The Catholic Church’s redemption in the eyes of the community rests on the performance and mission of its agencies, the head of its largest lay ministry says.
In a wide-ranging interview Richard Haddock, chair of Mary Aikenhead Ministries, is optimistic that Catholic hospitals, aged-care facilities and schools will help reconnect the community with Catholic social-teaching principles.
He says that he feels a “responsibility” to make sure Mary Aikenhead hospitals and aged care facilities reflect what Jesus wanted, as much as the Church itself.
Richard is speaking on the eve of the appointment of a new congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity, the order on whose behalf the Mary Aikenhead Ministries oversees its health and aged-care, education, and some social-service and welfare ministries.
A year into the role he reflects on the role of Public Juridic Persons (PJPs), and in particular his own Mary Aikenhead Ministries, which oversees other entities including St Vincent’s Health Australia as well as a network of schools across the country.
Richard admits that on taking the role he didn’t realise the sheer size and importance of the task.
“The decisions that we make in this sector and in this PJP are vitally important just because the ministry is so large,” he says. “It may possibly influence other PJPs as they see what we do ... I think that the proper governance of our PJP is such an important responsibility in the Church.”
The challenge facing PJPs is how to accommodate the wishes of the congregations, on whose behalf they now oversee the assets, with the business of running the hospitals and schools. It is a delicate balancing act between the charism and the corporate.
“The sisters might look back to when the hospital was first set up [in 1857] and they made decisions that were brave and rather risky as regards financial commitments when looked at through the lens of today’s risk assessment processes,” Richard says. “Today we have to have a more rigorous financial basis on which we can do things.
“That being said, we can’t let that financial basis stop us from being a little entrepreneurial and taking some managed risks so that we can expand our good work.”
He is of course referring to the social outreach programs St Vincent's runs as part of its mission, which are funded from its general revenues, something a private for-profit entity is unlikely to do.
Although he might not be a marketer or public-relations person, the latter part of Richard’s career is steeped in Catholic agencies, so he knows a thing or two about the inner workings and outward perceptions of Catholic entities.
Over the years he has been and in some cases continues to be chair or a director of: the St Vincent Curran Foundation; Caritas; the Sydney Archdiocese finance committee; CatholicCare; Catholic Church Insurances; Australian Catholic Superannuation and Retirement Fund and the University of Notre Dame.
In a previous life he was a banker and a lawyer, but these days he prefers to devote his energies and time to not-for-profit organisations.
“I'd like to make a difference and I'd like to help people. I think most people do too. I'm not unique in that. I'm just fortunate I've been put in a position where maybe I would make a small difference.”
And it is important that the work those organisations do resonates with the community, where trust in the institution of the Catholic Church is lower than in the past, he says.