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November 15, 2005


Andrea Harris

The problem you have isn't with the discussion of morale, which is an important issue, but with the people you have experienced talking about it, who are usually the ones who have absolutely no idea that there is anything wrong, but they keep getting these complaints ("no one feels like doing A" etc.), so they come up with a scheme to distract people from this problem that they (the management, usually) can't see.

I'm not sure what "morale police" you mean otherwise; perhaps you mean the people who say "all this negativity about subject X is bringing down morale." Some of them may indeed be saying "You'd better quit complaining!" Others may simply be saying "All we hear about is what the problem is; we don't hear about a solution."


I think you're mostly on target and the bishops ARE in large measure at fault for the morale of priests, which is the unstated implication of your post, I think.

It's worth pointing out that the priests I know who most hate and object to the cover-up, go along and get along attitudes toward the abuse crisis among priests and hierarchy are also very frustrated with their bishops who seem to want to deal with the issue by instituting practices focussing on anything but the real culprits. Take abuse reports SERIOUSLY, investigate them, when there is serious reason to believe a priest may be guilty remove him from ministries where he may pose a danger. Recognize sin, do not tolerate such serious sins from priests who commit them, cknowledge guilt, and do penance.

But don't get out of your responsibility by acting as though all priests are likely offenders, still less persecute those who try to bring related sins to your attention. Many of the BEST priests are treated by their bishops as lepers and are punished or silenced or driven from the priesthood. And priests are left feeling that the very men who are supposed to be their spiritual fathers are instead bureaucrats obsessed with protecting their own self interest at any cost.

In any case, more than reassurance is needed, there you are certainly right. A real reform of episcopal attitudes and governance is needed, along the lines of such bishops as Olmsted and Vasa.

Kevin Miller

Amy: I think the concern you express here is a perfectly valid one - I've seen the same phenomenon of which you're speaking. But I don't see that (mis)understanding of "morale" in the bishop's speech. When he gets to talking about priests' morale, the first group he says needs to take responsibility for the matter is - the bishops themselves. And he doesn't say that the bishops need to give the priests Coke machines, but rather, that the bishops need to treat the priests as co-workers in the Church's mission, fairly, as fathers and brothers, while dealing properly with priests who're credibly accused of abuse, etc.

Those sound like the sort of things we should want our bishops to do for our priests.

Gerard E.

In the words of the late great basketball coach turned commentator, Al McGuire, time to 'skip the French pastry.' Dealing with issues of morale is merely to skim at the surface. When people in charge and/or the policies and procedures of the organization all work against it and must be addressed on a more fundamental issue. Sure, 'morale' is a serious matter among unmarried men committed to a rigid, service-oriented lifestyle (count the buzzwords in that sentence.) But as long as policies and procedures are either crazy as written or crazier to enforce, and those doing just that are 'fools or sociopaths,' 'morale' stays low. Same with priests. Same with anyone working or volunteering in any organization. Or as Michael Dukakis liked to repeat during the '88 presidential campaign, 'the fish stinks from the head.'

anon this time

Sometimes the fools and/or sociopaths are not those in charge, but are those two-ton elephants in the organization who are making everyone crazy, but no one knows what to do about them. Some times 'the French pastry' is all that comes between us and insanity. And, at this point, a Coke machine in my workplace would help morale...and a robot to deliver the Coke to my desk because some of us are too busy picking up other people's workloads to actually go to the kitchen and get our own Coke. Oh, well, I've said too much already.

Fr. Anon

The bishops morale seems pretty high. The priests morale seems pretty low. Anyone see a problem there? Basically the bishops sluffed off the blame on the priests. They refused to deal with dissent or homosexuality, the elephants in the living room. Certainly they didn't hold themselves accountable. They exempted themselves from the rules and made priests feel like they were constantly under the gun. What kind of morale do they expect priests to have under those conditions? We took it on the chin and they say "trust us". I would ask, "why should I?" I don't think I would get a good answer. I will post this under anonymous since I don't want to catch hell for saying these things. My own relationship with my bishop is pretty good, but others have said they would never trust their bishop.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Yeah, I've seen that kind of thing in the corporate world - morale boosting by motivational poster and rah-rah sales talk.

another non

OK - I'm going to post anon here, too. Did anyone here have the chance to see the bishop's interventions at the recent Synod - published in the English version of the Observatore Romano? I was shocked by the banality of the comments of the head of our bishops' conference, as well as those of his predecessor. Another well-known American archbishop submitted comments from one of the English language working groups that looked like a not-so-subtle brief for liberalizing the priesthood - especially vis-a-vis the married priesthood.
The two other English speaking groups were reported on by Irish prelates. Their comments were profound, beautiful, uplifting -focusing on holiness, adoration, the astounding and mysterious gift that the Eucharist is...
Likewise, many others submitted remarkable reflections - for instance from the new head of C&L.
It struck me then - and troubled me - why do our bishops appear to be so shallow, so oriented towards advancing pet causes, so unconcerned with souls, with living and promoting holiness? Why in this most advanced, educated, influential and affluent culture do we produce Church leaders who can not inspire, who just don't seem to get at the heart of the matter which is living the Christian life?
I, too, see this talk of "morale" as odd.
Our Faith, fully lived, is a much more wonderful, demanding and exciting thing than our leaders seem to understand - and, as difficult as it is for us to embrace each and every time it is presented to us, our Faith comes with the cross.
God, give us all strength - and charity!


In my experience, low morale can most often be traced not to bad leadership but to lack of any real leadership at all. There's a big difference between management and leadership. One of the things you see in a big bureaucracy like the bishops' conference is a whole lot of management (and not a little mis-management) ... and very little real leadership. The very structure of the body mitigates against its being led by a strong leader who can articulate and reiterate the mission, and inspire those below him to follow his lead with joy and enthusiasm, having bought in fully to the leader's vision. Show me a bureaucracy of any kind -- a ship with lots of first mates to man the decks but no captain to set the course and keep everyone on it -- and I'll show you an organization where a perpetual state of low morale is a given.


"Summary floggings and executions will continue until Morale improves."


Morale: "Happy Workers Cheerfully and Enthusiastically Dancing before Dear Leader in the streets of Pyongyang!"

Kevin Jones

I'm not even sure if "letting go of power" is so much the solution, as actually justly wielding that power in the first place. Bureaucratic momentum seems to be the driving force, and too many are content to ride the wave.


like being a teacher in a highly dysfunctional school in which someone decides that the way to fix teacher morale is to put a Coke machine in the lounge

Ha, so true. I used to work for a boss where morale was low and his "solution" was to occasionally bring us pizza for lunch. "Let them eat pizza".

Anon this time, too

I agree with the poster above who spoke of the two ton elephant that no one knows what to do with. Blaming the management for low morale is simplistic and an unfair generalization. My husband is a senior manager for a municipality whose employees belong to a very strong union. He is good at what he does, is ethical, fair, and smart. By and large, the employees (over 30 of them) are content to go along to get along. However, the problem few make life hell for everyone else and it takes a long time to get rid of them if the manager has the stomach to stay in the position as long as it takes to do so. Problem employees or those who are black clouds can sink morale faster than you can imagine. If there's a reason there aren't many good managers it's because ultimately the personnel issues make it a crappy job that few want. And who can blame them?


There's only one solution: "Office Space"

And show some flair out there.

Lawrence King

I totally agree. I just left a Big Software Company Near Seattle after six years. The bosses who sponsored the most "Morale Events" were the ones whose attitudes and actions were the cause of the morale problems in the first place.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

-- Tommy, Rudyard Kipling


Fr Anon hits it on the head.

The bishops can't solve any perceived problem with priestly morale because they, in large part, are the cause of it through their collective hypocricy on the issue of accountability.

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