New report on future of the Catholic Church in Britain

 Leadership, communication, liturgy, child abuse, the media, evangelisation, commitment, finance and culture: these are just some of the hot topics covered in the new report: The Future of the Catholic Church in Britain.

The report has received significant media attention and appeared on several websites around the world since it was published three weeks ago. Ruth Gledhill at the Times described it as a "useful analysis and interpretation." The Catholic Herald talked about "a hard-hitting report which examines 'how the Church can restore its public credibility."

The Catholic Times called it an "original" report that "sets out how the Church can use better strategic thinking to plan for a more positive future." The Tablet focused on the chapter on leadership, noting the recommendations for overhauling the method of appointing bishops.

The report's intention is to offer a constructive appraisal of the situation we face today. It responds to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's call for "a lot more lay Catholics to speak out," and draws on six years' experience of working closely with the bishops.

The report consists of information and analysis based on evidence and detailed research. There are also some criticisms, but they are presented
positively and thoughtfully. Most importantly, 24 recommendations for improvement are outlined. The analysis does not limit itself to what bishops or clergy could do; it also discusses the culture and actions of Catholic laypeople.

One of the main arguments is that the Church can learn a great deal by adopting proven modern management techniques. This does not mean sacrificing what is important and distinctive about Catholicism, or yielding to a secularist mindset. Orthodoxy and good management are not at odds.

In how the Church plans projects and evaluates them, selects its leaders, and responds to the ever-changing challenges of society, it can usefully draw on what works well in other contexts. Historically, the Church thrived when it was able to adopt and Christianise contemporary approaches.

One chapter analyses in detail the career paths of the bishops and the present selection process. Gaps and flaws in the process are identified and improvements suggested.

The longest chapter brings together, for the first time, a comprehensive account of the child abuse crisis over the last three decades. The Church has made great strides in recent years in putting in place structures and policies, but there is still work to be done to bring about what Lord Nolan's review called "a culture of vigilance." Baroness Cumberlege's new commission reviewing the Nolan report is a vital opportunity to take stock, and the recommendations in this chapter are intended to be a positive contribution to that work.

The report addresses head-on the challenges facing the Church, but it is also a positive and hopeful analysis. It recommends straight-talking honesty and confidence in the Holy Spirit. The debate has now begun; may it lead to new solutions and action.

The Future of the Catholic Church in Britain is accompanied by a website: and is available for £8.99 from Laicos Press,
2nd Floor, 145-157 St John Street, London EC1V 4PY (cheques to Laicos Press).

first posted LONDON - 17 July 2006 - 520 words

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