Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Dangers of Monopoly

I'm no big capitalist, but it is clear that competition forces organizations to be more efficient, to provide better services, to be responsive to the consumers, and to adapt fast when things aren't working.

Perhaps one of the things that is so frustrating about the current situation in the Church is the feeling that I (and many people I know, and many people I merely know of) could do such a better job running a parish or a diocese if there wasn't, you know, an institutional monopoly on licit ordination and sacraments, with all these strange filters on and bizarre barriers to entry (which sometimes seem to just drive the cream of the crop away while attracting all the wrong sorts).

If this were a crisis in my Protestant denomination, I could easily set up shop somewhere, in a storefront or my house even, and grow from there, establishing new branches in new towns as the ideas became popular, etc. But in the Catholic Church you'll just hear "We aren't Protestant," or "the Church isn't a business" as if proven methods of institutional success (which have been applied to public schools even, to great success) for some reason should never be considered in place of the Church's centralized bureaucratic structure.

In the Catholic Church, however, there is no such potential for competition under the current model. Sure, other denominations and religions "compete" with the Church in some sense (Latin America is hemorrhaging to the Evangelicals) and there are all sorts of schismatic groups both trad and liberal, Old Catholic, Polish National Catholic, sedevacantists, etc. But, ultimately, the Catholic Church has an exclusive truth claim, and so people convinced of that are not going to go anywhere outside the bounds of the one official institution.

There may be some competition among parishes in an area, but generally things are designed to avoid that. At this point Catholics are so apathetic that most don't care to "parish shop" even though it is now allowed, they just go to whatever the nearest parish is, and explicit "poaching" is certainly strongly frowned upon. The idea that a new order could set up shop in a town and "compete" with the local geographical parish in an adversarial fashion would be considered anathema. Usually new groups are just assigned to take over old parishes, not to compete with them.

Part of the reason why there was such a strong reaction against the Mendicant Orders initially was the very real way in which they competed with the diocesan clergy and old monasteries and provided a viable alternative for people to turn to within the bounds of the Church. In the end though, they did in some ways force the rest of the clergy to shape up in order to compete successfully, though much of this effect was sadly blunted by coercive regulations (like requiring people to attend their geographical parish, limiting faculties for the mendicants, etc).

It's just so frustrating. In any other "industry" I could look at the situation, see that there is a major (read: almost total) lack of quality, see that there is widespread dissatisfaction among the consumers, bet that my own ideas and God-given skills and talents could be competitive in such an environment, and become an entrepreneur. Just in this case success wouldn't be measured in financial profits (though solvency at least would be nice). But in this situation, all I can do is watch in horror as they don't listen, stay the course of incompetent apathetic mediocrity, and keep driving this amazing institution, with all its immense potential and infrastructure already in place, into the ground, onto the rocks, squandering all their capital.

If priests were more like licensed contractors, they could start their own ministries (which would be allowed to naturally succeed or fail; you'll know them by their fruits), make a presentation to convince the bishop to let them take over failing parish, etc. They're shooting themselves in the foot by remaining a No Organization.

Wouldn't it be nice if a bishop pulled some strings and was able to say to a group of us, "You've got seven years. I've arranged for you to go through all the ordinations in the Old Rite. You'll have faculties to do whatever you want anywhere in the diocese, including to have Mass anywhere on a portable altar if need be. You'll have to provide for yourself financially, but I've instructed all churches in the dioceses that they must let you say Mass and hold services and set up ministries in their buildings during otherwise free times. At anytime I can suspend everything and return you to just the status of lay people, and at the end of seven years, we'll see if this is a success." Do a criminal background check and a psych evaluation no less strict than public schools give their teachers, establish orthodoxy...and then let us loose. They risk nothing but our success (I'm sure Satanists who want to have a valid Black Mass already have no problem approaching illicit lines of ordination). And yet it's exactly our success that I get the sense they would be afraid of.

Sigh. A guy can dream. But at that point I might as well dream that, rather than a bishop making us priests with 7 years to prove ourselves, the Vatican
would do the same thing except with some of us as bishops with free reign to try new models (including married priests) in whole dioceses for a set term. The former is really no less unrealistic unfortunately...

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