serve these members the Church has the following organizational divisions: 85 major ecclesiastical units 178 religious societies 3585 parishes. (1)

1.2 Although the Church is a spiritual community, she is an external organization as well. In her external organization she can and should learn from the secular social sciences. “Since the Church has a visible and social structure as a sign of unity in Christ, she can and ought to be enriched by the development of human social life. The reason is not that the constitution given her by Christ is defective, but so that she may understand it more penetratingly, express it better, and adjust it more successfully to our times.” (The Church Today, 44) (2)

1.3 In the social structure of the Church, personnel can said to exercise a form of “leadership”. Sociologically leaders are those that facilitate the functioning of a social structure by: (a) representation; (b) coordination; (c) example; (d) management; (e) taking the initiative.(3)

l.4 Self-reliance in personnel would mean for the Church that she has sufficient competent leaders to fulfil the various leadership tasks needed to build up or maintain her social structure.

Inadequate training for Church leadership

2. Numerically the Church in India is to a great extent self-sufficient in her pastoral personnel. The vast majority of her priests, brothers, sisters and lay leaders are Indian citizens. However, there is a crying lack of personnel vis-a-vis the missionary task towards the whole Indian populatlon. Also, some Northern areas depend heavily on foreign personnel. But the main problem concerning the Church’s self-sufficiency is the inadequate preparation for leadership among many persons in all ranks.

[2.1 – 2.4 Enumeration of Church statistics.]

2.5 More serious than the statistical shortages mentioned above is the inadequate preparation for leadership in many spheres of the Indian Church.

Many of our priests fail to exercis’e the dynamic role they could play in their various tasks. ,

— Our religious brothers and sisters have not been sufficiently orientated towards the hew demands of leadership required in our age.

— Our laity is generally passive rather than active.

— Many key leadership roles have not yet been successfully transferred from foreign to Indian personnel.

More detailed instances of these deficiencies will be discussed in the points to follow.

2.6 The inadequacy in preparing for leadership can generally be attributed to one of the following causes in the leader:

(a) lack of competence to deal with human relations;

(b) lack of specialized training required for a particular work;

(c) lack of full human maturity in the leader;

(d) lack of a clear responsibility entrusted to the leader. (7)

Leadership in the Church means service

3. To be true to its nature leadership in the Church should be an authoritative service in love. Instead, leadership in the Church is experienced by many as conferring on the leader a new and higher ‘status’. It is this mistaken idea that may be the main cause for passivity among our laity.

3.1 Authority is the legitimate power invested in a person by which he directs another person’s behaviour according to the values and aims found in the social structure in which he has authority.

The fact of authority and the ways in which it can be exercised should be carefully distinguished.

3.2 The authority Jesus established in His Church is something startingly new. It is totally motivated by, and an expression of, love.(9) Humble service and love for people is an essential characteristic of the leadership taught in the New Testament.(10)

3.3 The Vatican Council too defines service in love as an essential characteristic of leadership in the Church.

— “Priests are taken from among men and appointed for men… Hence they deal with other men as with brothers. This is the way that Our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, a man sent by the Father to people, dwelt among us and willed to become like His brothers in all things except sin” (Priests, 3).

“Let (the religious superior) use his authority in a spirit of service for the brethren and manifest thereby the charity with which God loves them. Governing his subjects as God’s own sons, and with regard for t-heir human personality, a superior will make it easier for them to obey gladly.” (Religious Life. 14).

3.4 The layman is not a second-rate member of the Church. The difference between clergy,and layman is not one of ‘status’ but of function. “By divine institution Holy Church is structured and governed with a wonderful diversity. ‘For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many are one body in Christ, but several members of one another’ (Rom 12,4-5) • • • There is in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex … “And, if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, dispensers of mysteries, and shepherds on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to dignity and to activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ” (The Church, 32).

3.5 Yet it is common for members of the Church to consider bishops, priests, and religious as persons belonging to a higher status or class with well-circumscribed privileges, social prestige and professional security.

(a) One reason for this is a historical one. In the past social status was based on ascription, i.e., on one’s belonging to a certain class by birth or enrolment. The clergy acquired a similar status in the Middle Ages.(11)

(b) Another reason can be found in the many external customs traditionally maintained in the Church which are interpreted by people as status symbols, e.g., distinctive dress, characteristic gestures, separate dwelling, maintenance of ‘distance’, etc.

(c) It cannot be denied that some personnel in the Church speak and behave as if ‘higher status’ rather than service is the basis of their leadership.(13)

3.6 The imagined status difference between priests, brothers and sisters on the one hand, and the laity on the other, is, perhaps, the most important sociological reason for the lack of leadership among our laity.

(a) Such status differentiation in society generally leads to lack of involvement, passivity and even hostility among those considered of lower status.(14)

(b) The Protestant churches with less stress on status in the ministers have developed better leadership among their laymen.(15)

3.7 Leadership in the Church should regain its image of being ‘authoritative service in love’:

(a) Because this is the true nature of the authority instituted by Christ.

(b) Because we live in a democratic and achievement-oriented society where all people are equal and judged by their service in society.

(c) Because it is a necessary condition for truly involving the whole laity in the mission of the Church.

The leadership model should be collegial, not paternalistic

4. To foster a more dynamic leadership among her personnel the Church in India should move away from her present “paternalistic” model of administration to an “organic” one. In this way she will also reflect better the organic union of all members in Christ.

4.2 “Paternalistic” organization invaryingly results in producing a climate of fear:

— initiative and critical judgment will be explained as an assault on established authority;

— the factor of power silences “feedback” and “upward communication”;

— subordinates reduce their involvement to a minimum to avoid clashes with authority;

— the.’desire to please superiors’ replaces genuine creative thinking and personal leadership.(17)

4.3 The same climate of fear with its adverse effects can be observed In India:

— among priests and religious in diocesan context;

—- among religious within their religious communities;

—- in parishes and institutions managed by Church personnel;

—- in major seminaries, novitiates and other houses of training.

This model has these characteristics:

(a) The organization is understood as a living organism or ’system’ in which the total has interdependent, but yet autonomous parts.

(b) Decisions are taken by all leaders within the context of the particular responsibility entrusted to them.

(c) Communication and relationships are strong in the horizontal field of each team, as well as between subordinated teams.

(d) The strength of the organization is the internal ‘organic’ structure and the common commitment to the organization’s task.

(e) Creativity and loyalty to the common task are the norms meriting recognition

and promotion.(19)

4.5 The “organic” model of ecclesiastical leadership corresponds far better to the expectations of Christ and the directives of the Vatican Council.

(a) The Church is Christ’s Body in which each organ has an interdependent yet autonomous function 1 Cor 12/12-31; Rom 12/3-8) under the leadership of the apostles (l Cor 14). (cf. The Church, 7).

(b) Decision-making is a process that should involve the whole body of the Church.

– All Bishops “share in the responsibility for the universal Church” (Bishops, 6)

– Priests share, in one and the same priesthood and ministry under their bishop. They are the bishop’s “necessary helpers and counsellors in the ministry” (Priests, 7-8) )

– All members of a religious community share in responsibility for the welfare of the whole community (Religious Life, l4)

– Lay Christians “share in the role, of Christ the Priest, the Prophet and the King” (Laity, 10).

(c) Communication and relationships are envisaged to be horizontal rather than only vertical:

– The bishops have collegiate power by which all can act together under the Pope (Bishops, 4-5).

– priests should help in administering the diocese “by a group or senate of priests representing the presbytery” (Priests, 7).

– Religious should direct their own societies by councils and chapters (Religious Life, 14).

– Parish clergy and laymen should solve pastoral questions “by common delibera tions” (Laity, 10).

(d) The inner force of the Church is the Holy Spirit Himself who binds all in one common commitment (The Church, 4).

(e) All members have to contribute creatively to the building up of the Church. Initiative should be encouraged (The Church, 37)(20)

4.6 Some leaders in the Church in India are making sincere efforts, and are scoring significant successes, in bringing about that “continual reformation in the Church of which she always has need” (Ecumenism, 6). The over-all picture, however, is less bright. Many sincere members of the Church have the impression that instead of implementing the Vatican reform in spirit as well as in letter, there is a concerted effort on the part of some to solidify the pre-Vatican model of organization. The reasons for this reaction should be analysed and tensions should be resolved. Otherwise the Church will not produce the dynamic and charismatic leaders she needs for her enormous mission to India. (21)

Freedom and truth in leadership are essential

5. In all her fields of apostolate the Church in India faces challenging and new tasks. The leadership to meet these challenges will only arise if the Church is pervaded with an atmosphere of freedom and truth.

5.1 – The Vatican Council makes truth and freedom two fundamental principles binding all:

(a) “All people … are bound… to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth” (Religious Freedom, 2).

(b) “The inquiry into truth is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication, and dialogue” (Religious Freedom. 3).

(c) “All the faithful, Clerical and lay, possess a lawful freedom of inquiry and thought, and the freedom to express their minds humbly and courageously about those matters in which they enjoy competence.” (The Church Today, 62).

5.2 Sociological studies show that freedom, in order to function properly, should neither be considered as a total absence of limitations nor as a presence of limitations but as “the absence of limitations within mutually agreed boundaries. (22)

In the Church too tasks should be given with full responsibility in its execution and a clear indication of the limits of this responsibility.

5.3 The “trial-and-error” stage is a necessary element of creatively evolving new approaches to problems. In the Church too this should recognised. Creative work by subordinate leaders should not constantly be stifled by interference from above.

5.4 Future leaders cannot be trained adequately if they are not brought face to face with actual situations and living persons.

The tendency to ‘isolate seminarians and reli- gious-in-training from the press and cinemas, from meeting families and from ‘pastoral involvement is not conducive to good leadership formation.

5.5 Public opinion (Communications, 8) is also within the Church an important means of leadership training. Because of constant supervision and pressures from above, the free exercise of this manner of horizontal communication has become difficult in the Indian context. Whatever the causes leading to the change (about which I am not competent to judge), it is greatly to be regretted that the “New Leader” is no longer experienced by many as the medium of free expression it used to be. Whether rightly or wrongly, the editorial change-over of this influential Weekly has been interpreted by many as an attempt to curtail freedom of thought and freedom of speech within the Church mf India,

5.6 It seems of little use to call for more vocations and insist on long formation periods if the very atmosphere of the Church does hot encourage the growth of real leaders. Surely Christ is not in need of passive, dependent and servile leaders, but rather of persons who, with deep conviction and a commitment of their total selves, can apply initiative, responsible maturity and creative intelligence to their task.(24)

New specialised training in leadership is required

6. The Church in India should adopt practical measures to assure self-sufficiency in her personnel. These would include: specialised training, recruitment, re-allocation and the promotional programmes.

6.1 Specialised training is an absolute requirement for leadership in many fields of the apostolate.

(a) The work already admirably begun in so many National Centres and Institutions should be supported and strengthened.

(b) More priests, religious and laymen should be sent for higher specializations in the new branches of apostolate, such as mass media, catechetics, liturgy, social development and youth work.

(c) Brothers and Sisters should be encouraged to specialize in the theological sciences so that they can take a proportionate share in this important aspect of the Church’s work.

6.2 Traditionally no special preparation was offered to those selected for the highest offices in the Church: bishops, major superiors and national lay organizers. One reason for this was the laudable conviction that no one should aspire after dignity. Moreover, the Church has rightly applied very rigorous principles of selection.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that this procedure has sometimes led to the election of candidates, however worthy in themselves, who proved unequal to their task. In other cases it sometimes left candidates without the preparation that would have greatly benefited them for their heavy office.

Salva reverentia it is pointed out that preparation for these higher offices is not against humility once it is understood that the offices are not conferring a higher status, but an “authoritative service in love” (see No.3 above). It is suggested that those competent to deal with the problem in the various sectors of the Church work out a program of specialized formation that would meet the need.(25)

6.3 To avoid wastage and duplication there should be greater coordination in the allocation of personnel.

— Regions with few indigenous vocations or requiring more workers should be supplied with personnel from well-provided regions. This re-allocation has made admirable progress in the past ten years, but should possibly be coordinated and encouraged by a special structure erected for this purpose.

— There should be a greater mobility of those persons who have special qualification and expertise in certain fields.

The apostolate should transcend the limits between parish and institution, religious work and diocesan apostolate.

6.4 Promotional programmes should be initiated and maintained for forms of leadership that are in particular need of being strengthened:

(a) leaders in specialised groups: youth, women, students, labourers, families;

(b) leaders in the ministry: lay theologians, catechists, lectors, permanent deacons;

(c) leaders in religious life, contemplatives, members of secular institutes, retreat preachers.

Responsibility for these programmes should be entrusted to the organizations most closely related to the particular field of apostolate involved.


I submit the above points as a basis for discussion, realising that some of them need to be corrected, modified or complemented.

I submit them with full confidence and trust.

I submit them because I have seen the Spirit at work in our Church in India, manifesting Himself in the dedication, the concern and the common search of all her members.

May He who is the Spirit of Truth and the Soul of all Christian leadership, enlighten our discussions and transform them into dynamic deeds towards the building up of the Church. For “the Spirit pleads with the Father for us (Rom 8/26),

John Wijngaards


1. For these statistics see the Catholic Directory of India, 1972, St. Paul’s, Delhi, pg.5,.

2. Throughout this paper quotations from the Vatican Council are taken from W.M. ABBOTT’S translation, The Documents of Vatican II Guild’Press, New York 1966.

3. These are some of the classical roles attributed to leaders. For the demands made on leaders in our own century Time Magazine published a penetrating study entitled “In Quest of Leadership”, Time, July 13, 1974, pgs.27-71.

4. Catholic Directory, pg.5.

5. Census of India, 1971, volume on Religion by A. CHANDRA SEKHAR, Paper 2 of 1972, pg,III. The total number of Christians given is 14.223.3S2, i.e. 2,60% of the population.

6. These numbers are deducted from the individual figures mentioned under each diocese in the ecclesiastical units discussed. Compared to the data of para. 2.3 these figures seem to be slightly out.

7. cf. C.G. BROWNE and.T.S. COHEN, The Study of Leadership, Danville 1958. See also: L.A. ALLEN, The Management Profession, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York 1964.

8. M.B. MILES, Learning to Work in,Groups, Columbia University Press New York 1959, esp. pages 15-26. -Important work on different ‘leadership styles’ has also been undertaken by R.R. BLAKE and J.S. MOUTON. On the two principles of “concern for production” and “concern for people” five main styles of leadership are analysed which, I believe, are frequently found among Church leaders also. See: The Managerial Grid: An Exploration of Key Managerial Orientations, Austin 1962; The Managerial Grid, Gulf Publishing Company, Houston 1967.

9. J.L. MACKENZIE, “Authority and Power in the New Testament”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 26 (1964) pgs.413-422. See also by the same author: Authority in the Church, Sheed arid Ward, New York 1965; “Ministerial Structures in the New Testament”, Concilium 4 (1972) pgs.13-22.

10. W.F. DEWAN, “Authority in the Church”-, American Ecclesiastical Review l6l (1969) pgs.73-90.

11. R. TOWLER, “The Changing Status of the Ministry?”, Crucible, May (1968) pgs.73-78; K.B. MAYER and W.’BUCKLEY, Class and Society, New York 1969, esp. pgs. 13-15. Concerning the Middle Ages, see: J. HUIZINGA, Herfstijd der Middeleeuwen, Haarlem 1949, chapt 3.

12. E. GOFFMANN, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Penguin 1971, pgs.40-48.

13. It is difficult to substantiate this kind of statement as relevant facts of this nature are usually not published. For a frank discussion of the problem one can read, howevery SADHU ITTHYAVIRAE, “Priests and Religious as seen by Kerala’s laity”. Vaidikamitram 1 (1968) pgs.337-347.

14. Cf. L. COCH and J.P.R. FRENCH, “Overcoming Resistance to Change”, Human Relations 1 (1948) pgs.512-532,. . The same analysis was given by many seminars all over India in 1968. See: All India Seminar. Preparatory Seminars. An Assessment, CBCI Centre, New Delhi 1969, pgs.386-389.

15. This better leadership can be factually proved by: a greater share in bearing the financial cost of the ministry; higher involvement in Church projects, such as Bible Society work, Literature Service, Mass Media apostolate, etc.; often greater participation in the administration of Church affairs.

16. This model of organization was described as an ideal by L. URWICK, in The Elements of Administration, Harper, New York 1944. The characteristic features listed here are abbreviated from T. BURNS and G.M. STALKER, The Management of Innovation, Tavistock Publications, London 1961, pgs.119-120. It is discussed in relation to Church administration by P. F» Rudge, Ministry and Management. A Study in Ecclesiastical Adminisyration. ‘Tavistock Publications, London 1968, pgs.26-27.

17. N.R.F.MAYER and J,HAYES,. Creative Management, John Wiley and Sons, New York 1962,

18. ‘‘Systemic” is the technical term coined in secular management. When applied to the Church the term “organic” seems to be better suited.

19. A classical discussion of this model of organization can be found with R.A.JOHNSON, F.E.KAST and J.E.ROSENZWEIG, The Theory and . Management of Systems, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York 1963. It is extensively applied to the Church by P.F.RUDGE, Ministry . and Management, see above note 16. See also: E.J.MILLER and A.K. RICE, Systems of Organization, Tavistock Publications, London 1967.

20. For various aspects of this new model of organization we refer to: A.MUELLER, “Authority and Obedience in the Church”, Concilium 5 (1966) pgs.40-48; R.TORBET, “Authority and.Obedience in the Church Today”, New Blackfriars 5o (1969) pgs.582-588; D.HAY, “Authority and Democracy”, New Blackfriars 5o (1969) pge,323 – 327? J.J.HUGHES, “Authority and Democracy in the Church”, American Ecclesiastical Review 163 (l970) pgs,362-373.

21. One of the most common causes for resistance against Vatican II’s concept of co-responsibility is the mistaken notion that such a sharing would compromise the authority given by Christ to His Church, The mistake lies in identifying the authority itself (the power to influence) with a particular way in which it is to be exercised,

22. R.DAVENPQRT,.The Dignity of Man, Harper and Brothers, New York 1955, pg.171.

23. W.S.RAY, The Experimental Psychology of Original Thinking, MacMillan , New York 1967; J,G.MASON, How to be More Creative Executive, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York i960; E.DE BONO, The Use of Lateral Thinking, Pellican 1967.

24. It should be noted that in the past members of the Catholic Church have often been found to be more passive and servile than those belonging to other religious or non-religious groupings. They cling harder to prejudices. They are mere easily inclined to change their opinion on ‘prestige suggestion’, i.e. when told a prestigious person holds it, Cf..T.J.McCARTHY, “Personality Traits of Seminarians”, Stud.Psych.Cath.Univ.Amer. 5 (1942) no 4; G.W,ALLPORT and B.M,KRAMER,.”Some roots of prejudice”, Journal of Psychology 32 (19^6) pgs.9-39; S.M.LIPSET, “Opinion Formation in a crisis situation”, Public Opinion Quarterly 17 (1953)pgs. 2o-46; J.HARDING, “Prejudice and ethnic relations”, ch,27 in G.LINZEY (ed.), Handbook,of Social Psychology. Addleon-Wesley, Cambridge Mass., 195^; E.H.NOWLAN, J’The picture of the •Catholic’ which emerges from attitude tests’,’ Lumen Vitae 12 (1957) pgs. 275-285; M.ARGYLE, Religious Behaviour. Routledge, London 1958, ch. on “The Attitudes of Religious People”.

25. In secular management too it has been found how the procedure of “allowing the cream to come to the top” often misfires. A humorous, but thought-provoking commentary on this was written by L.J.PETER and R.HULL in The Peter Principle. Pan Books, London 1970. Suggestions on how to select and prepare candidates for higher offices are given by T.A.MAHCNEY, Building the Executive Team, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs 1961.