Correction and Clarification on Last Post Re: Retiring Pastor

June 17, 2013

BCI received a number of public comments and several private comments on our last post, and needs to issue a correction and clarification.

Since writing the post, we have learned a few additional pieces of important information.  The subject line, “Boston Archdiocese Evicts 90-year-old Retiring Pastor” and tone of the post conveyed a perspective on this particular situation that we realize now may not have accurately reflected all of the facts.  We have also learned that there is much more to the situation in Newton and adjoining communities than we originally realized.

We were correct that pastors such as 90-year-old Fr. Connelly, who retire as pastors in a collaborative, have to leave that collaborative.  A “new” pastor coming in may not want the “old guy” looking over his shoulder when he becomes pastor, and the “old guy”  may not want to be in the position of looking over the shoulder of the new pastor or having parishioners come to the “old guy” to complain about the “new guy.”  We were also correct that Fr. Connelly wanted to live in Wellesley near his elderly sister and is going to live at St. Pauls in Wellesley with Fr. Bryan Hehir and Fr. Thomas Powers.

However, in this case, the word “evict” was too strong and misrepresented the reality of the situation. Fr. Connelly voluntarily retired at the age of 90, and even though in the parish bulletin he had expressed a desire to stay in the local parish post-retirement, we learned that he did indeed not want to be living locally under a new pastor. Much to our surprise, Fr. Connelly, is in fact friends with Fr. Powers and accepted an invitation to work as Senior Priest in residence at the St. Johns rectory in Wellesley.  We apologize for using the wrong word in the headline and any implication that Fr. Connelly forced out or that his going to live at St. Johns in Wellesley was involuntary.

As for the sense of a “takeover” of the orthodox Sacred Heart in Newton by the less-orthodox pastor, Fr. John Sassani, from Our Ladys in Newton, it is true that Fr. Sassani is much less orthodox than Fr. Connelly, and we still see this as a concern. As background, we understand that a group of Sacred Heart parishioners who knew Fr. Sassani primarily from his having given Lenten missions wrote a letter to the archdiocese asking that he remain as pastor of the collaborative in Newton. In addition, after uproar over the removal of Fr. Walter Cuenin from Our Ladys some years ago, the folks in Braintree may have wanted to avoid upsetting this particular applecart right now. Contributing factors as those may be, BCI still sees this as problematic. If one merely looks at Our Ladys’ bulletin for the past 6-8 months, one will easily see the evidence of dissent from the Catholic faith in the programs offered.  Why should a pastor who allows and encourages dissent from the Catholic faith be given the green light from the archdiocese to broaden their influence over the faithful and lead yet more souls under their care astray?  This will be the topic of a subsequent post.

In addition, we are told publicly and privately that the focus on Sacred Heart and Fr. Sassani is missing even more of the “big picture” of what is happening in the Newton/Wellesley area around Pastoral Planning.

Why are Our Ladys and Sacred Heart now combined–with two churches and Mass schedules, while the smaller St. Bernards in Newton is remaining alone? (St. Bernards is “combined” in name and church-going population with Corpus Christi, but the Corpus Christi church building is now used exclusively by the Korean Catholic community, so you have one parish building at St. Bernards with one parish Mass and sacramental schedule).

And what is happening in nearby Wellesley?  Why was Fr. Richard Fitzgerald suddenly transferred from St. Pauls to St. Columbkille in Brighton?  That leaves St Paul,  the more traditional and orthodox parish in Wellesley, highly vulnerable. http://parishbulletin.com/Bulletins/1194/1194_Paul_Well_0519.pdf
St. Paul still has a parish-based Catholic school, and many orthodox Catholics send their children there. However, BCI understands that Fr. Tom Powers at nearby St. Johns has been angling to get the St Paul parish school closed and instead, to locate a new diocesan-managed Wellesley Catholic Academy at St John’s (where Voice of the Faithful formed back in 2002 under his tutelage).  We all know what a diocesan-managed “Catholic” academy under Mary Grassa O’Neill means.  Father Fitz had apparently resisted this move for several years. Now what happens?

So the big questions are:

  • What will happen to the previous orthodoxy at Sacred Heart in Newton with the less-than-orthodox Fr. Sassani taking over?   Is this part of a pattern of orthodox pastors in Boston retiring and being replaced by unorthodox pastors?
  • Who will get the whole of Wellesley?
  • Why is a parish such as St Bernard in Newton standing alone, while other larger parishes are combining?

Again, we apologize for not having full information on the Fr. Connelly situation when we wrote our last blog post about the changes in Newton.

ps. We understand there are problems at another Sacred Heart–Sacred Heart in Middleboro — part of a new collaborative that also includes Sts Martha and Mary in Lakeville and St Rose of Lima in Rochester.  A report from the vigil Mass this past Saturday was very concerning. Any parishioners who were at that Mass or who heard what happened–please drop us a line.


Boston Archdiocese Evicts 90-year-old Retiring Pastor

June 3, 2013

If the implementation of the new pastoral plan across the Boston Archdiocese looks anything like we hear it looks in Newton, MA, we are in for a steep decline.

Latest news on the pastoral plan is that the 90-year-old retiring pastor of Sacred Heart in Newton, Fr. John Connelly, has packed his bags and is moving this week because he was asked by the Boston Archdiocese to leave the parish where he has served as pastor for the last 30 years. Out of obedience to his bishop, this very orthodox pastor has agreed to the plan and is moving to another rectory where he will now reside with two of the least orthodox priests in the archdiocese.

As background, as part of the parish collaborative effort, Sacred Heart in Newton is combining with Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton. According to local parishioners, the two parishes could not be more different. About a month ago in Boston Pastoral Planning Problems, we wrote how Sacred Heart has been led by an orthodox pastor while our Lady Help of Christians is more “new agey” in their liturgies and ministries:

Pastor, Fr. John Sassani of the new collaborative offers yoga at Our Ladys, despite the known objections of the Vatican and risk to the spiritual health of participants. His history of allowing promotion of agendas that dissent from the Catholic faith is well documented in his parish bulletins. Just take a look at the books his parishioners are encouraged to read in their book club, and see this comment from Newton church-hopper:

BCI you should look closer at Our Ladys. Besides glass vessels for the blood of Christ, look at the kinds of faith formation programs they have.

Our Ladys Book Club was reading “sister” Joan Chittister’s “In Search of Belief” last fall.
http://www.ourladys.com/3communications/12_OLbulletin1117.pdf
Chittister is a dissident nun, 60′s leftist and new-ager, supports women’s ordination, speaks at Call to Action conferences.

http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=160011

What an insult to the Blessed Virgin Mary for Fr. Sassani to have “Our Ladys Book Club” reading a book by a dissident nun who disobeyed the Vatican’s request she not speak at a women’s ordination conference!!!!:
http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=4090&CFID=32341358&CFTOKEN=68695370

What happens when the new pastor from the bigger parish takes over the smaller parish in the collaborative? They boot the former pastor, even if he is 90-years-old and ordained a priest for 65 years. Here are several notices in the Sacred Heart bulletin that detail the progression:

January 20, 2013: Fr. Connolly wrote in the bulletin about the pending collaborative and impact on him:

“Some folks have been asking how all this affects my situation here at Sacred Heart parish where I will complete my thirtieth year on June 30. A pastor who resigns his parish is obviously eligible for another parish. however, nobody wants a 90-year-old pastor. A pastor who retires has a number of options. He can live in his ancestral home, which I do not have. He could live alone in a condo he purchased decades ago, which I did not do. My option, therefore, means I would live in a rectory somewhere and help out. My present desire would be to remain where I am and be active in priestly ministry in the new collaborative here in Newton. I would prefer to live where I am living but I could move to Our Lady’s Parish. However, final decisions must await the appointment of the new pastor in April.”

February 3, 2013: Fr. Connolly wrote in the bulletin about a different plan for him:

To understand my future means to understand what it means to be a diocesan presbyter working under the Diocesan Bishop. When I was ordained in 1950 I freely and willingly made the solemn promise of respect and obedience to the bishop. This is what I have followed throughout my priesthood. Accordingly, I must say that at this time I shall remain on as pastor of Sacred Heart until June 2013. I will then assume the role of Senior Priest to serve anywhere else in the diocese except here in the new collaborative. I agree with the diocesan policy. The point of the policy is to allow the new pastor to assume his new duties as he meets his new parishioners and they meet him. My many years of teaching theology, especially the teaching of the faith on original sin, makes me understand and make sense of this diocesan policy.

If you read one of his final messages in the May 26, 2013 bulletin, you will see a summary of Fr. Connelly’s life (“Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill”) and yet another example of what an amazing priest we understand Fr. Connelly is.

The going-away party for him was Sunday. BCI understands he is moving to the rectory at St. John’s in Wellesley (closer to his sister at Seton Residence /Sisters of Charity, Wellesley) where he will live with dissidents Fr. Bryan Hehir and Fr. Thomas Powers (who was pastor when Voice of the Faithful was founded in their school basement hall).

Big parish led by unorthodox pastor merges with smaller parish led by orthodox pastor. Unorthodox pastor with his unorthodox parochial vicar (founder of Boston Priests Forum) take over; 90-year-old orthodox pastor of smaller parish obediently follows orders to leave, goes to live in rectory with leading diocesan dissidents to be nearby elderly sister. If BCI got some part of this story wrong, please let us know.

How exactly this represents forward progress and a chance to better evangelize the truths of the Catholic faith is unclear to BCI. What do you think?


Boston Pastoral Planning Problems

April 30, 2013

As Phase One of the new Boston pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission, is being rolled out, early indicators are that the plan is going to be anywhere from somewhat to highly problematic. This is the plan that will group Boston parishes into collaboratives staffed by a single pastor, with a shared pastoral service team (PST). For a while, BCI tried to stay neutral, if not cautiously optimistic about the plan, but each week as we see and hear more about the rollout, the more concerned we become.

BCI sees multiple problems.  At a high level, they include:

  • Promotion of the agendas and beliefs of those who dissent from the faith, pretending it is part of the “new evangelization”
  • Failure to plan for former pastors who will no longer be pastors
  • Unnecessary reductions in Mass schedules and availability of the sacraments
  • Unresponsiveness to the concerns of faithful Catholics by Cardinal O’Malley, Vicar General Bishop Deeley, and Assistant to the VG Fr. Bryan Parrish
  • Lack of understanding of the key success factors for evangelization (as exemplified by the meeting in Braintree this past Saturday)

It will take many posts for us to go into all of these.  We will start with just a preview of the first two areas today.

As seen here, the pastors for all of the Phase One collaboratives were announced recently:

Pastors of the Phase One Collaboratives

As of last week, all of the Pastors for the Phase One Collaboratives have been named. Each one has responded generously and willingly to implement the Pastoral Plan as Pastor of one of the Collaboratives. We promise them our prayers and support in the days and months ahead. These new Pastors are:

1. Saint Luke and Saint Joseph, Belmont ~ Fr. Thomas Mahoney
2. Saint Mary, Saint Margaret and Saint John, Beverly ~ Fr. Mark Mahoney
3. Saint Mary, Saint Theresa, and Saint Andrew, Billerica ~ Fr. Shawn Allen
4. Saint Mary, Brookline ~ Fr. Brian Clary
5. Saint Mary of the Angels, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Our Lady of Lourdes,
Jamaica Plain ~ Fr. Carlos Flor
6. Saint Mary and Sacred Heart, Lynn ~ Fr. Brian Flynn
7. Our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Maria Goretti, Lynnfield ~ Fr. Paul Ritt
8. Saint Lucy and Saint Monica, Methuen ~ Msgr. William Fay
9. Saints Martha and Mary, Lakeville and Sacred Heart, Middleboro/Rochester
~ Fr. John Sheridan
10. Sacred Heart and Our Lady Help of Christians, Newton ~ Fr. John Sassani
11. Saint James, Saint John, Immaculate Conception and Sainte Anne, Salem,
~ Fr. Daniel Riley
12. Saint Jerome and Immaculate Conception, Weymouth ~ Fr. Joseph Rossi

About 3/4 of the present group of pastors are new to their collaborative. Apparently Fr. Paul Soper, Director of Pastoral Planning, (who had a Voice of the Faithful group at his most recent parish for several years), is driving this and is largely getting his way with the pastoral appointments.  BCI is told they want hand-picked “chosen” ones in collaboratives, so in some cases the normal pastoral appointment process is bypassed and politics kick in.

BCI is going to share brief comments on just one appointment to exemplify our point about promotion of dissident agendas and beliefs–Fr. John Sassani.   He offers yoga in his parish, despite the known objections of the Vatican and risk to the spiritual health of participants. His history of allowing promotion of agendas that dissent from the Catholic faith is well documented in his parish bulletins.  Just take a look at the books his parishioners are encouraged to read in their book club, and see this comment from Newton church-hopper:

BCI you should look closer at Our Ladys. Besides glass vessels for the blood of Christ, look at the kinds of faith formation programs they have.

Our Ladys Book Club was reading “sister” Joan Chittister’s “In Search of Belief” last fall.
http://www.ourladys.com/3communications/12_OLbulletin1117.pdf
Chittister is a dissident nun, 60′s leftist and new-ager, supports women’s ordination, speaks at Call to Action conferences.

http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=160011

What an insult to the Blessed Virgin Mary for Fr. Sassani to have “Our Ladys Book Club” reading a book by a dissident nun who disobeyed the Vatican’s request she not speak at a women’s ordination conference!!!!:
http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=4090&CFID=32341358&CFTOKEN=68695370

There are many other examples we will have to cover in a future post. Readers tell BCI that Our Lady’s is very much a “new age” type parish–far from orthodox in liturgies and ministries. They are now paired with a parish that had been led by a very orthodox pastor.  All in the Boston Archdiocese should ask why a pastor who allows and encourages his parishioners to read this garbage would now be made pastor of a collaborative. Is this an early indicator for future collaboratives?

Then there is the new problem created–we have too many priests for the available pastor slots, so a number of former pastors are now sitting on the sidelines. 50 priests were forced to resign their roles this spring to make way for Phase 2 collaboratives.  (Normally, maybe 10 pastors change at this time of year, so 50 is a big number). There were 12 open roles for pastors of collaboratives, plus some additional openings not formally a part of the collaborative effort.  Because a lot more pastors were forced to resign from parishes than there are available pastor roles, a number of former pastors now have no place to go. The reasons are varied–some parishes cannot afford a second or third priest, some of the new pastors do not want certain of the former pastors as parochial vicars, some former pastors do not want to now be a parochial vicar, and there are issues and agendas on both sides (whether real or perceived).

To deal with this new problem, sources tell BCI that the office of Clergy Personnel has hired a new psychiatrist to coordinate the treatment of priests’ issues, including those associated with displacement and moving assignments. We are not kidding.

BCI has been praying for the success of the pastoral planning effort in Boston, and still hopes it is successful. But we are beginning to have very serious concerns about execution of the new pastoral plan, and the implications for the typical Boston parish. Readers are invited to share their initial reactions to what they are seeing of the implementation so far.


Boston Archdiocese Unveils First Wave of Massive Parish Reorganization. Watch Out!

January 11, 2013

The first wave of a massive change to the organization of parishes in the Boston Archdiocese was unveiled on Thursday. BCI is getting concerned that a well-intentioned and much-needed plan has the potential to turn into a train-wreck based on some early indicators. Read on.

Here is a link to the announcement by the archdiocese, including the list from the Archdiocese of the 28 parishes that will be grouped into 12 clusters (or “collaboratives”) in the first phase of the reorganization plan:

1. Saint Luke and Saint Joseph, Belmont
2. Saint Mary, Saint Margaret, Saint John, Beverly
3. Saint Mary, Saint Theresa, Saint Andrew, Billerica
4. Saint Mary, Brookline (a one-parish collaborative)
5. Saint Mary of the Angels, Roxbury and Saint Thomas and Our Lady of Lourdes, Jamaica Plain
6. Saint Mary and Sacred Heart, Lynn
7. Our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Maria Goretti, Lynnfield
8. Saint Lucy and Saint Monica, Methuen
9. Sacred Heart, Middleboro and Saints Martha and Mary, Lakeville
10. Sacred Heart and Our Lady Help of Christians, Newton
11. Saint James, Saint John, Immaculate Conception, and Saint Anne, Salem
12. Saint Jerome and Immaculate Conception, Weymouth

Here is a summary from the Boston Globe:

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston on Thursday announced the names of more than two dozen parishes participating in the first phase of a major reorganization that will eventually group the archdiocese’s 288 parishes into about 135 clusters, each led by a team of clergy and lay leaders.

The reorganization, to be phased in over five years, is designed to help parishes cope with diminished Mass attendance, a shortage of priests, and anemic fund-raising. Church officials hope the plan will eventually strengthen parishes and help reverse those trends.

The 28 parishes participating in the pilot phase — diverse in size, wealth, ethnicity, and geography — will be grouped into 12 clusters, or “collaboratives.” The collaboratives will gradually take shape over the next two years, as clergy and lay leaders are assigned and trained, and teams from each one create a long-term plan.

The parishes will remain open, but church officials said they hope will learn to work together to share resources.

This topic merits much more attention than time and space permit BCI to give to it today. We will share a few initial observations.

First, a new pastoral plan is a necessity given the changing dynamics above–but, for the record, it should be noted that the biggest problems are failed leadership at the highest levels of the archdiocese and diminished Mass attendance, which then translates to lower contributions. When BCI looks at the numbers, though we have fewer priests, the ratio of priests to active Mass-going Catholics is actually proportionate today to what the ratio was decades ago when we had more priests and more Mass-going Catholics.  It is unclear why the media does not realize that and the archdiocese does not publicly say that. We will get you data in the near future.

Second, it seems to BCI that the archdiocese is putting the cart before the horse. Just as we were thinking this yesterday, one long-time reader observed to BCI via email:

“RCAB has done nothing to build trust in its Catholics.  It has done nothing to foster the proper formation for staff and laity to handle how these changes happen — they have definitely put the cart before the horse. So with no trust, and the average parish council member not knowing the canonical difference between “church” and “parish,” there is likely to be a lot more heat generated than light.”

The right sequence would be to get the right people with strong leadership qualities and proud adherence to true Catholic Church teachings on-board  first to help lead and guide the path ahead–and also get the wrong people out of any leadership roles.  Then, you form and educate people with real authentic catechesis, not just “the new evangelization training.” And after that, then you roll out the changes.  The archdiocese has the order all wrong.

Third, the lack of financial transparency by the Boston Archdiocese is going to continue to hurt, rather than help build trust and enable success. Just one  example is described in this post, New Boston Chancellor Needs to Work on Transparency.  More than halfway into the fiscal year, there is still no published operational budget, as was published in 2010, 2011 and 2012.  Several readers report they wrote to Chancellor John Straub, some multiple times, and got no response. Any of the following could be the reason: a) He is not sufficiently capable or competent that he has produced a budget more than halfway into the fiscal year and is still working on it, b)  He is unconcerned about delivering what faithful Catholics are looking for in order to trust the archdiocese, c) He has a budget, but will not share it because there is something the archdiocese is hiding, such as mingling funds from separate entities, or borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, d) he flat out lied or deceived everyone when, upon his promotion to Chancellor, he said publicly, one of his goals would be to “continue to maintain that stability and transparency and enhance it where we can.”  Given this budget was published for the past 3 years, we have clearly gone backwards from the past. He has also failed to respond to inquiries about how the bills for 40-50% of parishes in the red are being paid. The next step for some readers is to take the matter to the Papal Nuncio and the Vatican  Congregation for Bishops. If the report does not appear soon, BCI may start a campaign calling for a new Chancellor to be named, since John Straub is already missing the mark.

Fourth, the arrangement of collaboratives, and nature of clergy personnel decisions could be wrought with controversy.  How will a doctrinally orthodox parish mesh with one that is doctrinally less orthodox?  For example, in Newton, the example cited with parishioner comments in the Globe article, a number of readers have written to share concerns because Sacred Heart has been led by a former seminary instructor and doctrinally orthodox pastor, Fr. John Connolly, who is in his 80s and near retirement, while Our Lady Help of Christians was led by the not-doctrinally-orthodox Fr. Walter Cuenin and is currently led by Fr. John Sassani, whose orthodoxy is exemplified by his recently permitting a Yoga Prayer program at the parish, despite clear admonitions from the Vatican’s Congregation of the Faith about the spiritual dangers of yoga. Sacred Heart has had pro-life Masses on a monthly basis, while in contrast, the Social Justice group at Our Ladys used to march in the annual Boston Gay Pride parade. Sacred Heart and nearby St. Bernards both have weekly Eucharistic Adoration on Saturday mornings; Our Ladys has no regular time for Eucharistic Adoration. When Our Ladys was renovated in the late 1990s, they installed a Protestant-style in-ground baptismal pool in the floor near the altar–and not long after the church reopened, BCI is told a lay Eucharistic minister fell into the baptismal pool during Communion, dropping a glass chalice on the marble floor, which shattered and spilled the precious blood of Christ on the floor. Now they have rubber mats and cordons to prevent that problem, but other liturgical concerns remain. The differences in the leadership, culture, liturgies and orthodoxy of the parishes could not be greater. Who will ultimately be the pastor of the collaborative? Will he be orthodox or not? How will the two diametrically different parishes blend together and make decisions? Beyond this collaborative, how will all clergy personnel decisions be made?  Will decisions be influenced by back-room dealings outside of standard pastoral appointment processes, as happened with the naming of Msgr. Paul Garrity to St. Catherine’s in Norwood in 2011 after Garrity had announced his retirement from the priesthood?  What will an orthodox parish do if and when their new pastor for the collaborative is not decidely not orthodox?

Lastly, the failed leadership at the top in the Boston Archdiocese will continue to undermine the chances for success of this broad, very important initiative. Bishop Deeley’s comments about why this effort will succeed are reflective of the problem. In the archdiocesan press release, he said, “We have confidence that Disciples in Mission will be successful because it is the fruit of a collaborative effort with clearly defined goals and objectives.”  Where to start on this one?

What are the measurable objectives?  How many Catholics is each collaborative expected to bring back to the Church by what date?  How much is weekly Mass attendance across the archdiocese expected to increase by, in what timeframe?

Worse still is the misguided notion that the initiative will succeed because it comes from a “collaborative effort with clear goals.” The Big Dig came from a collaborative effort with clear goals.  Obamacare came from a collaborate effort with clear goals. So did the 9/11 terrorist acts. So did the Nazi Holocaust. Are collaboration and having goals really the essential factors to have a model for “success”? Does the Vicar General really believe that collaboration with clear goals makes an initiative succeed?

First off, an initiative like this will succeed, if and only if, it has strong leadership starting at the top, and the initiative is rooted from top to bottom in the authentic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Strong leadership at the top means the archbishop is passionately committed to his episcopal responsibilities to teach, sanctify and govern. How is that going lately?  We have documented failures there since 2010. Furthermore, “leadership” as defined by an expert in the field, means attributes like integrity (alignment of words and actions with inner values, walking the talk, sticking to strong values, and building an entire organization with powerful and effective cultural values), dedication (spending whatever time and energy on a task is required to get the job done, giving your whole self to the task, dedicating yourself to success and to leading others with you), magnanimity (giving credit where it is due and accepting personal responsibility for failures), humility (recognizing that you are not inherently superior to others and thus they are not inferior to you), openness (being able to listen to ideas that are outside one’s current mental models),  and creativity (thinking differently, being able to get outside the box and take a new and different viewpoint on things).  On just the first three attributes–integrity, dedication, and magnanimity, the report card for our episcopal leadership is not very good. As for how well-rooted the archdiocese is in the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church, just look at their PR firm (filled with former Biden staff and Biden/Obama fundraisers), proudly ex-Catholic HR executive director, Secretary for Social Services and Healthcare (who speaks on panels with anti-Catholics like Barney Frank and thinks Catholic identity means supporting the controversial Catholic Campaign for Human Development), Campaign for Catholic Schools chair who raises millions of dollars for pro-abortion political figures, and certain parish adult faith formation programs.

BCI has been hoping and praying that the archdiocese can pull off this new pastoral plan successfully. But, the challenges and shortcomings above cause BCI to believe the archdiocese still does not get it. We wish we did not feel compelled to say this, but we simply do not think the Boston Archdiocese has what it takes right now to make this ambitious undertaking successful.  Longtime readers can attest that we have been right with our assessments a whole lot more since 2010 than we have been wrong. That is what BCI thinks.  What do you think?


Boston Pastoral Plan Indoctrination Process

December 12, 2012

Last week, Chancellor John Straub sent this email off to all employees at the Pastoral Center to inform them about the indoctrination, er, training process for implementing the new Pastoral Plan.  When you read the message, pull out a piece of paper and tally all of the mentions of why this is happening. Count the number of times you see references to an end goal that resembles helping bring people closer to God and the Catholic Church or to advancing the mission of saving souls. Additional BCI commentary follows the message.

 To all employees of the  Pastoral Center:

On January 16, 2013, we will be beginning Stage One of Training for the Pastoral Plan.  Stage One training is for the Pastoral Center.  In it we will learn some of the same leadership, management, and evangelization skills that will be taught in the collaboratives in their very extensive training program.

We will learn the same vocabulary, the same structures, and the same vision that they will learn.  Appropriately, we will lead the way in the training effort.

For each of us, the training will take eight days, spread out over seven weeks.  Each day of training begins at 9:00AM, and ends at 3:00PM.

There are five modules of the training program.

The Evangelization module, led by Bishop Kennedy and Michael Lavigne, lasts for two days.  You can choose [Wednesday, January 16 and Monday, February 4] or [Monday, February 25 and Tuesday, March 5]

The first of the Leadership modules, led by the Catholic Leadership Institute (and therefore called CLI One), will last for two days.  You can choose [Monday/Tuesday, January 28/29] or [Monday/Tuesday, February 11/12].

The second of the Leadership modules, CLI Two, will last for two days.  You can choose [Wednesday/Thursday, January 30/31] or [Thursday/Friday, February 14/15].

You need to complete CLI One before you attend CLI Two, so you cannot do CLI One in February and CLI Two in January.

The first of the General Topics modules will last for one day.  You can choose Thursday, January 17 or Tuesday, February 26.

The second of the General Topics modules will last for one day.  You can choose Tuesday, February 5 or Wednesday, March 6.

We ask you to please go to the following link to sign up for training as soon as possible:  http://disciplesinmission.com/sign-up-for-stage-one  – a confirming email will be sent when you have successfully registered.  If you have any questions, please contact Father Paul in the Office of Pastoral Planning (x5867, Paul_Soper@rcab.org).

Thank you,

John Straub
Chancellor

How many references to God did you find, or to carrying out the saving ministry of Jesus Christ?  That is really just one concern BCI has–it goes much deeper than this email.

Though we respect Bishop Kennedy and are sure he will do a great job talking about evangelization, that is about all we have some measure of confidence in right now.

Do most of the “new generation” of high-paid Pastoral Center employees and execs brought in under the McDonough/Hehir reign (e.g. Carol Gustavson, Terry Donilon, Mark Dunderdale, John Straub, Mary Grassa O’Neill,  etc)–who replaced the people who worked for the Church for lower pay because they loved Jesus Christ and wanted to advance the mission of the Catholic Church–even have the basics of Catholicism down? Are they bought into the mission of saving souls and that this is a vocation? Or is this just a good job for a sizable paycheck?

The reality, as recently shared by a BCI colleague is this: the ones with the power do NOT demonstrate that they care about the souls, and the ones who care about the souls are treated shabbily. Many of those who care about the souls have left or been pushed out, and those who remain that care are treated poorly.

How can you advance a pastoral plan in the face of this reality?  Does the archdiocese even have the right people on the ship in key roles?  Just in Pastoral Planning, we have a head of the office who allowed a Voice of the Faithful Chapter in his parish, and the newest addition to the office is from the same religious order as the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which the Vatican has criticized for a multitude of doctrinal problems. How can faithful Catholics trust in the plan, when there are obvious reasons to not trust the people in key leadership roles? Almost across the board, it feels like the people in the organization are woefully mismatched to the mission.

Does the archdiocese have the right fundamental structure–civil/legal, organizational and canonical–for pulling off this ambitious program?  No.

In the face of that, consider the following. Is it BCI, or does the tone of the Chancellor email and communication sounds strikingly similar to aspects of what Vladimir Lenin delivered in his 1920 Speech At The Third All-Russia Congress of The Russian Young Communist League.

… the youth will be faced with the actual task of creating a communist society. For it is clear that the generation of working people brought up in capitalist society can, at best, accomplish the task of destroying the foundations of the old, the capitalist way of life, which was built on exploitation. At best it will be able to accomplish the tasks of creating a social system that will help the proletariat and the working classes retain power and lay a firm foundation, which can be built on only by a generation that is starting to work under the new conditions, in a situation in which relations based on the exploitation of man by man no longer exist.

And so, in dealing from this angle with the tasks confronting the youth, I must say that the tasks of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist Leagues and all other organisations in particular, might be summed up in a single word: learn.

Of course, this is only a “single word”. It does not reply to the principal and most essential questions: what to learn, and how to learn? And the whole point here is that, with the transformation of the old, capitalist society, the upbringing, training and education of the new generations that will create the communist society cannot be conducted on the old lines…Only by radically remoulding the teaching, organisation and training of the youth shall we be able to ensure that the efforts of the younger generation will result in the creation of a society that will be unlike the old society, i.e., in the creation of a communist society. That is why we must deal in detail with the question of what we should teach the youth and how the youth should learn if it really wants to justify the name of communist youth, and how it should be trained so as to be able to complete and consummate what we have started.

I must say that the first and most natural reply would seem to be that the Youth League, and the youth in general, who want to advance to communism, should learn communism.

BCI really wants to see the Boston Archdiocese succeed with a new pastoral plan and get on the right path to saving souls via stronger parishes. But, the fundamentals still feel way off to us.  Maybe it is just BCI.  Other than the minor matters mentioned above, what do you think of the plans?


Boston archdiocese reshuffe, future kerfuffle?

November 16, 2012

The big news yesterday is that the new Pastoral Plan for Boston, “Disciples in Mission” was approved by Cardinal O’Malley and announced at a press conference.

Here are some of the headline stories:

Pastoral planning to promote the New Evangelization (The Boston Pilot, with text of the press conference remarks by Cardinal O’Malley)

Boston Cardinal approves archdiocese reshuffle (Boston Globe)

Boston Cardinal approves archdiocese reshuffle (WBUR)

Clearly, something has to be done to address the declining number of people attending Mass (down to about 15-17% of Catholics now), declining number of active priests, and the reality that at least 40% of parishes are in the red, and perhaps as much as 50-60% by some internal estimates.  We very much support the objectives of this effort–evangelization and growth–and we commend the archdiocese for the tremendous amount of work put into developing the plan and getting broad input on it.  BCI does not have an alternate proposal to this Pastoral Plan, and this is the plan approved going forward. But that said, BCI thinks there is likely to be a bit of a kerfuffle on the path to the reshuffle.

Here is the gist of the plan, as described in the press release:

The Pastoral Plan groups the [288] parishes of the Archdiocese into approximately 135 collaboratives.  Each parish maintains its own identity in the collaboratives.  Each parish retains its buildings, its canonical rights, its financial assets and obligations. The collaborative will have one Pastor who will work with one Pastoral Team, one Parish Pastoral Council and one Parish Finance Council.  Together they will develop a pastoral plan for their local collaborative, focused on serving the needs of the parishes in their local collaborative and advancing the mission of the New Evangelization.  The formation of the parish collaboratives will be phased in, with appropriate flexibility, over a period of five years.  Pastors, pastoral teams, and councils of each parish collaborative will participate in extensive theological and practical training for the New Evangelization.  The first list of parishes being grouped will be announced in January 2013.  For a full review of the plan and for additional information please visit www.disciplesinmission.com.

Here are a few things to be concerned with in implementation, which we hope and pray the archdiocese will address:

  • Canon Law (Can. 537) says that each parish is to have its own Finance Council.  “in each parish there is to be a finance council which is governed, in addition to universal law, by norms issued by the diocesan bishop and in which the Christian faithful, selected according to these same norms, are to assist the pastor in the administration of the goods of the parish, without prejudice to the prescript of Can. 532 (which says the pastor represents the parish according to the norm of law). Canonically, it is not entirely clear how to pull this off, though we know that Fr. Bob Oliver, the canon lawyer working on this for Bishop-elect Deeley, has been all over it trying to figure out how.
  • Beyond the letter of Canon Law, it is not clear how one Finance Council will make decisions in a fair way across multiple parishes in a collaborative, each of which has its own unique financial condition, some of which might be in the red and some of which might be in the black.
  • Did the “Catholics Come Home” campaign of 2011 help boost Mass attendance? If not, what is to be learned from that effort, so we do better at evangelization in the future?
  • What will be done with all of the empty rectories?
  • Will this effort lead to more parish closings, but just done at a local collaboration level, parish by parish, rather than at a diocesan level? What could be done to avoid that outcome?
  • Fr. Paul Soper was chosen as permanent Director of Pastoral Planning role.  He has a Voice of the Faithful chapter at his parish. Even if he inherited the chapter when he took over as pastor, given their track record of dissent from Church teachings, why has he allowed them to remain?
  • The announcement says, “Pastors, pastoral teams, and councils of each parish collaborative will participate in extensive theological and practical training for the New Evangelization.”  BCI has read their “plan” and found things to like, but also a lot of holes. For example, if the Archdiocese cannot or will not put a stop to heretical lay adult faith formation programs in parishes such as those documented in “Boston Parish Adult Faith Formation – Good and Bad,” (which include speakers like the national co-chair of “Catholics for Obama”, a talk on Buddhism, and reading a sex novel), then why should anyone believe in their new “extensive theological training”?  If the Archdiocese does not realize they should not be allowing people like Obama-supporter, Fr. Kenneth Himes of BC to speak at parishes and should not be promoting his talks, how can the Archdiocese assure Catholics they can get theological training correct?  And years after they said the were going to post and promote a list of approved programs, resources, and opportunities for lay faith formation  in parishes, collaboratives and at the Archdiocesan level, such a web page still cannot be found. If they cannot even  put up a web page, how will they pull off this ambitious effort?
  • Who is going to pay for this plan and its implementation? If it is to be the people in the pews, why should they dig deeper into their pockets in these difficult economic times while the Pastoral Center has done nothing to curb the excessive six-figure salaries paid to lay executives? Two years after the “Compensation Committee” was formed to revisit excessive six-figure salaries, there have been no changes and nothing whatsoever to show for their efforts, except engagement of an expensive consultant and empty words in an annual report .
  • Does the RCAB have the right people on the ship to set direction and drive and execute this effort? Have they gotten the “wrong” people off the ship? If they have not yet gotten the “wrong” people off the ship–despite years of evidence they are the wrong people–how will the RCAB ever attract the best people, especially after the ship has set sail?
  • Does the RCAB even have the right structure in place to pull this off?
  • If the RCAB cannot deal, or refuses to deal with problems like the ongoing presence and influence of Fr. Bryan Hehir, Jack Connors, and Terry Donilon, how will they ever execute a program intended to evangelize fallen-away Catholics with the truths of the Catholic faith?
  • Re-read this blog post, “Pastoral Planning Perspectives” including these objective observations from a reader:

The plan assumes competent people in leadership for evangelization, and a sound financial footing for RCAB to pull it off. I am not convinced that RCAB can assure us of either at the moment.Many dioceses have implemented this kind of plan, but they have done so only by beginning with extensive lay formation. To make the plans, announce them and implement them, and then announce a plan for formation assumes that the people, having learned of the plans, will be eager to support them by giving time and energy (not to mention money) to these formation efforts.

Has RCAB put the cart before the horse? Given the five-year plan, wouldn’t there have been time to provide the formation program to parish planning and finance council members, then let them help recommend the collaborative options?

When RCAB says it is paying for something, it means WE are paying for it. There isn’t some magical pot of money from which RCAB draws — it’s our donations that fund all the salaries and expenses of the central administration.

Is it time for one other adjustment to take place as part of this collaboration? Is it time for the civil body of Corporation Sole and its finance committee to be dissolved, and for a new civil structure to replace it? We wish for religious freedom from our government, and yet we do not expect fiscal accountability of the civil structure of the archdiocese. Corp Sole is one man, one vote. Period. And that man, for good or ill, is accountable for every act to which he affixes his signature.

Is it time the structure reflected a civil leadership body of bishops, priests and lay faithful who are personally liable and accountable for the civil undertakings of the Archdiocese? Has the 19th century fiction of Corporation Sole run its course? Archbishop Williams asked for the Corp Sole form from the legislature. He exhibited remarkable wisdom in his selection of those who advised him, and in the execution of diocesan fiscal affairs. His successor, Cardinal O’Connell’s, fiscal abuses are well documented. Every ordinary since has either overbuilt, overspent or at least been manipulated by those who sought personal gain from dealings with RCAB. Could it be time for the fiscal and civil reins to be held in more than one hand? And could it be that changing the way parishes are run is the ideal time to recommend a change in how the fiscal and civil structure of the diocese is run?

How many more base salaries over $160,000.00 (with benefits and employment tax contributions that’s actually right at $200,000.00) can WE afford to pay? And how many more conflicts of interest can the Archdiocese of Boston afford to pursue?

That said, they need to do something. All Catholics should support the goals of evangelizing the truths of the Catholic faith to a secular society and trying to increase the number of Catholics attending Mass.  This plan looks directionally like the best or only approach left to consider today–short of immediate widespread church closings. But, in the opinion of BCI, the RCAB is so ill-prepared, ill-financed, ill-organized, inappropriately staffed and lacking in strong leadership, that the implementation will probably never realize the vision. If they could only muster the ability to address the issues detailed above, maybe it has a prayer of success.


Pastoral Planning Perspectives

September 23, 2012

Our last post, where we gave a high-level summary of the new Disciples in Mission” Pastoral Plan, generated a fair amount of feedback.  Today, we will highlight some of that feedback, and some of our own as well.

As stated in the Pastoral Plan, its purpose is “to revitalize the Church in Boston by positioning our parishes more solidly for the task of evangelization, the work of reaching out to our brothers and sisters and drawing them more fully to Christ Jesus.”

We could certainly use a revitalization of Catholicism and the Catholic Church in Boston.  BCI agrees that something different needs to be done. About 270,000 Catholics go to Mass every Sunday, down from a high of 2 million just several decades ago.  This plan seeks a different approach to the problem of declining numbers of Mass-going Catholics and active clergy than has been taken in the past.  Many people think it will lead to more church closings, while the Boston Archdiocese specifically intends for it to eliminate the need for widespread church closings again. Time will tell if this proposal is the right approach. Today we discuss some key concerns with the proposal.

BCI has long been concerned about the financial condition of the Boston Archdiocese, and with more than 50-60% of parishes now in the red, who will pay for this plan? Mostly lay Catholics, since it is their donations who support their parish and the Archdiocese. It would be nice if the Archdiocese was seen as a good steward of donor contributions, yet nearly 2 years after the Archdiocesan Finance Council created a Compensation Committee to review the millions of dollars in excessive six-figure salaries paid to lay Pastoral Center executives and recommend a better way to handle compensation, there is still no evidence of meaningful action taken to reduce them. All we know is that the committee has met and is still meeting, they hired a consultant to study the matter and issue a report, but the report has not been made public. There is some talk about adjusting salaries during the annual reviews, and/or asking certain high-paid executives to accept a lower salary commensurate with Catholic Church standards when their contracts are up for renewal. At the point when Catholics are asked to dig deeper into their pockets to help fund this plan, why should they do so when the Pastoral Center has not tightened their own belts?

How will lay formation be handled? Who exactly will handle it?  Why is the plan coming before the formation, rather than formation coming first and laying the foundation, which then would then lead to better informed plans?  Interestingly, the position description for the Director of the Office of Pastoral Planning still does not require that the person in the role even be Catholic or believe Catholic Church teachings according to the Magisterium of the Church.  To be a judge on the Tribunal in Boston, thankfully, applicants should be a Catholic in good standing with “adherence and understanding of the Magisterial teachings of the Church.”  But, to run Pastoral Planning, those attributes are somehow not necessary.

Some readers may not be aware that an extensive Lay Faith Formation study was done, with a report issued in 2010.  The report is worth a read, as there are some good ideas.   One of them is the following:

2. The Secretariat for Faith Formation and Evangelization should establish and maintain a page on its website (at BostonCatholic.org) that tht lists approved programs, resources and opportunities that exist in parishes, collaboratives, and at the Archdiocesan level for the faith formation of the laity.
a. This webpage should identify and describe the lay faith formation programs and activities of the Archdiocese and make available the archdiocesan guidelines for the formation of the laity. It should clearly indicate any fees for these programs and the level of competency necessary to enroll.
b. The existence of this webpage should itself be well advertised and brought regularly to the attention of the laity, religious and clergy of the Archdiocese.

Can anyone point to BCI to the location of 2a?  Is that this page which lists all offices associated with Faith Formation and Evangelization?

Given the poor state of catechesis over the past 40 years for most Catholics, exactly what will be taught to Pastoral Center and parish staff (and by whom) to help them develop a stronger prayer and faith life and prepare them for evangelization?

Beyond those concerns, do we even have the right people and organizational structure in place in the Boston Archdiocese today to embark on this ambitious plan?  As objectively observed by “Objective Observer“:

The plan assumes competent people in leadership for evangelization, and a sound financial footing for RCAB to pull it off. I am not convinced that RCAB can assure us of either at the moment.

Many dioceses have implemented this kind of plan, but they have done so only by beginning with extensive lay formation. To make the plans, announce them and implement them, and then announce a plan for formation assumes that the people, having learned of the plans, will be eager to support them by giving time and energy (not to mention money) to these formation efforts.

Has RCAB put the cart before the horse? Given the five-year plan, wouldn’t there have been time to provide the formation program to parish planning and finance council members, then let them help recommend the collaborative options?

When RCAB says it is paying for something, it means WE are paying for it. There isn’t some magical pot of money from which RCAB draws — it’s our donations that fund all the salaries and expenses of the central administration.

Is it time for one other adjustment to take place as part of this collaboration? Is it time for the civil body of Corporation Sole and its finance committee to be dissolved, and for a new civil structure to replace it? We wish for religious freedom from our government, and yet we do not expect fiscal accountability of the civil structure of the archdiocese. Corp Sole is one man, one vote. Period. And that man, for good or ill, is accountable for every act to which he affixes his signature.

Is it time the structure reflected a civil leadership body of bishops, priests and lay faithful who are personally liable and accountable for the civil undertakings of the Archdiocese? Has the 19th century fiction of Corporation Sole run its course? Archbishop Williams asked for the Corp Sole form from the legislature. He exhibited remarkable wisdom in his selection of those who advised him, and in the execution of diocesan fiscal affairs. HIs successor, Cardinal O’Connell’s, fiscal abuses are well documented. Every ordinary since has either overbuilt, overspent or at least been manipulated by those who sought personal gain from dealings with RCAB. Could it be time for the fiscal and civil reins to be held in more than one hand? And could it be that changing the way parishes are run is the ideal time to recommend a change in how the fiscal and civil structure of the diocese is run?

How many more base salaries over $160,000.00 (with benefits and employment tax contributions that’s actually right at $200,000.00) can WE afford to pay? And how many more conflicts of interest can the Archdiocese of Boston afford to pursue?

BCI believes comments like these and others on our last post should become a topic of discussion for Cardinal Sean and the Pastoral Planning Commission as soon as possible. During the next 3-4 months when the Cardinal reviews the plan, these are points that merit serious consideration.

Reader, Stephen, opined to another reader, in part:

Your comments represent the unauthorized use of common sense. This display of intellect has disqualified you from any decision making positions within the RCAB.

Please go back and review the 5-year plan to institute the new vision. Please pay close attention to the PPTT as well as the CLI and TINE. Note also well the EVNE and the PPO.

Much work must be done in Boston to either pave the way for some version of this plan or to modify it into another form so that the sacraments can be preserved for this generation and future generations.  Every person in the Boston Archdiocese will be affected by this plan, so keep the plan and those responsible for decision-making in your daily prayers.


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