Dr. Tom Urbaniak: Can Concerned Catholics Repair the Church?

The Third CBU Inaugural Lecture Series

Presented by Dr. Tom Urbaniak, Professor of Political Science
Can Concerned Catholics Repair the Church? A Study of Faith, Governance, and Accountability

Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Cape Breton University
CBU Library
7pm – 8:30pm

The Inaugural Lecture Series allows faculty members who have attained the rank of Professor to share selected insights garnered from a decorated career of notable achievements in research, teaching, and service with the university community. This event is hosted by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

This event is open to all CBU students, staff and faculty as well as the wider community. Please share this information with anyone you think might be interested in attending. For more information, contact nicole_macdougall@cbu.ca.


After floods of revelations of horrifying sexual abuse against children by priests in this region and abroad, and cover-ups by many bishops, “responsible ministry protocols” were put in place (though still not everywhere), the properties of many parishes were liquidated to compensate abuse survivors and apologies were belatedly issued.

But the secretive leadership structures remain in place. The concentration of power in a largely unaccountable clergy – including the power to deny sacraments, plus control over money and property –- is still the rule of the church. There is no system of regular, professional performance evaluations of clergy and no clear codes of conduct. There is no role for lay people to vet candidates for pastor or bishop. There are no synods representing the people of the church, not even at the diocesan level. Obedience to designated men, not professional due diligence, is still prized.

Without renovation, the current Church structures of concentrated, secretive governance and management lend themselves to abuses of power well into the future.

As a political science professor, expert in governance, and a concerned Catholic with significant parish experience and crisis-management experience, Dr. Tom Urbaniak has been studying models of church governance and options for reform. He has visited Catholic communities that tried new methods of governance and accountability, sometimes thoughtfully defying authoritarian and spiritually impoverished bishops. In this lecture, he will try to answer key questions: Is there hope for the Catholic Church? Can concerned lay Catholics start somewhere? If so, where? Will the interventions make a difference?


Dr. Tom Urbaniak is a Professor of Political Science at Cape Breton University and Director of the Tompkins Institute. He is also Vice Chair of the CBU Senate. He is the author of five books (most recently: Dignity, Democracy, Development: A Citizen’s Reader), co-editor of two multi-authored collections, and author of numerous articles. Recently, Tom served as Chair of the Parish Council of St. Mary’s Polish Church for six years, helping the parish to successfully overcome the threat of closure, to rebuild following a devastating fire, to involve new people in parish life, and to develop a participatory, transparent structure of parish governance. Tom also provided leadership to the revitalization of Whitney Pier’s Polish Village Hall and is founding chair of the Whitney Pier Community Kitchen Project, a collaborative initiative that provides meals in a welcoming, friendly, inclusive atmosphere out of St. Mary’s Polish Church.

Tom is the past chair of the National Trust for Canada (which is the national charity for historic places), the current president of the Atlantic Canada District of the Canadian Polish Congress, and chair of the steering committee for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s sister-city collaboration with Walbrzych, Poland. Tom is frequently called upon to facilitate community development workshops and mediate in organizations and communities. He serves as Vice Chair of the national charity Faith and the Common Good which works with diverse faith communities on environmental initiatives. Tom helped initiate Habitat for Humanity’s presence in the CBRM and chairs the Affordable Housing Renovation Partnership. He has also served as a trustee for the Cape Breton Regional Library Board where he designed the successful Storyteller-in-Residence program. He likewise previously served as a board member of Centre communautaire Etoile de l’Acadie, and as an official Canadian election observer in Ukraine.

Tom provides frequent media analysis on public policy in both English and French. He also has a deep commitment to creating new opportunities for students to engage in community service learning as well as new opportunities for continuing education. Tom is married to Rev. Alison Etter, the United Church minister for Glace Bay.