As our discussion about pastoral planning in the Boston Archdiocese continues, BCI would like to direct our readers to several articles and resources of interest.
Reader BobofNewton pointed us to this Wall Street Journal article, “Archdiocese Turns to Evangelizing“ Here are a few excerpts:
Archdiocese Turns to Evangelizing
With 16% of Local Catholics Attending Mass, Boston Church Leaders Take a New Tack; ‘We’re Not Used to Doing That’
BOSTON—The fourth-largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the nation plans to respond to a steep drop in churchgoing by venturing down a road taken by Mormons and Protestants: evangelizing.
Some 40% of Roman Catholic parishes in the Boston area can’t pay their bills, and only 16% of local Catholics attend weekly Mass, the Archdiocese of Boston said in an overhaul plan released this week that proposed the effort to increase membership.
“We’re not used to doing that,” said William P. Fay, a monsignor and co-chairman of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission, in an interview Thursday. “We are used to going to church, having communion, and making sure our kids are properly educated. Now, what we’re saying is that we’ve got a responsibility to reach out to other people and get them engaged and involved.”
The archdiocese is proposing to reduce costs and become more mission-minded by reorganizing its 290 parishes into groups of two or three parishes that will share a “pastoral service team” of priests, deacons and finance councils.
The plan does not call for closing churches, but each “pastoral collaborative” can recommend closures or merging of programs, and is also expected to come up with a local plan on how they will creatively “evangelize” to increase church attendance, said Msgr. Fay.
“Once you’re baptized, you’re supposed to go preach the gospel to other people,” he said. “It wasn’t something that was on the front burner, but we are trying to bring it to the front burner.”
Boston is far from alone. “Dioceses all around the country are looking at evangelism—I even know one diocese that is considering a door-to-door campaign,” said Mark Gray, a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. “This has always been much more common among Protestant denominations or Mormons…but now there is the sense that the Catholic Church should be doing this as well.”
The motivation is clear. The U.S. Catholic population is growing, but a lot of Catholics are skipping church. The number of people identifying themselves as Catholic rose to 77.7 million in 2011 from 74 million in 2005, but the weekly Mass attendance rate has fallen and is now about 31%, and far less in many urban areas, Mr. Gray said.
In Massachusetts, attendance has been dropping for decades, with some of the decline in the last 10 years a likely fallout from sexual-abuse scandals involving priests, said Msgr. Fay. “Some of it was, no question about that,” he said…
But the decline is also the result of many people being too busy to commit to church, Msgr. Fay said. “It takes two or three jobs to support a family…they’re worn out.”
“Only 16% of our folks are active Catholics…so what we need to do is really turn that around,” he said.
This article from The Boston Pilot, “Archdiocese proposes plan to share parish resources” gives more information.
“As opposed to a plan for merging parishes and closing church buildings, this plan adopts an approach that strengthens and enlivens our current parishes,” the document said. “By creating these teams, improved pastoral services can be provided to parishes without altering the parishes themselves.”
In a meeting with The Pilot, archdiocesan officials said the plan comes as a natural outgrowth of previous restructuring and plans in the Church, as it moves away from a mindset of maintenance within the community toward a mindset of mission within the community. Within the framework of the plan, as described in the document, the Church will move away from problems in keeping individual churches open miring the Church, and toward the mission of promoting the Gospel. According to the document, and archdiocesan officials at the meeting on Nov. 30, addressing these problems through PST actions will clear the way for a renewed focus on evangelization.
“Along the way we began to focus in on the issue of parishes, because if evangelization is going to take place successfully, it’s really going to happen at the parish level,” Msgr. Fay said, in the meeting. “As you can see from the documentation we have given you, that is the first significant proposal that we’re coming forward with.”
The archdiocese had planned to release the documents to the public at www.planning2012.org on Dec. 6, after a consultation with archdiocese priests on Dec. 5.
“We are looking at Monday as the first step in a months-long conversation here,” Msgr. Fay said. “This is going to go on for four to six months, this whole dialogue and hearing from people. Everybody who wants to be involved in this will have an opportunity to be involved in it, and to respond in any way that’s appropriate.”
Anyone can access http://www.planning2012.org. There is a place for the planning documents to be posted publicly after Monday. This website also links to a few resources you may find of interest, including a Catholic Radio program transcript on the topic, “Why Catholics don’t attend Mass and why they should,” and a link to a study commissioned by the Australian Catholic Bishops on why Catholics have stopped attending Mass. The findings in the report released in 2006 are rather interesting. A summary can be found here at Catholic Australia. Here are the reasons divided into high level categories (but not listed in priority order):
1. The irrelevance of the Church to life today
2. The misuse of power and authority in the Church
3. Problems with the priest in the parish
4. Lack of intellectual stimulation
5. Concerns related to the parish as a community
6. A sense of being excluded by Church rules
7. Structural factors
1. Family or household-related issues
2. Crisis of faith
3. Going to Mass simply not a priority
The full report is a very worthwhile read. Can you guess what the most frequently cited reason is for infrequent Mass goers or those who no longer attend Mass? C’mon guess.
32% of those surveyed who no longer attend Mass or attend infrequently said the most important reason why they do not attend Mass is “I no longer feel that being a committed Catholic requires going to Mass every week.” More than half (54%) of all the infrequent or non-attenders among Catholic parents named this as one of the three reasons they could choose in the survey.
The topic of why many Catholics do not attend Mass merits more than its own full blog post, but this study gives some further validity to the need for evangelization, which is a key stated goal of the pastoral planning initiative.
Priests of the Boston Archdiocese gather on Monday afternoon in Randolph to discuss the pastoral planning proposal. Keep the Monday convocation of priests in your prayers.