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What is a quinquennial report?

First slide

The quinquennial report. It sits more than 4 inches high in a nondescript white binder. It represents more than five months’ work from more than a dozen individuals. There are three main point-persons responsible for the collation of information, and there’s a final edit by the bishop.

It’s required of every diocese in the world, and it’s sent to the Vatican months before a scheduled visit that comes around every seven to eight years.

For Mark Herrmann, diocesan general counsel, the quinquennial report tells the story of how “the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being promoted in Northern Virginia.”

The report

Although the framework for the report is fairly standard, Herrmann said, “As much as possible each time around (I like) to generate a new document” to reflect the state of the diocese today, not five or 10 years ago. “We try to get it as fresh as we can.”

This go-around, Herrmann said, “We have something of an advantage as we have a new bishop. The sections in the bishop’s voice were all new in some ways. They cover some of the same ground but are very differently put.”

The 25-page questionnaire, or form, from the Vatican covers some 20 topics. Each section is sent to several people knowledgeable about that topic to get their input.

“We had some areas we wanted to cover this year that were sort of new, so we turned to people outside the chancery with particular knowledge about things relating to family life, political life.”

Herrmann said this report included a section on home schooling for the first time. They sent out inquiries about home-schoolers’ experiences and relationships with the diocese, the parish and local authorities.

“We came up with a nice little statement about that,” he said. “I know, from experience, that many Europeans are not very familiar with home schooling, (so we can) educate the folks at the Vatican on something that might be strange to them.” He added that in some places “home schooling is outright illegal.”

Herrmann estimates about two dozen people, not necessarily all chancery staff, are involved in the process led by himself, Father Thomas P. Ferguson, vicar general and moderator of the curia, and Father Jamie R. Workman, chancellor.

All the submissions from inside and outside the chancery are integrated. A hard edit is done by Herrmann, Father Ferguson and Father Workman before the bishop makes his own edits.

The Process

The process of compiling the 1,000-page report started in 2017, but Herrmann said the bulk of the work began in mid-January 2019 and took about five months. This was his second quinquennial report. “In some ways, it was probably easier having done it once before.”

Herrmann explained that the report asks for statistics that aren’t commonly kept and it takes a bit of “calling around” to compile those, such as for the education section. The form requires not only the total number of students in diocesan schools, but also numbers for public or private schools, as well as college enrollment figures.

“At the end of the day, we produced a very good report, not only good in the sense of very positive about the state of our diocese, which is good news, but also in terms of the quality of the information,” he said.

Since fewer than a dozen copies are produced, Herrmann said it was printed in-house, put on a table and collated by hand into three-ring binders, which are hand-delivered to the papal nunciature in Washington months before the scheduled ad limina visit, this year for Region 4 Dec. 2-6. Herrmann believes the report is physically broken up when it gets to the Vatican and each section is given to the specific dicastery, or department. During the ad limina visit, the bishops visit the various curial departments and discuss the state of the diocese.

The past two quinquennial reports have included photos. “Words tell you a new church was built, but the photo shows it,” Herrmann said. “This year we had a beautiful photo of St. Mary in Old Town that was made a basilica. (There are) great photos of St. Jude in Fredericksburg and St. John in Leesburg.” Also included are photos of youth events and the March for Life.

“In a lot of ways, if you think of something like a corporate annual report, that is primarily a financial document with a little bit of introductory overview to go with it. Here we include financial info, but it’s a small fraction of the information. It’s more about ministries, the life of people — the focus is just completely different,” he said.

“We look at about every aspect of people’s lives that are touched by the church: education, ministry to family, assistance given to charity to those in need, migrants, other communities often overlooked and marginalized. We look at the relationship between the bishop and his people, the bishop and his priests, the relationship of the church and secular government and authorities, the lives of the priests and religious in the diocese, what they are doing, feeling and getting along. We also look at other religions and how we relate to them, and the overall culture and how we relate.

“Some of the different topics within that are (the) political culture of the diocese, world values, initiatives taken by the church to promote culture, how we evangelize other groups, publicly show our faith through events, processions, all sorts of things,” he said. Other topics include communications efforts and “how we teach and practice the social justice teachings of the church.”

“It’s a summary of the life of the Catholic Church and the people of God in our diocese over a seven-year period,” he said.

Augherton can be reached at aaugherton@catholicherald.com or Twitter @aughertonACH.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019