CatholicNews begins a series on some of the archdiocesan offices to help readers understand their roles
When the Chancery first moved into its physical office at Waterloo Street in December 2013, it was starting on a completely blank slate.
For Ms Regina Lim, one of two Chancery staff during those days, the initial set-up was “a steep learning curve” as they had to understand numerous Human Resource (HR) matters and ministry-related documents in a cycle of standardising procedures and guidelines, fine-tuning and revision.
In a nutshell, the Chancery is an arm of the archbishop’s offices – collectively known as the Curia – that handles administrative functions such as HR, clergy matters and records management and archives. Far from being bureaucratic however, the Chancery is pastoral.
Its primary functions are to help the archdiocese in its administrative functions and governance, and to preserve and safeguard documents for the Church’s future.
To date, the Chancery has one office administrator/Personal Assistant to the Chancellor, one HR staff, two Records and Archives staff and a part-time administrative assistant.Chancellor’s role
When Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia retired in 2013, his successor, Archbishop William Goh, appointed Franciscan Friar John-Paul Tan, as the Chancellor, a role mandated by canon 482 of the Code of Canon Law.
Additionally, Fr John-Paul was responsible for setting up a Chancellor’s Office, otherwise known as the Chancery. Having been a parish priest for nine years at the Church of St Mary of the Angels, Fr John-Paul now enjoys the “macro view” of the archdiocese and putting administrative processes in place “so that the diocese will be able to serve the people better”.
As Chancellor, one of his aims for 2015 is to set up the Chancery Archives, a resource and storage facility for the history of the Catholic Church in Singapore.
Records management & Archives
Thanks to canon 486 of the Code of Canon Law, the Catholic Church is one of the most extensive record keepers in the modern world. On top of organising records like historical letters, title deeds and registers for baptism, confirmation and marriage, the Chancery’s Records & Archives staff, Ms Valerie Siew and I, also receive canonical status updates and requests for sacramental records from other Chanceries.
While one of the best things about working with old documents is certainly the chance to have, as Ms Siew says, “history in my hands”, our constant worry is ensuring that everything will stand the test of time.
For example, due to poor paper quality, some external correspondence from the 1960s have already begun to deteriorate. Part of our work involves protecting these fragile documents in archival sleeves that keep the paper together and slows down decay. We have also begun to digitise records, and have planned for more important documents to be permanently captured on microfilm.
Another challenge for any diocesan archives is gathering material on a scale that captures the progress and growth of the entire archdiocese. Not only are we protecting existing records, we must collect a good volume of archival material that represents the various offices and bodies of the local Catholic Church.
This situation has necessitated an Archdiocese Records Retention policy which is in its early stages of implementation. On top of conserving written documents, we also see a need to gather, evaluate and conserve Singapore’s Catholic heritage in all forms, including old photographs, microfilms, and especially oral history archives.
In time, we will be appealing to the public to donate materials that convey the Church’s growth in Singapore. For now, as more local pioneers of the Church pass on, our immediate concern is the setting up of an oral history programme.
We are keen to start interviewing our retired clergy, Religious and lay people who were instrumental in building up parishes or nationwide ministries.
One of the most important tasks we will embark on is finding volunteers who will be trained to conduct oral history interviews.
Administration and Documentation
“Who checks if the guest speaker at my parish is legitimate?” “Who do my parish secretaries refer my PNI (Prenuptial Inquiry) to if I want to get married in an overseas church?” “Can you please help me update my group’s details in the Catholic Directory?” The Chancery!
Being the administrative backbone of the archdiocese, the Administration and Documentation department processes various applications within Singapore and liaises with other Chanceries in the world to help the local Church.
In addition, the department oversees projects like compiling all organisation details for the bi-annual Catholic Directory and collecting Annual Statistics to be sent to the Vatican. This means collaborating with over 300 parishes, offices, schools and other local Catholic entities.
Ms Budiman also helps HR to ensure that policies, whether issued by the state or Church, are implemented and followed up. While it seems straightforward, sticking to established policies is one of the hardest things to do as a governance body.
For example, under Singapore law, all foreigners giving talks or running workshops in Singapore must apply for miscellaneous work passes with the Ministry of Manpower. At the same time, in accordance with the Church’s stance on providing a safe environment for the faithful, the Chancery ensures that these foreign speakers are authenticated by their own ecclesiastical authority.
Another important function of the Chancery is the HR department. Staffed by Ms Sharon Lee, the scope includes recruitment and selection; compensation and benefits; training and development; and performance appraisal and employee relations.
Support to parishes and church entities are Ms Lee’s primary focus: guiding the leaders on technical matters like compensation administration, reviewing job descriptions, qualifications and skills when they ask for help; and in the constructive resolution of disagreements.
HR also liaises with external trainers to provide data protection workshops for clergy and lay Data Protection Officers, as well as clergy-related matters, such as healthcare for priests.
As an office without precedent, work for the Chancery continues to come in many unexpected ways. We look forward to evolve as the diocese develops, as our own efforts and skill-sets broaden to support the outreach and development of the Catholic Church in Singapore.
By Jeanette Chang
Positions AvailableThe Chancery is looking for professionals, volunteers and interns. For details, visit http://www.catholic.org.sg/seek-opportunities/ or call 6336-9408.
1. Administrative Assistant (General)
“Slippery History!”: Oral Archives Programme