An Encouraging Word — Competition or cooperation?

Father J. Ronald Knott

Father J. Ronald Knott

Must you prove your rank by competing? Jeremiah 22:15

I suspected immediately that it was a sign of the coming of the “end times” when I got invited to address last year’s Canon Law Society of America annual convention in Pittsburgh. I am not the canon lawyer type who normally attends such conventions, so the invitation came as a complete shock.

I push myself to accept such challenges because, once invitations like those are issued, I cannot live with myself without wondering what it might have been like.

After all, another such invitation will probably never come my way again.

I was asked to share what I have learned from my seventeen years of teaching and implementing Canon 245 from the 1,752 canons in the law book of the church. Canon 245, especially part 2, deals with teaching seminarians to work in fraternal union with the pope, with their own bishops and with fellow priests in their own dioceses so they can be true partners in service to the church for the precise purpose of delivering coherent and unified ministry to God’s people.

It was around implementing this particular canon that I became the founding director of St. Meinrad’s Institute for Priests and Presbyterates from 2004 to 2014. Our institute was about doing ongoing formation of individual priests in their individual ministries, as well as providing ongoing formation of whole presbyterates as ministry teams with their bishops.

We created a host of programs from the transition out of seminary and into a presbyterate through the transition out of active ministry and into retirement ministry — and everything in between. The programs that reached the most priests, however, were the programs directed at building the team ministry of bishops and their priests working together.

In those years, I was the main presenter at more than 100 training convocations, retreats, study days, classes and courses in eight countries and published eleven books on the subject. That has made me a “specialist” of sorts on Canon 245 — thus the invitation.

All this focus on cooperation, rather than competition, among priests raises a much bigger issue. Priests were not raised in a vacuum. They were raised in a culture that continues to glorify competition over cooperation. Even though psychologists, including as Dr. Perry W. Buffington, have repeatedly verified that cooperation works better. It “increases the number of ideas, improves the quality of the outcome and facilitates a better working environment. … This finding has been held in virtually every occupation, skill and behavior tested,” he said.

Research has shown that competition brings out the beast in us, while cooperation brings out the best, Buffington goes on to write.

I don’t know about the other professions, but I do know that we priests can no longer afford the competition that comes with being “Lone Rangers” or “priests in private practice.” Facing a continuing priest shortage and the reality of 50 percent of our priests scheduled to retire in the next five years, we need to work together more than ever. For us, cooperation is certainly becoming a survival skill.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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