First of its kind
“It’s not simply helping the Church with a program on church management, but it’s giving everybody a chance to deepen their faith and deepen their commitment to all the different missions of the Church,” said Hillen, 52, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter.
Hillen, a former public company CEO who is a professor in George Mason University’s School of Business, helped to develop a financial management program to teach basic management and financial skills to pastors, lay leaders, and religious who operate parishes and other Church-affiliated institutions.
The Program on Church Management, which is offered through the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, is in its first year, and has students — priests, bishops, deacons, religious, and lay people — from North America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia.
“It really is an effort for the universal church,” Hillen said.
Guarding against scandal
The Program on Church Management, Hillen said, is an initiative that was founded in response to a directive launched two years ago by Pope Francis, who said that Church leaders at every level should be educated in basic management and financial skills so as to help guard against financial scandal or the mismanagement of the Church’s assets.
“The Church has to be exemplary in the way she uses material means, both in an ethical and spiritual way, but also in an economic way,” said Monsignor Martin Schlag, the director of the Program on Church Management who splits his time between Rome and Minnesota, where he also serves as a business professor at the University of St. Thomas.
Monsignor Schlag said Christians, especially pastors and those trusted with running ministries and other Church agencies, have to give testimony to the Gospel in the way they deal with money, otherwise they would be denying what the Church teaches.
“How can we teach business ethics or the teachings of the Church if we as a Church don’t abide by its teachings?” Monsignor Schlag said.
The program took shape as conversations deepened between representatives from the Vatican Curia, led by Cardinal George Pell, the Australian prelate who led the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, and an international advisory council of Catholic business leaders, led by Hillen.
Blending business, social teaching, ethics
What emerged was a one-year program where students would not only learn basic accounting and management skills, but also study the Church’s social teaching, as well as business ethics, leadership, asset management, negotiating, and real estate management, among other topics.
“This is a special program in management. It’s not meant to be like a business degree,” said Hillen, who added that it was originally thought the program would be for two years until it was decided that Church leaders did not need that extensive a program.
“So basically, the first piece of advice from what became the International Business Leaders Advisory Council, of which I’m the chairman, was to make the program shorter, crisper, and more relevant to the management and financial challenges that these priests and nuns are likely to face,” said Hillen, who co-authored a new book on business leadership entitled, What Happens Now?: Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You.
The Program on Church Management is split between four intensive full-time weeks over the course of the year, with periods in between in which students attend classes one afternoon a week and on Saturday mornings.
“We have classes in negotiation, classes in leadership, classes in basic management, with a specialized class in management in ecclesial organizations,” Hillen said. “We have classes in basic finance, asset management, budgeting, financial reporting, financial controls, people management, governance, project management, real estate management.
Competent fiscal and faith shepherds
“It’s a basic competency in these areas,” Hillen added. “Why? Because the Church owes it to the faithful to competently manage the temporal resources under its custodianship.”
The faithful have a right to expect transparency and accountability from their leaders, especially when it comes to financial management, said Monsignor Schlag, who also teaches a course in the program.
“We teach management, economics, and finance, so the participants get the basics of knowledge so that they can understand what lay people are telling them, that they can control what’s being done, and they know what they have to delegate,” Monsignor Schlag said.
“The priests and religious also get a better feeling for the way the economy works and for giving spiritual guidance for people who work in business,” Monsignor Schlag said.
Hillen added that the program — which has a number of co-sponsoring organizations that include the University of St. Thomas, the Catholic University of America, and the Leadership Roundtable — also offered a good opportunity for he and other legates in the United States to offer their expertise and skills in service to the broader Church.
“It’s like a perfect fit for the interests of the Legatus members who are generally business leaders and love their Church,” said Hillen, who also serves on his parish’s finance council in Virginia.
Said Hillen, “It’s kind of funny to bounce between a little parish finance council and then to serve on a finance council for the whole Vatican.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.