Brentwood Diocese recently decided to axe 10 jobs and the people doing them. It portrayed the change as a really good thing, overall, despite conceding its harmful effect on the staff who were losing their employment.
Among them were Sr Nuala Gannon IBVM, diocesan adviser for adult religious education for 17 years, Elisabeth Abbott, secretary for the Marriage and Family Life Department, and Davina Bolt, who were director of the Social Justice Department for 12 and 18 years respectively. Also made redundant was Lucy Studham, a key member of the Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and the Pastoral Support Team and for 14 years coordinator of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, who ironically was praised in the current issue of the diocesan magazine, and her administrator Sylvia Lanz.
These are part of changes brought in under Bishop Alan Williams, who took over last year from Bishop Thomas McMahon, who had led the diocese since 1980. In addition, the diocese’s two vicar-generals have been replaced by one vicar-general and a handful of episcopal vicars.
It appears from its press release, the diocese formed the view that the diocese’s costs exceeded income and the only option was to cut employment costs at the diocesan office, Cathedral House. It was decided that the work that had been done by the axed staff would be readily picked up by parishes, especially the laity, who therefore would feel valued and empowered.
The soundness of these views has not been proven. Despite, it seems, the staff affected asking for evidence, and for other alternatives to be explored, the diocese appears not to have been open to any dialogue.
This manner of change may just be lawful, yet we believe all Catholics are being called to holiness and being as Christ-like as possible.
The diocese seems to have fallen far short.
As part of its collaborative ministry, the diocese has a lay Diocesan Pastoral Council for the bishop to consult. But it was not consulted.
It does not feel as though the diocese knows what it is doing, is living its values or is anywhere near being an exemplary employer committed to justice, as it should be.
The consequences may be that the Catholic Church appears not to be living its own values, and its ability to influence society for the better may be weakened.
It is never too late to put things right. How the diocese responds to criticism now will make a huge difference. It may be time for some humility, or even to revisit what it has done.
If you behaved badly, own up; and if you didn't, help us understand how we have misunderstood your behaviour.
Mark Lee is a member of Brentwood Diocesan Pastoral Council and a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development