In February 2004, a conference on church ethics, sponsored by Boston College’s Church in the Twenty-first Century initiative, brought together sociologists, specialists in organizational behavior and management, theologians specializing in ethics and church, legal scholars specializing in U.S. law and church law, and church leaders, among others. That interdisciplinary conference led to this collection of essays. Drawing on multiple disciplines, this book sheds light on factors that created the conditions for the sex abuse scandal and initiates a conversation about the possibility of a professional code of ethics for church leaders.
The book is divided into two parts, with the first motivated by the topic of crisis in the Catholic Church. This part of the book begins with two chapters that interpret the clerical sex abuse scandal: first, Paul Lakeland examines its relationship to the crisis in the Catholic Church, and then Jean Bartunek examines it in terms of “sensemaking” in the context of a social drama. The next two essays examine the historical and sociological contexts of the crisis, with James O’Toole offering an illuminating historical account of American Catholicism from the perspective of the laity. The final two essays of this part provide perspectives on church leadership, with Richard Gaillardetz offering a valuable analysis of the need for the Catholic Church to embody its social teaching and with Kimberly Elsbach explaining why characteristics of strong leaders can undermine credibility after an organizational scandal.
The second part of the book focuses more specifically on developing a professional ethic for leaders in the church. James Keenan highlights the need for training church leaders to engage in critical ethical reflection on their ministerial lives and identifies challenges to confidentiality, due process and discourse ethics that are fostered by the cultures of religious life, the clergy and the episcopate, respectively. This critical ethical reflection needs to take into account the psychological contracts between clergy and laity that Denise Rousseau’s essay identifies and James Post’s essay affirms, as well as the methods for intervention in response to unethical behavior in an organization that Richard Nielsen enumerates. Subsequent essays consider the contributions and limitations of articulating this critical ethical reflection in the form of a professional code of ethics. While Francis Butler proposes a theologically-grounded “professional code of ethics,” Richard Gula hesitates to identify it as such, even as he appreciates Butler’s contribution to the process of forming a professional code of ethics for church leaders. Based on his expertise in professional ethics in the church, Gula provides an insightful essay that unpacks his claim that “a code of ethics properly developed, personally appropriated, structurally supported, responsibly implemented, and justly enforced can strengthen the ministerial witness to the ministry of Christ and to right moral living called for by the gospel” (148). The legal scholars emphasize limitations with a professional code of ethics, whether based on the experience of the American Bar Association or on tensions between status and function, public and private life, and bureaucracy and professionalism in canon law that call into question whether church leaders fit the category of professional. In similar fashion, Patricia Chang notes that priests do not fit the sociological definition of a profession because of their lack of institutional autonomy.
This collection of essays highlights both the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary conversation. Readers will benefit from the various perspectives that multiple disciplines provide, which will undoubtedly allow them to consider the crisis and professional ethics through new categories. At the same time, they will observe the challenge of integrating expert knowledge from many disciplines, as sociologists Michele Dillon and Patricia Chang would benefit from integrating insights about sacramentality and church mission, respectively, from theologian Richard Gaillardetz’s presentation. Similarly, business experts C.R. Hinings and Michael Mauws would benefit from broader engagement with ethicists to strengthen their essay. They illustrate the challenge of collaborative conversation that the church as a whole faces in articulating a professional ethic. This book invites church leaders and academics to continue this important conversation that promotes ethical reflection on professional ministry.