An Associated Press story published in the Boston Globe last Friday and picked-up by USA Today and other newspapers has got people talking once again about what the archdiocese will look like at a parish level in the not-too-distant future. (Sorry to disappoint those readers who might have thought from the title that this post has to do with a reshuffling of the archdiocesan cabinet leadership team–it is about a reshuffling of parishes, not lay executive bureaucrats).
Here are excerpts from the article, with a little bit of BCI commentary at the end.
BOSTON—The Boston Archdiocese is considering a radical reshuffling that would unite its 291 parishes into 80 to 120 groups so that each cluster could share resources and clergy, according to an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press.
The changes aim to save money at the parishes, which are “in a spiral of financial distress,” church officials say in confidential minutes of meetings where the plan was discussed. Archdiocese officials stress that the plan is still a work in progress.
Under the plan, more church closings would be possible, but they would be initiated by the new parish groups, not the archdiocese, as they were during the recent, painful round of closings.
In the minutes obtained by the AP, the Rev. David Couturier, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Pastoral Planning, says it must be “absolutely clear that the archdiocese is not going to be closing churches from above. That doesn’t mean that at the local level the recommendation may not come whereby the local parish says, `We really don’t need this building.'”
The archdiocese, however, would still have final say.
Parishes are broader territorial entities that include churches and other Catholic buildings, such as rectories. Under the plan, they would be assembled into groups of two to four.
The minutes also reveal Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s regret about how the archdiocese handled the closings that started in 2004, reducing the number of parishes from 357 to 291.
At the time, parishioners charged the archdiocese with shutting down healthy parishes without warning or reason. Some have since occupied their parish churches in round-the-clock protests…
No parish would be eliminated under the plan. But in anticipating problems with grouping parishes together, Courturier cited the sometimes “ugly” competition between them and “an adversarial relationship with the archdiocese.”
“We have to do something about the lack of trust that erupts from time to time in the archdiocese,” Courturier says in the minutes.
The memo was from the Archdiocese Pastoral Planning Commission, the group charged with proposing a new plan for the parish structure. It was sent to members of the Presbyteral Council, a group of priests advising the cardinal. The minutes were from seven monthly meetings of the Presbyteral Council, ending in April 2011.
The documents were given to the AP by Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes, which formed to fight church closings. He said he received them unsolicited.
Borre predicted any structural change would be followed by numerous church closings. He added that the reshuffling alone would meet heavy resistance no matter what, because people simply don’t trust the archdiocese anymore.
“If there were trust and openness, then you could rationalize this to a degree. But I will tell you that from the pews, they are headed into a buzz saw now,” he said.
Rather than realigning parishes, Borre said the archdiocese should reform what he said is a flawed and wasteful central office that’s weighed down by bloated six-figure salaries and which cripples parishes by taking too much of their collections.
Archdiocesan spokesman Terry Donilon hailed O’Malley’s financial management, including efforts to improve education and evangelization and erase an annual $15 million deficit in its central operations. (The archdiocese still has annual operating losses overall, including $8.2 million last year.)
The archdiocese has cited numerous statistics to show it must run differently. Among them: 40 percent of its parishes won’t be able to pay their bills this year; the number of available priests will plummet from 316 today to 178 in a decade; only 17 percent of local Catholics now attend Mass.
Under the new system, a senior pastor would lead each group of parishes, with charge over a “pastoral service team” that would include priests from the other parishes within the collection. The new group would have a single, merged staff; a single rectory; and a single parish center.
In theory, the streamlined parish would run cheaper, even as it’s being strengthened spiritually and numerically by an ongoing evangelization push, including the “Catholics Come Home” advertising campaign that aimed to draw lapsed Catholics back to church.
Monsignor William Fay, head of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission, emphasized the current restructuring plan is a work in progress. He said there’s no set timeline to complete it, and changes will come only after extensive consultation with local Catholics.
“We’ve got to move forward aggressively, but in a very thoughtful way,” he said. “We should be able to take the time we need to take to make sure this is done right.”Screen Options
American Catholics are traditionally loyal to their congregations and pastor, but not the hierarchy, and that makes it tough when archdioceses try to lead change, said David O’Brien, a church historian at the University of Dayton…
It’s also clear, though, that the current structure must be altered, O’Brien said. “You’ve got to do it, and they’re trying,” he said. “You have no choice.”
For the record, BCI had nothing to do with this article, or the leaking of documents to Peter Borre or the AP.
BCI feels the article accurately portrays the statistics about the situation with parishes and that status of the new pastoral planning initiative. We agree that the archdiocese needs to do something about the lack of trust. (Note to 66 Brooks Drive: A good way to rebuild trust is to operate with integrity and transparency). We would take issue with any “hailing” of Cardinal O’Malley’s financial management.
BCI also both agrees and disagrees with the comment from Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes. We totally agree that the archdiocese should reform a “flawed and wasteful central office weighed down by bloated six-figure salaries” but at the same time, fixing that alone will not solve the problem. We face problems of a decline in church-going Catholics (1.3 million in 1960 compared to 294,000 in 2010), a decline in priests, and parishes (with associated church buildings) that once served 1.3M Catholics now only seeing 23% of that number of people.
The concept, as described at a high-level in this article and which we reported on previously, is to combine several existing parishes into one entity, while keeping as many of the church buildings open as possible. One “Parish Pastoral Center” would serve several parishes with one pastor, one Finance Council, one Parish Council, several priests living in the rectory, and shared staff for religious education and administration. (BCI note: if the current archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Braintree cannot be made “pastoral” in the very near future, we would recommend they not reuse the term “Pastoral Center” in the new plans for parishes).
How this all plays out will be interesting. With appeals still in process from the last round of reconfiguration, Boston is treading carefully and cannot do exactly what other dioceses have done.
What you can expect to not see is a top-down plan worked out by the Archdiocese for some sort of “global merging,” whereby the archdiocese would set criteria for when parishes would be merged and suppressed. (That could have the canonically complicated result of 291 parishes being “suppressed” with the assets of several parishes combined into new entities). Instead, look for decisions to be made on a local level, with individual local studies done and recommendations made on an case-by-case basis for combining parishes.
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.
- 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?
- Why the person who led the “sham search” that placed the current Chancellor?
- 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?
- 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? (and whose parish bulletin is currently promoting a June 19 Gay Pride Mass at St. Cecilia in Boston).
We still have these concerns, and wonder where a committee which includes members such as the above will ever get to, let alone considering there is no timeline for a deliverable or recommendation.
What do you think of the pastoral planning effort and direction reported above?