Pastoral Planning Commission

From the archdiocese that lacks the leadership and fortitude to summarily shut-down a handful of “Invisible Vigils”–which continue to waste millions of dollars in scarce donor funds six years after they began and six months after their last canonical appeals were exhausted– now we have yet another committee to talk about the future parish and pastoral configuration of the archdiocese.

Before we dig into this new committee, how is that new Finance Council Compensation Committee coming along that is supposed to look  at the $1M+ in excessive six-figure salaries?  They approved it Nov. 4, but the names still are not even posted anywhere like, say, the Finance Council page of the RCAB website, so it sounds like there is stunning progress to report there.  So now we have a yet another new committee–at least this time with names publicly announced, rather than the anonymous committees the folks at 66 Brooks Drive seem to have favored in recent years, like the anonymous search committees that chose Mary Grassa O’Neill and Terry Donilon.

Here is the notice from Wednesday announcing the new committee:

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley today announced that he has formed an Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission.The work of the eighteen member commission is to present a final recommendation to the Cardinal for a pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of Boston that identifies the resources available for the foreseeable future and allocates these in a manner that will allow the mission of Christ and his Church to grow stronger in our Catholic community.

In case you are wondering what this means they will do, in principle, they are to come back with a plan to create a much smaller number of “parishes” and pastors of those newly-defined “parishes” comprised of mostly the same number of church buildings as we have today. The Boston Globe described is as follows:

Under a draft proposal, neighboring parishes would be merged into a single parish, with worship at multiple church buildings. Each clustered parish would be run by a pastor, with help from a team of priests, as well as a consolidated lay parish council, finance council, and parish staff.

BCI’s take on this as of now is that the commission will meet…and meet…and meet, and not really get any place. Last time around in 2004, there were recommendations made by clusters, there was a central committee, there was a review by the Cardinal and his advisors like Fr. Bryan Hehir, Jack Connors and a host of others weighed in behind the scenes, and a lot of “recommendations” never made it through the quicksand and political snares.  What did we learn from that effort, and what will make this one different to avoid the snares of the past?  Not clear.

There are some good people on the committee, and some that we do not see as adding meaningful value.  One person familiar with the composition of the group  described them in an email to BCI as a “circular firing squad.”  Lest BCI be accused of personal attacks, we will make observations about the committee without mentioning specific names.

  • Why so many money people?  (And when we say “money people,” we mean big money people)
  • Why the recycled cronies of Fr. Bryan Hehir and Sr. Janet Eisner–yet again?  Are these people the only ones considered qualified or sufficiently politically-connected to serve?
  • Why the person who led the “sham search” that placed the current Chancellor?  Are we so pleased with how that choice has turned out that we want this person’s wisdom and insights once again?
  • Why the person who led one of the previous planning committees which solicited input from everyone, included input from only a few while neglecting to include some of the best ideas in the report, and basically got nowhere fast? Do we really want a plan for  “priestless Sundays” in which hostesses distribute pre-consecrated hosts to those who show up for a “communion service”?
  • Why include someone on the committee from a particular religious order when one of that same order’s members instructing a Masters of Arts in Ministry (MAM) class on immigration not long ago asked Catholic students to role-play being a foreigner in a strange land by assuming the identity of a gay or lesbian on another planet?
  • Why soak up one of the limited spots with someone from a parish that moreso resembles a part of a college campus rather than a diocesan parish?
  • Why will the committee work not be transparent and public as it progresses?  What is the means of public comment and parish input before the merger plan is communicated?
  • What about the charter, composition and operating approach of this latest committee and effort is to instill such confidence by clergy and laity that a redo of any “recommendations”  will not occur this time around?

If the Cardinal and his leadership cannot make a decision to cut the salaries of overpaid bureaucrats to save $500K-$1M+/year when the supporting information is objective and clear, and if the Cardinal and his leadership cannot make a decision to end “Invisible Vigils” costing $500K-850K/year after all appeals are done, then who in the world thinks this new pastoral planning effort–operating behind closed doors under no deadlines–will reach a set of recommendations and decisions that are acted on?

We hear from multiple sources that the Cardinal is on-the-road for a good part of the next 3-4 months, perhaps in the diocese only 14-20 days between now and the end of May.  The Vicar General may be heading back to the military in the spring.  With an absentee archbishop, who is setting the future direction of the archdiocese?  Is that responsibility now abdicated to this new committee?

21 Responses to Pastoral Planning Commission

  1. Former Employee says:

    Back before they did the “reconfiguration” the way a Parish would typically be closed is by “merging resources”, they would function as two Parishes under one administration then eventually one would close.

    A longer process but leads to fewer complaints from Parishioners. See St. Peter and Paul/St. Vincent South Boston.

  2. David S. says:

    The problem with forming a “Commission” is that this will alert the Whackadoodles that the Cardinal may actually be getting ready to close these parishes and they will resume their vigils.

    If the Archdiocese of Boston does not have the stomach to close these parishes now that they vigils have ceased, what makes them think they will do so once they are resumed?

  3. Bob J. says:

    I’ve heard that of course the plan is to close more buildings, but to take the sting off it by having the parishioners themselves decide, say 5 years down the line, which of their parish buildings (churches) is going to be closed.
    Why, why, why the Cardinal does not see that the answer is to FILL the churches again with people who understand and value the gift of their Catholic faith?

  4. Carolyn says:

    BCI poses questions about why ask some of these people to serve on this commission, implying that those individuals may not bring to the table what the process needs.

    I’d reduce the query to two questions, anticipating unvarnishedly true answers (a tall order, I know):

    1. Why was each person chosen?
    2. What exactly are they charged with doing?

    In all the cotton balls tossed around in the Globe article, we never get to those answers.

    Is the group meant to be geographically representational? Is some portion of the group there to speak from experience about what works and what doesn’t (it seems so…). They need not rehash the past, but they would be ill-served to completely ignore it.

    There are a lot of deeply intelligent people on the commission. But is this going to be 18 cabs for 18 players? Will they be motivated by old wounds or personal ambition? Or can they look at the places where the local proposals of marriage have worked well, and learn something… (South Boston as mentioned in another comment, Saint Philip Neri and Sacred Heart in Newton, and most recently the Wayland parishes). Or will they knit up a one-size fits all recommendation?

    The Archdiocese of Boston treads a thin line between glopping on solutions that don’t fit all, or risking congregationalism. (Weston-Lincoln is a classic example of the latter.)

    Two last notes:

    We should give this group some leeway to work before criticizing. Building up the Church cannot bear the drag of cynicism;

    The group must establish some form of inbound communication verified by reply from a real person. Clearly this can’t be the cardinal or the VG. During Reconfiguration there was an email address, and every email I sent got answered by a real person with real information. Letters to the cardinal never got answered. Let’s hope Father Couturier reads this and heeds it.

    • q says:

      Whaaat! Philip Neri is a success story?!?!?!

      That is the one church every single resident of Newton (except the 50 well-connected Parishioners and a few people who thought the Archdiocese would GIVE them the property) agreed actually needed to be closed. Low attendance, losing money, in spite of exceedingly wealthy Parishoners, no prospects for expansion. The “success” is that they pulled their insider influence and avoided sharing the burden.

      Eliminating that sort of “success” is what the BCI should be writing about. Newton needed to close 2 maybe 3 Churches, and how many actually closed? NONE.

      The problem with reconfiguration was both the selection of Parishes that should not be closed for closure AND the failure to close those that should have been closed.

      • Carolyn says:



        Somehow you’ve gotten hold of some bad information. Note that St Philip Neri closed on June 7, 2007, the only Newton parish to close as part of reconfiguration. It was not a merger, but the parish assets went to was Sacred Heart. St Jean Baptiste French Parish in Newton closed in the late 1990s after “twinning” with Our Lady Help of Christians for a couple of years. Ditto in 1999 Saint Kevin and Saint Paul, Dorchester (now Holy Family) and many others.

        For the record, the two parishes named to close in Newton by the archdiocese during reconfiguration, Mary Immaculate of Lourdes and St Bernard did not close. St Bernard merged with Corpus Christi with both church buildings in use, and Mary Immaculate remains freestanding, not aligned with any other parish.

        The link above tells the long history of RCAB parish closings — all the way back to the 1960s.

      • JS says:

        Dear Carolyn;
        No, the name Philip Neri came off the Archdiocesan website, and little else. It was officially announced that the Church would remain open for a year as the Congregation discerned where they wanted to go. It turns out they wanted to stay put, and did so. The sign has been refinished, the Church is open, the expenses of snow removal still being incurred, just in secret, or at least off the radar.
        The result was that in a grouping where clearly several Churches had to close, because the Archdiocese “fixed” the result, none agreed to close, and none did. THAT is a scandal.

    • Angry Parish Council Member says:

      towards the point of 1) why was each person chosen?, let me add a question about another member of the commission from the archdiocesan pastoral council. This person, the recording secretary, recorded in detail in recent meeting minutes a suggestion that outreach to the GLBT community should be included in the pastoral plans; but this same persion mysteriously did NOT record in detail a prior meeting’s minutes about a member’s complaint of an archdiocesen/APC-sponsored event featuring a BC priest who’d publicly endorsed a pro-abortion politician excommunicated by their bishop. no question in my mind there must be some other agenda

    • q says:

      Yup, Carolyn;
      You are reading what the Central Archdiocesan Party says, not what actually happened. Philip Neri is still open, just off the website, so you have to go by there to know it. More lies from Braintree.

      Sadly, the Catholics of Newton were prepared to engage in an open process, and resigned to close several Churches, and THEN the Archdiocese [edited by BCI] revealed the “fix”, and everyone refused to go further. Every Church is still open.

      • Q,
        BCI is going to ask you politely to refrain from a certain approach to comments we have noticed from you–namely a definitive-sounding statement that you present as objective truth or fact which really is not as you present it. We are also asking you to refrain from personal attacks such as you made in this post.

        St. Philip Neri parish closed as was described earlier and the parishioners moved to other parishes, but the church remains open just for the Korean Catholic Community, which was supposed to have moved back in 2007. There is no denying that the church remains open to the Korean Community today, and they are still supposed to move. But to suggest the parish is fully open as it was before, just below the radar screen, is not correct. It is BCI’s understanding that plans exist for the redevelopment of the site in 2011, and we are under the impression the Korean Community will have to relocate.

      • q says:

        Philip Neri is still open. I don’t know (and nobody but BCI does) what “fully open” is and didn’t say it was “fully open”. “Fully open” never appears in any of my comments until now.

        Carolyn stated that it had closed. It has not.

        Philip Neri is still available for occasional Masses/Sacraments, and hence is open. FACT

        Philip Neri still has regular Masses with Priests provided by the Archdiocese and hence is still open. FACT

        Philip Neri has not been sold nor is it in the process of being sold, as every member of the Archdiocese was let to believe, and hence is still open. FACT

        Philip Neri still has Real Estate costs, still need heating, still has the snow removal and utilities provided that you complain about, and is hence open. FACT

        Unlike the vigil Parishes, whose continued drain on the Archdiocese you complain about, Philip Neri has no impediment to closing but sloth.

        Philip Neri is being updated, and spruced up, which is wasted money on a building which will be sold and razed and turned into building lots.

  5. Former Employee says:

    I looked over the list of 18 names on the commission and actaully was suprised to see some thoughtful choices, many of the Priests have been involved with mergers and were very Pastoral in their approach

    Msgr. Fay – Brighton Parishes
    Fr. Ahern – the Brookline Parishes
    Fr. Soper – St. William/St. Margaret into a new parish
    Fr. O’Brien – the Lawrence Parishes

    And the laymen who I’ve met are dedicated Catholic Laymen….I am always concerned that hero-worship of our current Archbishop may cloud their judgement but I would think them sincere.

  6. John C says:

    Transparency is a farce in dealing with leaders in our church. Too many secrets, no answers readily given…These super salaries are those in power taking care of their friends and the group surrounding His Eminence. It goes on from the top to the parish level. Parish council meetings are not open to the public and are tightly controlled by the people closest to the leadership…Parish Finance Councils are doubly secretive. And lastly, get the modernism out of the church!

  7. Confused on the South Shore says:

    The article states that, under this plan, each parish would be run by a pastor assisted by a team of priests. Since the number of buildings would remain the same, and the number of priests continues to dwindle, from where do they plan to locate these “teams of priests”?

  8. Dan Brown says:

    This whole thing is a sham–it’s kind of like ARISE. We will not teach or preach, so we’ll look to the liberation theology model, which is “you folks figure it out yourselves”.

    The Cardinal should simply make a determination using an independent auditing firm or insist on having substance in the homilies, not jokes.

    Area Baptist congregations are brimming with people on a Sunday morning (with 3 services) and building new churches. I guess preaching about morality doesn’t “alienate” that many people after all.

  9. q says:

    This is Fr Coutourier at work, with the utterly useless “Archdiocesan Pastoral Council”

    Pastoral Planning – the Way Ahead

    Several serious issues need to be addressed to make the Church more welcoming: the roles of women and GLTB persons in the Church, clericalism, the disproportionate wealth of the Vatican, and the antagonism that exists between some pastors and the Archdiocesan administration.

    Sixty-five percent (65%) of our pastoral associates anticipate retirement within the next ten years and nearly 80% will retire within the next 15 years. Few are being replaced largely because of less than adequate compensation trends. Without significant adjustments, we face a “crisis of lay ecclesial ministers” at about the same time that the “priest shortage” will reach its peak (in 10-15 years). The same dynamic is true of directors of religious education. We need to develop a strategy for replacing the present generation of pastoral associates and directors of religious education. The present replacement strategy is not working.

    • Just to clarify, the passages Q cited in this comment were excerpts from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council minutes that Q linked to.

      The comment beginning with “several serious issues need to be addressed…” was the opinion of one of the APC members. The statistics about pastoral associates and trends apparently came from a section of the minutes in the context of “Catholics Come Home”

  10. q says:

    Just to re-clarify (the “clarification made one step forward, one back). I made sure to give a source to factual information. The quotes are from Fr Couturier’s presentation to the APC, which then wants to be consulted on this new Parish process (horrors!).

    I apologize for the lack of clarity from copying and pasting without punctuating; these are, as you correctly observed TWO quotes. The first,

    “Pastoral Planning – the Way Ahead

    Several serious issues….. ”
    is a jaw-dropper, and though it is unclear WHO agreed that THIS should be a priority, whoever did really should be disqualified from further input.

    The second,
    “Sixty-five percent (65%) of our pastoral associates….”
    basically says that the solution to Parish problems is to hire more paid staff and to pay them more. THIS quote has nothing to do with “Catholics come home”, but is DIRECTLY from Fr Couturier’s supplemental materials, “Facts and Assumptions about the Archdiocese of Boston”, and thus unfiltered by APC members, and reflects the OFFICIAL position on what is wrong with the Archdiocese. THAT is scary.

  11. […] What does BCI think of all this?  BCI agrees there is no choice but to do something. We voiced our skepticism about the committee in our Feb. 4 post, Pastoral Planning Commission. […]

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