Hockey Canada, the Ottawa Police Service, and the Catholic Church


What would Hockey Canada, the Ottawa Police Servoce, and the Catholic Church have in common? Lately, these three entities have been in the news due to issues related to a problematic internal culture, leadership and governance structures, and a reluctance to change.

In the last week of October, we heard how the CEO and the entire Board of Hockey Canada was finally stepping down after months of pressure by MPs, corporate sponsors and its own members. Several days before that there was a piece on the CBC National News of how Hockey Canada executives were not hearing the calls for them to step down and for a whole reorganization of the leadership of the sport. Gretchen Kerr, a U of T sport expert, noted that the organization is made up of players who grew up in a sport culture that tolerates sexual harassment and misogyny and have gone on to be coaches, referees, and organizational leaders. And this very insular nature of hockey encourages the organization to become a bit of an echo chamber. It is self-regulating and autonomous with very little external accountability.

Then, at the end of October, there was the testimony of former Ottawa Police chief Peter Sloly at the Emergencies Act inquiry. Mr. Sloly’s opinions and views on the organizational deficits of the Ottawa Police Services (OPS) are well founded based on his undergraduate degree in sociology and a master’s in business administration. In addition, he has a wealth of practical experience and training in policing and public order, plus, two tours of duty with a UN peace-keeping mission. He says that when he was being recruited, the Police Services Board made it very clear to him that the OPS needed to be changed significantly: operationally, administratively, and in its Human Resources processes, the usual kinds of change processes that large organizations require on a regular basis. From his own professional preparation, his experience, and background, he knew the challenges one faces with any major cultural change, particularly in a big organization more than a century old with long-standing structural deficits. He knew these kinds of changes require staff and leadership development, that they are things one needs to build and grow. There is no major light switch to make them happen.

An earlier article in The Current, Welcome to Synodality, described how a worldwide, “vast consultation movement” is taking place in the Catholic Church. It has been described as one of the most important reforms in the history of the Catholic Church. Every diocese in the world was invited to participate, to encourage group and individual participation by listening to each other and journeying together to discern the future paths needed to participate in the mission of the Church; how to follow the way of Christ. Participants were encouraged to submit responses and in mid-June these were summarized in a diocesan synthesis document. Click HERE to read the Diocese of Pembroke report. Each Canadian diocese was invited to submit its summary document, or synthesis, to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). On August 15 the CCCB submitted its National Synthesis to the Holy See. Click HERE to read the CCCB submission.

When one reads the reports there is a real sense of gratitude, that people cared deeply about their faith and the Church, and that the hierarchy was seeking input. Participants appreciated that there was listening, and they were being encouraged to speak candidly and openly about their concerns and were invited to address future paths for the Church. And respondents were straightforward and honest about the issues that needed to be addressed, such as concerns about openness; governance structures; strict, unyielding, and uncompromising doctrine; the role of the laity, especially women; issues around the LGBTQ community, and so on. Suffice it to say that a short article such as this is unable to adequately summarize the positive views nor the concerns expressed in the 14-page reports but one is encouraged to read the longer reports to gain a wider view of what participants across this country believe need to be done for the Church.

However, there was no sense of panic or an urgency to do something now about the current situation. The pews are emptying, young people are not engaged, financial support is dwindling, the clergy is aging and retiring much faster than seminaries are able to replenish the ranks. Like Hockey Canada, it is as if the leadership is not aware of and not heeding the need for change. And Peter Sloly is right; these are the kinds of challenges a large organization faces when a major cultural change is necessary. There is no quick solution, no light switch to make it happen.

But wait! Just when things seemed discouraging, that not much would happen, on October 27 Pope Francis announced an extension in the Synodal Process, the Continental Stage. The new document is called “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent”. It calls for a Church capable of radical inclusion and encourages further discussion on questions raised in many of the reports from around the world; some questions that just a few years ago were considered anathema, and heretical, questions about the role and inclusion of women, young people, the poor, people identifying as LGBTQ, and the divorced and those civilly remarried. The report notes the diverse challenges faced by the Church worldwide, challenges such as increased secularization, forced conversions, religious persecution, lack of structures for people with disabilities, plus clericalism.

Unlike Hockey Canada, the Curia, that bureaucracy of cardinals that is a tier of management between the pope and the bishops, have not resigned en masse. The document gives a sense that the bishops are finally listening and there is hope for greater inclusion in the Church. It is good that the problems in the organization are not diagnosed as an easy fix, that someone is to blame, or some other simple explanation provided such as modernity or secularization. One needs to look for larger systemic issues. Like the Ottawa Police Services, change is going to require time to build and grow, time for leadership and membership development. Pope Francis notes that the “purpose of the Synod was not to produce documents but to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, make a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds and warm hearts.”

It is hoped that this next stage will inspire more individuals to read some of the reports and be able to share in the dreams and visions of people across the globe.

About the author: John Madigan grew up on a farm along the Madawaska River and spent forty years in Ontario’s education system as a teacher, school principal, and a school board administrator. He says that like so many others all over the world, new conditions and discoveries are forcing him to reassess his religious traditions and he is more comfortable pondering the questions than obsessing over the right answers.

Above: St. Francis de Sales Mission church at Latchford Bridge (image supplied)

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