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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

July 31, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 81

 


 
 
 


 

Dennis Coday We can take a lesson from another scandal
 

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

As the clergy sex abuse scandal has unfolded over the last 18 months, one of the stinging criticisms bishops have had to endure is that they acted like CEOs rather than pastors. I have been wondering lately if that comment is unfair to CEOs.

Running parallel in time to the scandal that has ripped across the U.S. church, a scandal dealing with participation and accountability has ripped across corporate America.

Wednesday, in fact, was the one-year anniversary of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, sweeping anti-fraud legislation enacted at the height of the scandals at Enron, WorldCom and other companies that wiped out billions of dollars of investor savings.

At least some analysts attributed resurgence in the stock markets in recent months (The Dow Jones industrial average is up about 12% from a year ago.) to renewed investor confidence instilled by the new corporate accountability law.

While that legislation covers several broad areas, including stricter accounting standards and new criminal penalties for white collar crimes, much of the legislation focused on making CEOs more accountable to their boards of directors and shareholders.

I've been wondering if Catholics might pick up some pointers if we equated dioceses with corporations and parishioners with shareholders and gave our "faithful" Catholics some of the new rights under the corporate accountability law.

The law beefs up the role of a company's board of directors and particularly its audit committee. For one thing, the audit committee must be made up of independent board members. What a difference it would make if diocesan pastoral councils were real boards of directors and not just advisory. Think about what a diocesan pastoral council's "audit committee" could accomplish, keeping the diocesan CEO's feet to the accountability fire.

Catholic "faithful" could paraphrase an auditor's comment about the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that appeared in the Baltimore Sun yesterday:

Auditors now get the message that their client is not management [i.e., the bishop], their client is the public investor [i.e., the faithful]. It provides us the ability to be very frank without worrying about being fired by management [i.e., the bishop].

The latest proposal from William Donaldson, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and thus the government's chief securities regulator, also may be appealing to Catholics.

If shareholders [i.e., the faithful] can demonstrate that management [i.e., the bishop] has not been responsive to requests by large groups of investors [i.e., the faithful] for changes in company [church] policies, the shareholders [i.e., the faithful] can nominate their own directors [i.e., pastoral councilors].

I heard one commenter declare that we are seeing the end of "the imperial CEO." How many "faithful" would cheer to hear of the end of "the imperial bishop/archbishop/cardinal"?

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His e-mail address is dcoday@natcath.org.

 
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