NEWPORT — The actions and behaviors of some church leaders over the last year have not instilled confidence.

Their lack of leadership manifested itself repeatedly in public squabbles and disobedient behavior. True leaders know not to participate in these destructive actions because they affect the entire organization. Even some bishops have publicly criticized the pope, criticized each other, lied about each other, and criticized documents approved by church bodies.

In contrast, real leaders discuss issues and disagreements with their peers in private and work together to avoid sending mixed messages to the rest of the organization. Yet some U.S. bishops and other bishops around the world have allowed themselves to be drawn into politics rather than creating and maintaining a unified Catholic message to our government.

We are Catholics first. That informs our political actions. Political parties and politicians of the United States have not shown respect for the truth which is foundational to all other issues. All parties possess anti-Catholic agendas, and they should never think they are endorsed by our church until they embrace truth and the totality of the dignity of the human person. Bishops have the preeminent leadership responsibility to send that message.

Our church continues to have problems because when people in authority lack leadership ability, they operate out of fear. This was evidenced by the scandals and cover-ups we witnessed in years past. Bishops didn’t know what to do when they encountered pedophiles; they sought to hide the problem rather than deal with it. Church leaders cannot repeat this fearful reaction in the face of new challenges.

A leader is not just someone who makes the final decisions for an organization. A leader is someone who influences, inspires and motivates the people and resolves conflicts and problems with transparency while holding people accountable in a timely way.

The responsibility of leadership can be summed up in the Parable of the Talents. A leader must grow the people and the mission of the organization and this happens only when he or she is respected as a trustworthy servant who will exercise accountability in all things whether it be by giving praise, reward, counsel, rebuke or discipline.

Our prayer should be that church leaders around the world focus on leadership principles by working in unison to lead with clear guidance that is always based on church teaching. To help this happen, the church needs to embrace strategic leadership training for all clergy.

Connolly, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Newport, is a retired U.S. Air Force chief master sergeant who manages a research laboratory. He is an organizational development expert and teaches leadership and management in both secular and Catholic forums.