Global perspectives in the Catholic Church

3 Jul 2024

A professor at LMU since 2023, Catholic theologian Jean Olivier Nke Ongono studies the international challenges and opportunities of the church leadership.

Professor Jean Olivier Nke Ongono is specialized in canon law and church administration. Born in Cameroon, he has been researching and teaching at LMU since last spring. His Chair of Global Church Leadership is “unique in the Catholic world” and addresses questions of modern church leadership in an international context.

The starting point for his work is the realization that the world has changed a great deal and that the Catholic Church needs to take account of these developments and new challenges. “Naturally, the principles of canon law remain the foundation of the Catholic Church,” says the professor. “However, their application and presentation must be adapted to the various demands the church is facing.”

In this context, the study of global church leadership is first and foremost about the specificities and cultural and social preconditions of Catholic life in various regions of the world and about drawing conclusions from them which can guide church policy.

Professor Nke-Ongone stands in the stairwell and looks into the camera. He is wearing a fashionable jacket and a white shirt.

Professor für Globale Kirchenleitung: Jean Olivier Nke Ongono.

© LMU/LC Productions

Academy of Global Church Leadership

The job of bringing the chair’s work to life has only just begun for Nke Ongono. “When I came to Munich, the chair was established, but the contents hadn’t been worked out yet. This is a good challenge and I’m looking forward to tackling it.”

Nke Ongono’s field of inquiry is not only international, but interdisciplinary as well. The research is very fact-based and encompasses topics such as church financing in different countries and cultural contexts.

The first Academy of Global Church Leadership, held in May of this year, was devoted to this very subject of church financing. Featuring 57 participants from Europe, Africa, the Americas, and Asia, the event had a hybrid in-person/online format. “It was a resoundingly successful inaugural event and I was very impressed,” says Jean Olivier Nke Ongono. The academy is to be held every year and address different aspects of church leadership, with experts from various countries reporting on the challenges and problems they are facing. It will serve as a forum for discussion and the development of common solutions.

This requires more than the expertise of clergy and theologians, but also economic, social-scientific, and cultural knowledge. “We need the input of professionals from other fields and to draw on the knowledge of the lay community,” says Jean Nke Ongono, referencing another important topic that will play a role in his research at LMU – the laity.

“Many people have a conception of the Catholic Church as a hierarchy with a stark pyramidal structure. This is not the case at all, as all the church’s members – laypeople and clergy alike – are baptized and therefore equal, with a corresponding say in church affairs,” explains the expert in canon law. “That being said, clearly the clergy – bishops, priests, deacons, and so forth – and the laity have different roles to play.” This can engender problems and lead to inequality in different situations. And the cultural contexts in various regions of the world can also cause difficulties – in some African societies, for example, where a single individual is often invested with rights over others.

“We want to investigate these relationships and develop solutions to bring culturally specific hierarchical constellations into harmony with canon law.”

Wealth of experience

Jean Olivier Nke Ongono can draw on his own wealth of experience here. After all, he has insights into various cultural spheres in which the Catholic Church plays an important role. He studied philosophy, theology, and canon law in Cameroon. And on top of this, he acquired qualifications in computer science and archival studies.

In 2021, he obtained his doctorate in canon law at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome with a dissertation titled “La relevance des besoins matériels dans la vie et le ministère des prêtres diocésains. Le contexte de l’Église au Cameroun.” In addition, he acquired a Magister degree there in the field of marriage and church law.
After that, he returned to his home country for three semesters to teach the subject of marriage and church law.

His alma mater in Rome encouraged him to apply for the advertised professorship at LMU. He plans to open up his teaching unit to cooperation between universities worldwide, and many agreements are already lined up and due to be concluded over the coming months. “We’re convinced there is a great need for cooperation between different parts of the church with different perspectives, so that the church can obtain concrete and efficient answers to negotiate the changes it is facing.”

Nke Ongono is happy with the warm welcome he has received in Munich. He is being supported by the researchers in his own faculty and is also engaged in productive dialog with his colleagues from the Institute for Orthodox Theology and the Faculty of Protestant Theology, with whom he works on common research interests.

In addition to the annual Academy of Global Church Leadership, which is designed for experts from the church hierarchy, students, and early-career researchers in equal measure, there are also plans for an annual symposium with the principal goal of identifying research collaborations and facilitating exchange. These activities will be complemented by a Global Church Leadership Lecture with celebrated speakers from all over the world.

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