Reconfiguration Consternation

Today we continue our exclusive Boston Catholic Insider series on the next phase of parish reconfiguration in the Boston archdiocese.  Just to get new readers up-to-speed, we started with Chancellor Spills Beans to vigilers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Boston regarding future plans to consolidate parishes, we then talked in Vigil Vigilance about the ongoing church occupancies and a proven way to end them  (which no one is acting on still) that would also dramatically lower the cost to the Archdiocese of maintaining those shuttered churches, and yesterday in Vicar General, Moderator of the Furious, we gave some background on Fr. Richard Erikson, who has parish pastoral planning under his limited scope of responsibility and will apparently be a spokesperson on the plans going forward.

We offer you today two areas to ponder: Fr. Erikson’s most recent comments, and a sense for the hodge-podge of planning efforts he attempts to rationalize in his Pilot column.

Vicar General’s Most Recent Comments

Here are excerpts from Fr. Erikson’s email to priests and column in The Pilot, called “Inspired by a Man on a Mission”:

He [St. Paul] would go to the ends of the earth, and lay down his life, so that people would come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ and so that vibrant communities of faith would be established.  Two thousand years later, we are carrying on St. Paul’s zeal and mission through evangelization and mission-centered planning for our future….Accompanying these efforts, and being driven by the same mission, is a renewed comprehensive effort at pastoral planning…

The more recent planning initiatives find their roots in the 1988 Synod that established the Office of Planning and Research and the formation of clusters of parishes to begin working together to find common goals in 1994.  Our archdiocese is indebted to Fr. Robert MacMillan, SJ, Mr. Harry Foden and Sr. Mary Anne Doyle, CSJ for their generous efforts…

Continuing in the spirit of St. Paul, and with the dedicated guidance and leadership of Fr. George Evans, the 2007 Pastoral Planning Report (available at, click on pastoral planning) captured various voices and perspectives and called for a “culture of planning” throughout the Archdiocese, along with an “infrastructure that can sustain effective pastoral planning at all levels.”  The work of Fr. Evans and his committee demonstrated the fact that we are at a critical juncture, a turning point in the history of our archdiocese, as our parishes are challenged by a smaller pool of available clergy, changing demographics, tighter finances, and a secularized culture.   Sr. Marian Batho, CSJ, brought the challenges and perspectives of the Pastoral Planning Report to the people of our archdiocese through a year-long process of consultations on the report.

In 2009, motivated by the recommendations of the Pastoral Planning Report and by the feedback from the consultations, Cardinal Seán hired Director, Fr. David Couturier, OFM. Cap., and Associate Director, Mr. Joshua Phelps for our Office of Pastoral Planning.  Fr. Couturier and Mr. Phelps have been tireless in assisting the archdiocese in mission-centered planning for our future.

Hodge-Podge of Planning Efforts

Readers should immediately notice the variety of people, approaches, and ecclesiologies referenced in this message. We have a hired Jesuit, a hired Capuchian, members of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and a diocesan priest known for wanting “priestless parishes” among the players.  Not mentioned was another Capuchian, Br. James Peterson OFM, Assistant to the Moderator of the Curia for Canonical Affairs, who was also briefly involved in this effort until his input was ignored.  One can only imagine the starts and stops, as well as the conflicting agendas and theological viewpoints of the participants over time.

For example, the Fr. Evans group included a very diverse group of people, some of whom have controversial histories and have been described by our sources as holding “radical” views.  They asked for comments and suggestions from just about everybody.  Aa number of people with experience in this area submitted plans or solid ideas, yet we are told that Fr. Evans either refused to share all of these ideas with the committee or failed to include all good ideas shared with the committee in the final report.  Several sources report that Fr. Evans’ goal was driving toward “priestless parishes”—an idea also backed by people he consulted with such as Fr. Bryan Hehir and Msgr. Dennis Sheehan.  Here is the Evans’ report.   You will note that it includes a potpourri of ideas for consideration but basically no real recommendations.  That is because the committee could not get to consensus on anything other than “Cardinal Sean should look into X, Y, and Z and then decide what he wants to do.”

We hear that several people submitted their disregarded suggestions to the Cardinal, and though he liked many of them and wanted to combine elements of them into one plan, that new “plan” was not the Evans report. So when the Evans report came out, it received faint, half-hearted praise. After the Evans report came out and the dust settled, in May of 2009 Cardinal O’Malley sent for his Capuchin colleague, Fr. David Couturier, and they were off to the races with yet another “plan.”

Who is Fr. Couturier?  Here is the press release announcing his appointment. As a Capuchian, he wears the same kind of brown robe as Cardinal O’Malley, and we are told he and Chancellor McDonough are not exactly drinking buddies.  Could be because Couturier comes across as having more backbone than the average Pastoral Center staffer that the Chancellor can manipulate, and he  also seems to have nothing to gain or lose from the McDonough/Connors/Hehir regime.  (Perhaps Jack Connors has had his fill of mundane parish closings after previously meddling on the Meade-Eisner commission, and he has now turned his sights toward bigger and better things, like controlling the money flow into the archdiocese and getting more property assets for BC and Partners?)  Couturier has the benefit of also being a Capuchin, and the reality is that Cardinal O’Malley tends to listen to other Capuchins, even if their ecclesiological bent is different than his own.

We know little about the other person mentioned, Associate Director of Planning, Joshua Phelps, except that he has a B.A. (2005) and M.A. in Philosophy (2007) from Boston College, has research experience, and was a pastoral associate for the archdiocese before this job.  He also somehow made it through an interview/selection process in which some combination of Fr. Erikson and/or Chancellor McDonough managed to frighten off other well-qualified candidates for the job.

Anyway, this 2009 document, “Developing a Pastoral Plan for Parish Staffing” is basically Fr. Couturier’s plan for a plan.  It says that a plan was to be submitted by March of 2010.  Such a plan has not been released publicly yet.  We do know that it was tough to arrive at a plan that satisfied his boss, Fr. Thomas Foley (the Cabinet Secretary for the Parish Life and Leadership Secretariat) and Cardinal Sean.  Even if no “churches” were to close–and some probably will–a key issue was the number of “parishes” to group individual “churches” into.  Will the magic number be in the neighborhood of 50 parishes?  Will it be more like 150 parishes?  The archdiocese wants to start rolling this out in January of 2011, and though nothing has been publicly confirmed, we have some sense for the number of “parishes” they are aiming for.  Anyone wishing to weigh-in on what you think can do so via email or comments.

Something important to note in this process–and what no one is mentioning publicly–is the demographic reality of the priest-to-Church-going Catholic ratio.  We will talk about that next time, as well as what you might expect to see going forward in the Boston Archdiocesan pastoral plans.

In the meantime, the vigils at shuttered parishes apparently continue. At $4,100/day in cost and 93 days since the Archdiocese learned the Vatican had denied the final appeal, that has cost the archdiocese an additional $380,000.  What ministry is suffering for lack of these funds because the Archdiocese lacks the will to simply do what they have proven works already?  Who is in charge of decision-making in this area?

ps. Note to Chancellor McDonough: primary sources for this post are NOT at 66 Brooks Drive

16 Responses to Reconfiguration Consternation

  1. George Williams says:

    A good bellwether for parish closings may be st. John Chrisystom parish here in West Roxbury. The paster has been reassigned to St. Joseph’s in Needham. Although St. John’s is a fiscally sound parish (no debt and healthy weekly offerings) with a high sacramental index, it is surrounded by parishes in need of parishoners (St. Theresa of Avila, Holy Name and St Mary’s). We have been told by a visting priest that there are no candidates available to become pastor.

    • Anonymous says:

      It should also be noted that St. John requires renovation to install kneelers so that it is in compliance with the norms of the Mass. Holy Name is currently wasting money to replace theirs (I was there the day they announced the replacement in the bulletin and other than being old, not a thing wrong with them) in order to make them more comfortable… they would need the money from the sale of the St. John property.

  2. Larry says:

    O’Malley recently reported to a meeting of the regional vicars that in ten years there will be 150 parishes in the archdiocese. Multiple current parishes will be rearranged to fit into the 150 final parishes. What happens to buildings will be determined locally (you can have one future parish that includes the churches and buildings of many current parishes). This is a done deal. This model of reconfiguration has been successful in many dioceses. What is key to those successes, though, is that they have had bishops who have offered strong direction, have been willing to make difficult choices, and have accepted personal responsibility for their decisions. O’Malley notably lacks any of those qualities. He’s most likely to observe the process from Ireland or perhaps the palace of his noble friends in Portugal. No doubt Bryan Hehir and Jim McDonough will be able to take masterful care of things on the home front.

  3. Angry Parish Council Member says:

    “He [St. Paul] would go to the ends of the earth, and lay down his life, so that people would come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ and so that vibrant communities of faith would be established. Two thousand years later, we are carrying on St. Paul’s zeal”

    Here in the Boston archdiocese “we” (in the Pastoral Center) are carrying on St. Paul’s zeal?!?! I don’t see anyone going to the ends of the earth and laying down his life. We have our Cardinal going to Rome, to white tent garden parties, and a fancy-schmantzy wedding reception at Peter Lynch’s mansion, and the only laying down seems to be the Cardinal, Chancellor McDonough, and Fr. Hehir laying down at the feet of His Holiness Jack Connors.

    Oh that we lived in an archdiocese where our leaders had St. Paul’s evangelistic zeal and boldness in calling evil for what it is. I agree with Larry. Cardinal O’Malley will probably observe this all from afar, leaving the details to McDonough and Hehir (who recently acknowledged jokingly to an audience he does not have the skills to arrange a 3-car funeral procession himself).

  4. Michael says:

    ST. Paul would have martyred himself over the issue of same sex couplings. In contrast, Cardinal O’Malley said: sternly … now I don’t want to offend any one with a disordered inclination, but this is kinda wrong … you activist judges, you.

    St. Paul would have martyred himself over the issue of whether the state can force the Catholics to perform adoption services to people acting in grave sin. In contrast, Cardinal O’Malley sternly said: … well if we can’t do these adoptions then, then , well then, we are leaving. No not leaving ALL social services (because the state needs us to perform all of the other stuff we do) but we are just leaving the field of preventing children from being placed in homes of people acing in gravely sinful ways and who, by definition, possess a mentally disordered inclination.

    St. Paul would have martyred himself over selling moral, ethical hospitals to buyers who have no ethical or moral code and who, in a short while, significantly will add to the destruction of human life through abortion and embryonic stem cell research. In contrast, Cardinal O’Malley said: “Show me the money!”


  5. Chris says:

    Let me toss in my 2 cents about reconfiguration. I’ve been reading Cardinal Sean’s blog recently, and am outraged at some of the photos showing the cardinal celebrating Mass. A few weeks ago there was a picture from Our Lady of Grace in Pepperell showing two girls — one wearing next to nothing, tank top, shorts, flip-flops — bringing up the gifts during a special Mass (posted at LaSalette Journey). This week I see the cardinal at St. Susanna’s celebrating Mass with GLASS CHALICE (specifically forbidden by the Vatican, all the altar vessels must be of precious metal!). I say any parish and pastor that shows such disrespect to the Lord in the celebration of the Mass should be shut down. I am ashamed that Cardinal Sean smilingly oversees such outrages. (Steve Josoma was already on my list for his VOTF work.)

    • Jerry says:

      Would things be better with a gold-plated chalice and well dressed girls? You’ll still be stuck with girl altar boys, right? And the new theology, too? Face it, the Novus Ordo was about experimentation and not about increasing the glory given to God.

      Where’s the Church going to end up in Boston? The good God has decided that we have a destroyer in the see, and he will carry out God’s punishment on us no matter what we do. By all means, slow him down, defund him. Pray for him. But get yourself away from his spiritual influence. There are several Latin Masses to choose from. God bless.

    • NoJosomaFan says:

      Fr. Josoma’s VOTF work is the LEAST of the reasons for him to on your list, believe me. There are just SO many more . . . just ask the good folk at St. Brendan’s who rode him out of town on a rail (along with Fr. Coyne)- for very good reason. Or the people at another one of his assignments, where he (at least tacitly) encouraged young people to “make out” on the couches in the youth ministry area he designed. Or ask the folks on staff at another one of his assignments about his “guests” when the pastor was away on his days off. All of this was reported to the powers-that-be, so I can only imagine why he’s still functioning as a priest, much less the pastor of a parish that was scheduled for closing.

  6. Anna says:

    Visiting the most beautiful places in the world, living the life of a king, rubbing elbows at swanky events, eating the finest foods in the finest places, flying first class, the jet lag has just got to be killing the humble friar.

    Glass, schmass. He does not have time to worry about the minutia of worthiness of vessels for Our Lord and the splintering of the Archdiocese.

  7. TheLastCatholicinBoston says:

    The Glass Chalice closes the deal for me.
    We are in apostasy.
    I believe that many in Rome believes this as well.

    The Vatican gives approval to the Slaves of the Immaculate in NH this week? Extraordinary symbolic move.
    To me this is a Roman shot across the bow of
    the Am-katholic church based here in Boston.

  8. Michael says:

    Could someone explain why a glass chalice is important? I am not questioning your concerns. I just don’t understand what the issue is. To me, allowing two people to destroy the innocence of every school child in Weymouth “Catholic” school, by condoning two mommies as unobjectionable, is much more troublesome than the type of chalice. But I am not questioning the seriousness of your concern. I just would like an explanation of the seriousness of it and how it compares to the Weymouth situation.

    • Ignored Pastor says:

      The seriousness is this: if we don’t care about how we treat the Eucharistic Lord, then why do you think we would care about dangers to his little ones? They are definitely connected dissent is dissent, disobedience to Rome is disobedience to Rome.

  9. […] Reconfiguration Consternation, we talked about plans to combine multiple “church” buildings into a smaller number of […]

  10. Chris says:


    The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life. Celebrating the Mass is the single most important thing a priest does. He literally calls down God (forgive my theology, I’m sure this is unsophisticated) and re-enacts the sacrifice at Calvary. The body and blood of Christ is to be treated with the utmost respect and reverence. Holy Mother Church has specified the words the priest is to use, the gestures he is to make, the matter he is to consecrate (a particular form of bread and wine) and the materials to be used on the altar (worthy vessels of precious material, a cloth upon which the bread and wine are to be placed — which demarcates what is to be consecrated). All this is of grave importance. If the Cardinal engages in a celebration of the Mass during which he ignores the rules, what does this tell us of how he regards his most important duty? What example is he giving to his priests, and to the souls under his care? I understand and share your concerns about the homosexual agenda entering into Catholic education. I think a root cause of this and many other issues in the church is the fact that so many priests have failed to show respect in their celebration of the Eucharist. The way we worship influences our beliefs. If priests fail to show respect at the altar — everything else goes up for grabs.

    My 2 cents, again.

    • Jerry says:

      Well said, Chris. I concur with your observation: “I think a root cause of this and many other issues in the church is the fact that so many priests have failed to show respect in their celebration of the Eucharist.”

      God is punishing us for our fathers’ and our love of novelty. By the 1960’s, a majority of bishops so despised the ancient, Divinely inspired liturgy, that we were given over to the man-centered liturgy. When Cardinal Sean engages in these abuses, he is signaling his hatred for the ancient and beautiful worship, too. For if he loved it, would he not strive to do what is most pleasing to our Heavenly Father?

      So this is how the punishment goes. As we traded the most perfect holy Canon (cf. Trent) for a vernacular imitation that deliberately falsifies the words of Our Lord (for many), we will trade our beautiful churches for barren sepulchers which the money changers will sell for profit.

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