Time for the People of God to take more responsibility in the Church

Time for the People of God to take more responsibility in the Church Sisters Mary Margaret Kreuper and Lana Chang

As scandalous headlines go it’s hard to compete with ‘nuns spend $500,000 school donations in Casino’.

While the secular media is having a field day reporting the details of the story and anti-Church commentators are dining out on the added discomfort and embarrassment to Catholics, the scandal is only compounded by the fact that the story is absolutely true.

Sisters Mary Margaret Kreuper and Lana Chang have admitted taking the money and spending it on gambling sprees in Las Vegas.

According to Msgr Michael Meyers of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles where the sisters are based, the Church will not press charges and instead wants to resolve the situation internally with the money repaid and the nuns disciplined by their order.

It might seem timely to point out that the Church’s attempts to solve crimes internally in the past has had disastrous confidence and led to an evaporation in trust from ordinary Catholics in the institutions established to steward the Church.

Poverty plan

One also wonders if the two were lay employees rather than religious sisters whether the decision would be made not to engage with the criminal justice system on embezzlement of such a large scale.

Another question is how two religious sisters with vows of poverty plan to pay back $500,000. Have they had such success at the roulette table that they are now independently wealthy, or will, as seems likely, their religious congregation pay the money back to the archdiocese? A case of robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Apart from the embarrassment the case causes to Catholics as they see the Church they love once more dragged through the mud, it raises serious questions about stewardship and accountability within the Church.

Much like how the Government is reliant on taxpayers for State revenue, the Church is dependent on the People of God for income.

Faith-based schools, hospitals and other religious institutions in Ireland are often spoken about as if they are the personal property of the diocese or religious congregation charged with running them. In reality, these assets have been built on the pennies and ha’pennies of countless generations of Irish Catholics who scrimped and saved to build churches, parish halls and schools.

This infrastructure is held in trust for the People of God by those raised up by virtue of their office in the Church to govern. Such responsibility should not be taken lightly, and it rarely is.

A key part of leadership in the Christian community is the concept of stewardship. Stewardship is about taking responsibility for the prudent management of assets rather than assuming ownership. At every level in the Church there should be accountability from those in leadership to the People of God when it comes to the prudent stewardship of the temporal goods of the Church.

Mystery surrounds what the Sisters of Charity are doing in relation to St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin and the planned National Maternity Hospital. There is talk of the sisters gifting the assets to the State or asking the Department for Health of a nominal annual rent somewhere in the region of €10.

As our reporting on the issue has indicated, the sisters are remaining tight-lipped on the issue.

The approval of the Vatican will be needed if the sisters are to dispose of property. And Rome will have a responsibility to ensure that resources built up over generations of sacrifices are not squandered or simply given away.

Amongst the reforms of Church structures that Pope Francis is discussing with his advisers must be transparency and accountability around the prudent management and – where necessary – disposal of the temporal goods of the Church held in trust for the People of God.

Some 160 years ago, Msgr George Talbot’s remark that the laity are in the Church to “pray up, pay up and shut up!” earned the famous retort from Cardinal Newman that: “Laity? The Church would look foolish without them.”

We’re still waiting for flesh to be put on that bone and given the People of God a real role in the governance of the Church.