July/August 2018

Troubled times

Anthony Towey

The Church is living in troubled times. Since the last edition of this periodical, legislative moves in Ireland regarding abortion have abrogated pro-life medical traditions long advocated by the Church but which even pre-date Christ. In England, the Government has reneged on a promise made to the Church regarding the building of new schools. Australia, meanwhile, has a Royal Commission scrutinising the validity of the seal of confession which could have ramifications across the Commonwealth.

To be sure, the travails of Anglophone Catholics pale beside the plight of Middle Eastern Christians and the difficulties faced by the Church in the Indian sub-continent, but it is hard not to be dismayed by increasing levels of hostility, sanctioned and endorsed by the mass (sic) media.

Caught in the frenzy and emotion of the moment, it is easy to lash out and say or do things that might be regretted later. Although as Christians we are called to be non-judgemental of persons and resistant to provocation, some of the scenes following the Irish vote were specifically humiliating for the Church. In terms of spirituality I am reminded once again of Ronald Rohlheiser’s comment that in the New Testament, the opposite of ‘contemplation’ is ‘crowd’. In terms of common sense I am reminded that there is only one thing worse than a bad loser: a bad winner. 

And yet these moments, however painful, can help refine and thus redefine our priorities as the people of God. We read with probably too much familiarity the biblical accounts of Israel’s various humiliations when they had lost their bearings. We marvel at their ungrateful grumblings in the desert having been liberated by God from slavery in Egypt. How could they possibly convince Aaron to fashion a golden calf? We marvel at the Pharisees whose nit picky attitudes left them unable to celebrate miracles because they didn’t happen on the correct day of the week. We even sigh at the disciples who are dull to the revolution of the mind being required of them by Jesus.

Yet how will we ever be humble if we are never humiliated? How will we ever be holy if we are not humble?

I recall in my younger days being urged to take a prayer group I was leading to see a famous holy man who was regarded as the spiritual heir of Padre Pio. ‘He has great insight - he will speak wisdom to you and your group.’ Off we went and waited for some mystical advice. After waiting our turn he greeted us and listened to our story. We asked him for his counsel and he merely said ‘holiness’ – ‘that is what all groups of the Spirit need’. That was it. ‘Next’. And there was me hoping for maybe a grand prophetic vision - he didn’t even give us a pastoral plan!

There is no short cut to sanctity, it is always through rather than around the challenges of life. What we can do, however is accompany one another and in that spirit this current issue of the Pastoral Review can be heartily commended precisely because it begins with Ron Witherup’s consideration of Pope Francis’ ‘Universal call to holiness.’ Moreover, controversy and challenge in the Church are not new and while Pia Matthews reflects in 50 years of Humanae vitae, Raphael Gallagher offers a thoughtful perspective on the recent abortion referendum.

In terms of our schools, Sean Whittle reflects on the way Religious orders have inspired and informed the way we do Catholic Education, while Claire d’Netto and Bernard Howell show how that might be anchored through models of servant leadership and chaplaincy.

In the context of troubled times, reflections on liturgy by James Cassidy and Michael Marchal are not peripheral but central to our prayer and identity. Yet we cannot be complacently content with ceremonial and Bridie Stringer sees the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress as an opportunity to embrace the consolations of continuity and the challenge to change.

Withal, in responding to the call to holiness we are not alone. We are family. Despite Luke 6.23, we may not feel like rejoicing when our Church is belittled, but at the very least we must resist the temptation to exchange insults. As the old song has it, they will only know we are Christians by our love.    

They’ll know we are Christians
1960s hymn by Fr Peter Scholtes   

Pope Francis on the Universal Call to Holiness

Ronald D. Witherup PSS

This is the first of a series of three articles on Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation. Ronald D. Witherup PSS is Superior General of the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice.

Pope Francis continues to forge ahead with his vision of reform for the Church. The latest contribution to his plan is a document titled Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Exult), an apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in the contemporary world. It was publicly presented on 9 April 2018, at a press conference, which featured an unusual trio of presenters: Bishop Angelo De Donatis, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, Mr Gianni Valente, a journalist, and Madam Paola Bignardi, a lay woman from Catholic Action1. The composition itself of these experts, rather than a surfeit of cardinals or theologians, emphasizes the main teaching. Holiness is not reserved to the ordained or religious women and men. It is a value for all the faithful, regardless of their state in life or their vocation.

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Fostering lay leadership: The ongoing legacy of schools founded by Religious Congregations

Sean Whittle

Many of our Catholic schools were founded by Religious Congregations. Whilst very few sisters, brothers and ordained religious are now involved in teaching or leading these schools, the founding Religious Congregations are continuing to exert a positive legacy.  This article reflects on how they are fostering lay leadership and deepening the theology of the laity. Sean Whittle is a researcher based at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Religious Congregations and Catholic education today
When it comes to discussions about schools founded by Religious Congregations, there is a widely known narrative which charts their withering involvement in Catholic education over the past sixty years. However, this negative account can be challenged, not least because the warnings about the loss of ‘spiritual capital’ that the likes of Professor Gerald Grace drew attention to almost two decades ago have not come to pass. In what follows it will be explained that there is plenty of evidence that Religious Congregations have been working with their former schools and in so doing, supporting lay leadership in fruitful ways.

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Humanae vitae: A Legacy

Pia Matthews

July 2018 marks fifty years since the publication of Humanae vitae by Pope Paul VI. This article explores why it still resonates today. Pia Matthews lectures in healthcare ethics at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh.

Fifty years on, there is still plenty of talk about a document concerned with contraception. Why? After all, many priests report that issues of contraception do not come up in the confessional. Certainly the Sacrament of Reconciliation as individual confession is in deep crisis in many parishes and this is due to a number of factors. Arguably one significant factor is that there appears to be a disconnection between Church teaching and actual practice. And many point to the practice of contraception as the chief culprit. Undoubtedly Pope John Paul II’s famous Wednesday catechetical sessions and subsequent book, Theology of the Body was written in part, though only in part, to address this disconnection. However, it seems that the debate has moved beyond ‘responsible parenthood’, not the least because the Church is seen as complicit in the HIV AIDS tragedy in Africa by its refusal to accept the distribution of condoms.

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Servant-leadership and characteristics of leaders

Clare D’Netto

This article considers the challenges faced by Christians to adopt the servant-leadership ideal within their professional lives. Clare D’Netto is the Head Teacher of Manor Junior School in Barking, East London.

I have spent many years attending conferences on leadership styles, reading countless books on the topic and taking part in costly self-assessments.  I find the role of a school leader fascinating and the process in identifying the most effective leadership style almost addictive.  Over the years I have completed numerous questionnaires, 360-degree appraisals, self-analyses to reflect on leadership style, whilst simultaneously filling the pockets of many an entrepreneurial leadership guru. Defining and discussing styles of leadership fills bookcases around the world; from natural leaders to rainbow leaders, the list is endless. As a Catholic Head Teacher leading a Catholic school in the London Borough of Havering in East London, my leadership style took inspiration from the Gospel values and I actively strove to lead as Jesus, our model servant-leader:

Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’
(Luke 21.24-27)

However, a move last year took me away from my faith school to become the Head Teacher of a large community school in Barking.  I began to question the effectiveness of the servant-leader philosophy when leading a non-Christian community.  Would this style of leadership be accepted?  Would it be effective?  As a Christian, would I be expected to maintain this preferred leadership style?  Whilst I offer no final solution, the journey I have taken has inspired me to maintain my daily routines of prayer and reflection within the challenges of leading a school.

A generation ago, Greenleaf (1977) offered a secular version of servant-leadership, deriving from Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East. Since the concept of servant-leadership as the action of Jesus Christ means that many people are likely to view it as a Christian leadership theory, and therefore one that can only be practised by Christians, but Punnachet has more recently affirmed the central drive of the metaphor:

It is noteworthy that the term in Greenleaf’s writing incorporates a hyphen. This is no accident. In fact, Greenleaf’s intention is to emphasise that the leader should be a servant first. The servant and leader aspects cannot be separated. The theory, from this perspective, will be complete only when we combine the characteristics of both the servant and the leader.
(Punnachet: 2009;117)

I believe that servant-leadership, as a leadership theory, can be highly effective in both the religious context as well as the pluralist secular world.  However, its unabashedly spiritual philosophy means that it may not always be accepted by a secular community, however powerful a theory. Leaders today are often chosen through psychological testing to identify key personality traits, they are expected to have certain behaviours and many skills.

But there is a pressure for leaders to be good at everything today, to be what we might call ‘rainbow leaders’.  This is because people who show skill in one area are often promoted into corporate positions where they have to take on other kinds of responsibility.  So, rainbow leaders, are expected to be good at inspiring, coaching, accounting, planning and delegating.  If however, someone has risen through the ranks because she’s great at inspiring her colleagues, but it turns out she is lousy at filling in a balance sheet, it can be a recipe for failure.
(van Vugt & Ahuja; 2010:158)

The model of servant leadership contradicts the traditional model of charismatic leaders who rise to positions of power through unwavering self-belief, through magnetic personalities and stirring rhetoric.  Servant-leadership demands a commitment to the poor and marginalized, the vulnerable of the community; it asks of the leader to put the group before the needs of the leader. It is for this reason that I believe that the model of servant leadership is a powerful model when leading a school community.  Whether that community be one based on our faith or it is a secular community, it is fact that the Head Teacher is a Christian and they have Jesus as a role model in their lives, that the servant-leadership philosophy is so attractive. 

Servant-leadership is a style of leadership that is characterised by humility, empathy and a sense of community; it asks the leader to have a respect for ethics and to be the steward of the group’s resources.  However, Greenleaf’s work in the 1970s was not initially based on the interpretations of the gospel.  Servant-leadership has its origins in ancestral societies, where leadership would initially have evolved purely as a device for promoting the survival of the group (van Vugt and Auja: 2010; 39). Arguing for a ‘Catholic servant-leadership’, Punnachet (2009:122) contends:
Jesus demonstrated a new leadership theory and practised one that totally contradicted traditional leadership practice, which focused on power and control. He used love and kindness instead of power or force. He persuaded others to follow his way, but did not manipulate or control them.

In my experience, as a Catholic Head Teacher, leadership in any school is a mission driven to reduce social inequality.  O’Malley (2007:21) notes: ‘There is always more than money involved.’   The recent austerity policy of central and local government has led to cuts that have hit schools hard and yet many Head Teachers have to be constantly creative to face their role in these challenging circumstances and to ensure that their communities continue to thrive and grow.   

My commandment is this… Love one another just as I love you.
(John 15.12)

It is part of our Christian tradition always to have a commitment to the vulnerable in our society.  Through our words, prayers and actions we are taught always to consider how we treat the neediest members of our community,
The poor you will always have with you and you can help them any time you want.
(Mark 14.7)

Servant-leadership provides us with a theory based on unconditional love, where the leader is prepared to put the needs of the community above their own and to lead by example, carrying out the tasks that others may not wish to do.

Therefore, it can be seen that this theory of leadership is based on a philosophy of service, which has love as its foundation. This philosophy pays attention to self-denial and concentrates on genuine concern for others. Hunter (1998) summarised the servant leadership concept by saying that it is based on ‘agape’ or unconditional love. St. Paul defined ‘agape’ (love) in the letter to the Corinthians (see 1 Cor. 13.47). Winston (2002, cited in Patterson 2003) has explained ‘agape’ love as moral love, which means doing the right thing at the right time and for the right reasons (Patterson 2003, 3). This absolute love will encourage people to serve and fulfil others’ needs.
(Punnnachet: 2009;122)

Adopting the philosophy of servant-leadership in my everyday practice is never easy. O’Malley (op. cit.) describes three types of Christian leaders: priest, prophet and king all of which combine the traditional authoritarian leader with the theory of servant-leadership. He recognises that the apparently simple description of servant-leader will never totally capture an individual’s experience, but the three callings do help us to understand the different routes that Christian school leaders may take and the personal calling behind this.  These categories also help us to identity how servant-leadership can be diluted by our personal calling, experiences, social background.  Furthermore, they help us to understand the different approaches and the different interpretations that leaders make of the key principles and order of priorities that Grace (2002) recognised as a challenge to mission integrity.

This table summarises three Christian vocations (O’Malley; 2007:16-22):

The Leader as Priest (mystic)The Leader as Prophet (idealist)The Leader as King (organiser)Aspect of leadershipLeadership is a spiritual role.
They work on the bigger picture.Concerned with justice.
Focus on those most at risk in the community.Value harmony and reason.
Faithful to order and accountability.CharacteristicsReminds people of a deeper reality at work.
Brings God’s presence to mind through words and actions.
They are mystic and intuitive.Will say what needs to be said.
Consistent and fair.
Able to admit their failures.
Focus on projects through to conclusion.
Vital to Christian leadership.Keen to consult and to co-ordinate decisions.

Use authority as needed.
Recognise that the spiritual has to become real in decision making.Possible negative characteristicsMay miss the energy and enthusiasm behind a colleague’s criticism.
May misinterpret a pupil’s gratitude.
May resist change for selfish motives.Not usually popular with people.
Restless because nothing is ever perfect.
Can tend to let their anger show (but aware for reconciliation)Guards dignity at all times.
May be over reliant on order.
Use of authority, boundaries and sanctions may not be understood by all.

Let us unpick these three categories further, comparing my earlier definition of servant-leadership and how it becomes diluted: 
•    The leader as priest certainly has the empathy to bring God’s presence to mind through their words and actions yet are unable to take on the theory completely as their unintentional selfish motives when faced with change are at odds to the role of servant-leader.
•    The leader as prophet has the drive to work with the most vulnerable in the community, they have the humility to admit their failings, but their restlessness and search for perfection underpins a lack of empathy. 
•    The leader as king has the sense of community and involves those around them, but by guarding their dignity, they lack the humility to be a true servant-leader.
The tension between the ideals of servant-leadership, the teachings of the Church and the realities of life today are laid clear in O’Malley’s three leadership examples.
The moral dilemmas faced by Catholic leaders are clear; Pope John Paul II warned us of these.
Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-à-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behaviour.
(Pope John Paul II; 1993: 60)

We must do our best to inform our conscience and to understand the divine law as expressed by the magisterium of the Church. To be truly a servant-leader is, in my opinion, the ideal leadership theory for a Catholic Head Teacher. It demands a regular review of mission, an examination of conscience and time to reflect through prayer and be open to the Holy Spirit.  Good leadership, whether within the secular or the faith community, requires truthfulness, vision and values. However, servant-leadership adds an extra leadership challenge as it urges us to be more Christ-like:
The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.
(Matthew 20.28)

What greater leadership role model could we ask for in our schools today?  I will, of course, strive to embed a servant-leadership philosophy in my new setting. Some colleagues have found it difficult to accept this style of leadership  but many are inspired to emulate it.  The community is aware of the changes in the school and the fruits of servant-leadership are starting to grow and be noticed. Ofsted reported, in May 2018, The values of motivation, joy, success, enthusiasm, respect, inclusion and challenge permeate throughout the school.

It is going to be a long journey, one where I will rely on prayer, reflection and inspiration from the Gospel to assist me in leading as close to a true servant-leader as possible.     

•     Greenleaf, R., Servant Leadership, New York: Paulist Press (1977)
•     O’Malley SDB, D., Christian Leadership in Education, Bolton: Don Bosco Publications (2007)
•     Pope John Paul II (1993) Veritatis splendour. http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html (accessed on 2 June 2018)
•     Punnachet, T. K., “Catholic servant-leadership in education: going beyond the secular paradigm”, International Studies in Catholic Education, 1: 2, 117-134 (2009)
•     van Vugt, M., & Ahuja, A., Why some people lead, why others follow, and why it matters, London: Profile Books (2010)