Engaging Culture

Can Catholic Leadership Learn the Power of Perception?

Perhaps the American Catholic bishops need to read my book “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media.”  The Catholic church is at a real turning point.  Within 5 years, more than one third of U.S. bishops will have reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.  More than half the bishops are within 10 years of that mark.  From a positive standpoint, this shift will open the door to a wave of younger leaders, less encumbered by the sexual abuse crisis, which has cost the church $2 billion so far.  But the question is – Where are those young leaders?

A serious shortage of priests and seminary students is dramatically altering the demographic landscape of the American Catholic church.  Latinos now make up more than 1/3 of the Catholic population in this country and that won’t change anytime soon.  However, only 7% of the current potential bishops are Latino, so the leadership won’t be responding to that demographic shift.

The question for the Catholic church in America is one of responding to the people it serves.  The perception of the church as being a highly secretive organization concerned with power and influence more than transparency and authenticity is real.  Perception matters in a media-driven world.  While church leaders cloak their decisions in a rationale about doctrinal orthodoxy, the truth is, nothing could be more aligned with the teachings of the Bible than a leadership who is connected, concerned, and reflective of the people it serves.


Related Articles


  1. Hi Phil,

    I think there is much here that inidcates you might want to do a little more digging.  There has been an influx of dedicated, Spirit-filled men to the priesthood since John Paul II started his outreach to the youth of the church. 

    Your second paragraph here is laden with the kind of divisive language that has separated Protestants from Catholics over the years and isn’t borne out when one takes the time to understand the Church and its workings.  The Catholic Church doesn’t operate the way Protestant churches do, which is quite frankly one of the things I love about it (I am a recently reverted Catholic after being in the evangelical world for several decades).  

    The Catholic Church is a big tent, in the truest sense of the term.  Because Catholics believe in transubstantiation (that the bread and the wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ) Catholics of all stripes are able to leave their doctrinal emphases at the door and ‘turn their eyes upon Jesus" during their worship.  

    Those who are appointed bishops, and archbishops and cardinals are those who have demonstrated some degree of leadership. Yes, the church needs to move past the problems and scandals of the past few years.  And yes, that will take new leadership.  But that leadership is currently being groomed in places like Denver, and Washington DC and even in Nebraska.  Unfortunately there is more of a lack of it in LA which is why you perhaps don’t get a larger sense of it.



  2. It’s not about being divisive, I’m just discussing popular perceptions.  And whether true or not, perceptions matter and have an impact on the growth of the church.  Regarding an "influx," I’d love for that to be true Martha, but just looking at the numbers, I’m not encouraged. It doesn’t seem to be happening either inside or outside LA. 

    The BBC reports that: “The Vatican has reported a further dramatic fall in the number of Roman Catholic priests and nuns worldwide.  Newly published statistics showed that the number of men and women belonging to religious orders fell by 10% to just under a million between 2005 and 2006.”   

    USA Today reports:  
    • For decades, so few men have become priests that one in five dioceses now can’t put a priest in every parish.
    • Mass attendance has fallen as each generation has become less religiously observant.
    All these trends had begun years before the scandal piled on financial pressures to cover settlements, legal costs, care and counseling for victims and abusers.
    From 1990 to 2003, the number of active diocesan and religious-order priests fell 22%, and the number of parishes in 176 dioceses and archdioceses dropped to 18,441. That’s a loss of 547 parishes, a 3% drop nationwide, which seems small — unless it’s the church where you buried your mother or baptized your baby.

  3. The Catholic Church has been turning around in the last few years.  I read that John Paul II taught that purgatory is not a "place" as in Heaven or Hell.  That there is only two places to go after death: Heaven or Hell.  Also, they now teach that salvation is by faith alone on the merits of Christ.  I read that John Paul taught that no amount of good works can equate a human to match God’s holiness in order to enter Heaven.  Also, there was a recent report on CBN.com about Benedict XVi talking about Luther not in the condeming tone as previous Popes, but even emphasized the importance of reading one’s Bible.  Also, contrary to The Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Episcopalians and other main line Protestant churches, Rome still boldly adheres to traditional, conservative Biblical moral issues…

  4. In response to Martha, I think there’s good reason to be divisive. Catholics and Protestants are, at the core, different. It’s not simply a few different views. We differ on core views about Christ, Mary, God himself, the Bible…I could go on. I don’t want to sound like I’m belittling anyone, but I don’t believe that Catholics and Protestants are simply two sides of a whole. We’re fundamentally different, and that means division.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker