Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church (2017) by Chris Lowney is a great call to action for those of us in ministry.  Lowney begins the book by outlining the crisis in the Catholic Church because, as he points out, “we cannot solve a problem that we do not even recognize” (2).  And he later argues that “Transformation of an enterprise begins with a sense of crisis or urgency.  No institution will go through fundamental change unless it believes it is in deep trouble and needs to do something different to survive” (23).

In one after another of the word’s economically developed countries, church attendance has plummeted to historic lows, and tens of millions of adults have deserted Catholicism entirely.  Not since the Protestant Reform, five centuries ago, has Catholicism suffered defections on so devastating a scale.  And the future looks even grimmer; young adults show little interest in Catholicism (and in organized religion generally).  Thousands of Catholic schools and parishes have been shuttered in the past few decades.  The population of priests has been falling in multiple countries and is projected to shrink by almost another third in coming decades in the United States.  And, at this worst possible moment, the Catholic hierarchy’s credibility remains wounded by damaging pedophilia scandals. (2-3)

Lowney uses the papacy of Pope Francis to underscore the notion that we need to do things differently.  He proposes his EASTeR strategy to revitalize the Church:

  1. Be more Entrepreneurial
  2. Be more Accountable
  3. Serve the world’s poor and marginalized peoples
  4. Transform the hearts and souls of our members
  5. Reach out to engage and welcome the wider world.

This strategy is based on a new culture of lay leadership which is widely distributed and involves collaboration on a high level.  He makes a great point about the action on the frontiers instead of “crummy” organizations which have a centripetal impulse—drawing everything into the headquarters.

Lowney’s suggestions are worth reading and I won’t summarize them here.  I will admit, however, to being curious when he mentioned accountability.  “How would he deal with the pedophilia crisis?” I wondered.  He surprised me with his direct take:

By way of analogy, recall that medical doctors, even before they consider the lofty ideals of their healing mission, are expected to honor a more basic human duty: ‘Primum non Nocere,’ that is: Do No Harm.  Our church failed at this most fundamental human duty.  The most vulnerable of all humans, defenseless children, were harmed in our care.  Not only that, it took outsiders like the media and legal system to render our accountability failures transparent to us and to spur us to implement the building blocks of greater accountability going forward.  (98)

Well done, Mr. Lowney!

Other reviews:

  1. Catholic Health Association
  2. Advance praise
  3. Diocese of Ogdensburg
  4. Vatican Radio review and interview
  5. Commonweal Q & A with Chris Lowney