Mary Ann Dantuono is Associate Director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society.

Mary Ann Dantuono, J.D.

Chapters she contributed to A Concise Guide to Catholic Church Management (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2010).

Reviewed by Mark F. Fischer


Two chapters in the Concise Guide were written by Mary Ann Dantuono, J.D., Associate Director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society.

10. Human Resources: The Spine of an Organization

Dantuono’s chapter ten is entitled “Human Resources: The Spine of an Organization.” Just as good communication is the “oxygen” of an organization (as Sr. Margaret John Kelly affirmed in chapter four), so human resources is the organization’s “spine,” say Dantuono, the scaffolding that “supports its mission and vision.”

The author begins her introduction to human resources by outlining Catholic social thought over the last 120 years. Social thought, she suggests, provides the moral spine of the Catholic organization. Dantuono then endorses the development of a working team at the parish or diocesan level, a team that is mission-driven, competent, and representative of the community it serves.

Dantuono cites with approval the distinction made by the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators (NACPA) between the expectations of employers and employees. Both have duties and responsibilities. The chapter’s treatment of the Church as an employer, and of Catholic social teaching, well represents the Church’s doctrine about employment.

Part 2 of Dantuono’s chapter identifies four basic human resources functions: hiring, orientation and training, supervision, and assessment. The hiring process begins with the develop of a job description, followed by the recruitment and interviewing of applicants. The book describes the essential features of a job description and refers readers to www.avemariapress.com for sample applications and other supplementary materials. It concludes its treatment of the four HR functions by affirming the importance of regular performance assessments, measuring what the employee does in relation to what the job description says. In all of this, Dantuono reliably introduces readers to the work of a church manager who occasionally (or even more often) hires new workers.

Dantuono cites with approval recent publications by NACPA that emphasize the importance to the Church of retaining good employees unless there is a good “cause” to terminate employment. Dantuono does not explain, however, why NACPA prefers “for cause” to “at will” employment, the policy that an employer can fire an employee “at will.” Indeed, she goes so far as to characterize her own state of New York as an “employment at will” state, suggesting that its preference for at-will employment should be a norm. But NACPA prefers the “for cause” employment relationship because it enhances the stability of the Church workplace.

Part 3 of the chapter is devoted “special issues,” described by Dantuono as “sources of potential litigation” (178). She highlights confidentiality and privacy, discrimination against select employees, poor treatment of those with disabilities, and harassment. One of the best features of the chapter is a collection of case studies that Dantuono first presents in an appendix as open questions and then discusses in an authoritative way.

The problem with Dantuono’s “sources of potential litigation” approach is that, by focusing on problems that may arise (rather than on the sources of positive law), it may give the reader the false impression that legal issues in the church workplace constitute a minefield from which no one can escape unharmed.

For example, in the discussion of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Dantuono notes that employers with more than 25 employees are required to provide “reasonable accommodation” and hire disabled people who are otherwise qualified. Most Catholic parishes, needless to say, have fewer than 25 employees. Despite that, Dantuono throws out the hypothetical question:

If a highly-qualified candidate has mobility impairment and uses a wheelchair, should the employer be required to install an automatic door opener as a ‘reasonable accomodation’ so the employee can access the office? (183).

With a question like this, Dantuono raises a problem that, while relevant to large Catholic high schools or hospitals, has little to do with the vast majority of parish managers.  Her focus on risk management differs considerably from the human resources chapter by Robert Miller in The Parish Management Handbook.  Miller’s chapter is entitled”Enhancing and Supporting the People Who Work in Parishes.”

In summary, the Concise Guide’s human resources chapter sets for itself an ambitious agenda. In the span of 39 pages it lays out the Church’s vision of employment, the basic functions of human resources, and the dangers of potential litigation. The presentation is reliable and detailed, and a student of management can profit from a close study of it.

But the neglect of NACPA’s teaching about the “for cause” employment relationship, and the emphasis on litigious issues (coming as it does before chapter eleven’s introduction to legal principles) can mislead readers. Avoiding litigation is not the primary purpose of human resource professionals in the Church.


11. Legal Principles and Pastoral Issues

Chapter eleven, “Legal Principles and Pastoral Issues,” is the second chapter contributed by Dantuono to the Concise Guide. In this 35-page chapter, she offers “the basic structure and principles of American jurisprudence” as “a framework for Church and organizational decision-making that will not contravene the law and will assist Church leadership to know when to consult a lawyer” (202).

Dantuono begins the chapter with a discussion of categories and types of law, quickly summarizing three First Amendment principles:

  • The Establishment clause that “Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion,”
  • The Free Exercise clause that guarantees churches the right to practice the tenets of faith without government interference, and
  • The Conscience clauses in various laws that exempt a church-related entity “from having to comply with provisions of laws that would require the entity or individual to violate religious beliefs” (209).

The author illustrates the clauses with engaging examples and case studies.

Next, Dantuono discusses the Catholic Church as a non-profit corporation, which is the way New York State and many others regard it. She sketches the duties of care, of loyalty, and of obedience owed by the Board of Directors or Trustees of the corporation. The presentation is lucid, but Dantuono neglect to mention the other common way that the law in many states views the Catholic Church, namely, as a “corporation sole,” wholly owned by the bishop.

Dantuono then moves on to a series of brief discussions:

  • whether priests and religious are exempt from jury duty,
  • the principles of tort law (i.e., who is responsible in cases of injury on church property),
  • the principles of contract law (which governs the relations between employers and employees),
  • privileged communications and confidentiality, and
  • the Church’s relation to children and families (including the role of the Church in supervising children and reporting abuse).

Readers will admire the extraordinary compression of Dantuono’s writing – she packs a lot into a few words – and may wish that this chapter on legal principles had come before the chapter on human resources. The treatment of employees depends in large part on the law of torts and contracts.

Dantuono wraps up her whirlwind survey of legal principles with a treatment of laws related to illness and dying, of fundraising issues, and of music, art and copyright concerns. At times the principles seem rather abstract, but Dantuono illustrates them with six relevant exercises or questions that call for the application of legal principles.

Inevitably Dantuono’s chapter on legal issues will invite comparison with the chapter on the same topic by Sr. Mary Angela Shaughnessy in the Parish Management Handbook. Both offer brief treatments of the principles of law, both illuminate the principles with actual cases, and both quiz the reader on the application of legal principles.

Ultimately, it is hard to judge between Dantuono and Shaughnessy. Dantuono covers more ground, touching many more legal issues. Shaughnessy has a narrow scope but greater depth, especially regarding education law and care for minors.

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