Background: What the U.S. Bishops have said
Collaboration in the church, especially between clergy and women, was a major concern of the Committee on Women. Its 1998 statement, From Words to Deeds, defines collaboration as “the working together of all the baptized, each contributing specific, personal gifts to build up the body of Christ.”
Several bishops’ statements have noted the urgency of collaboration. Strengthening the Bonds of Peace (1994) pointed out that the church reflects Christ most completely, and best fulfills its mission, when the gifts of all its members are used as fully as possible. In their 1995 statement, Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium, the bishops said that the church’s pastoral ministry can be more effective when we become true collaborators. They acknowledged that collaboration is a huge challenge that requires “changes in patterns of reflection, behavior, and expectations among laity and clergy alike.”
In From Words to Deeds the Women’s Committee pledged itself to promote collaboration between men and women in the church. The statement identified five practical steps that can be taken to encourage collaboration: (1) Examine our own beliefs and behaviors and confront those that may hinder collaboration; (2) Discern gifts—our own and those of others; (3) Clarify roles and responsibilities; (4) Learn appropriate skills, including skills in communication and conflict resolution; and (5) Strengthen the spiritual foundation on which collaboration rests.
Consultation with women in diocesan leadership positions
In 2001 the Committee convened a consultation with more than 100 women who hold high level positions in dioceses around the country. (See the Report on Consultation with Women in Diocesan Leadership Positions.)
Collaboration emerged as a major concern at the consultation and in a mail Survey of Women in Diocesan Leadership. In the survey, most women rated their experience of collaboration as good to excellent, although their written and oral comments gave a more nuanced picture. In the area of collaboration women raised these concerns:
Different understandings of what collaboration means. The women generally defined "collaboration" as the opportunity for genuine input into decision-making processes. Sometimes, however, they experience collaboration more as surface cooperation or consultation. This lack of consistency about what constitutes collaboration can be frustrating.
Exclusion of women from decision-making processes. Diocesan decision-making structures sometimes exclude women. Some women said that decisions had been made in their areas of responsibility without their knowledge or input.
Ability and willingness of priests, especially the newly ordained, to work with women. This was a major issue throughout the consultation. Participants felt that a significant number of newly ordained priests are not prepared to work with women as colleagues in ministry.