Priest Asks Cardinal to Delay Mergers

The Associated Press is reporting that a veteran Boston priest, Msgr. William Helmick, has sent a letter to Cardinal O’Malley regarding the plans to reorganize parishes into Pastoral Service Teams.  Below is the text of the article:

Priest Asks Cardinal to Delay Mergers

A proposal by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to cut costs by organizing its 290 parishes into 125 groups that share resources could crush its pastors, who now face a bleak future after sustaining the church through the clergy sexual abuse scandal, a veteran priest wrote in a letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley obtained by Associated Press.

“I can well imagine that the very process of implementing such a proposal would result in serious psychological and even physical sickness,’’ wrote Monsignor William M. Helmick, pastor of Saint Theresa of Avila in West Roxbury.

The priests “would feel as if they and what they have done and continue to do is of no value and is not appreciated,’’ wrote Helmick, who recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination.

Helmick wrote O’Malley Dec. 9, days after all archdiocesan priests gathered at a function hall in Randolph to discuss the proposal, which aims to improve efficiency and put the archdiocese in a better position for growth and to spread the faith.

The letter was given to the Associated Press by Peter Borre, head of the Council of Parishes, a group formed to oppose church closings. Borre said he did not get the letter from Helmick, but released it with permission from someone who received it from Helmick.

Phone and e-mail messages to Helmick yesterday were not returned.

Terry Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese, pointed out that the letter was written two months ago and said it has since become increasingly clear to many priests that, though the plan is far from final, the archdiocese is headed in the right direction.

“If we do nothing, we’re going to have fewer priests, we’re going to have fewer people going to Mass, we’re going to have more parishes in financial trouble . . . and the cardinal is saying: ‘I don’t accept any of that. I do not accept that premise,’ ’’ Donilon said.

The Boston Archdiocese, with 1.8 million Catholics, is the nation’s fourth largest.

The church released its proposal late last year, arguing that its traditional parish structure cannot be sustained in an archdiocese where only 16 percent of local Catholics attend Mass and where more than a third of parishes cannot pay bills.

The key part of the archdiocese’s proposal sees the parishes divided into 125 “collaboratives,’’ each with one to four parishes, which would share buildings and resources and be run by a “pastoral service team,’’ led by one pastor.

Helmick wrote that his concern starts with “simple mathematics,’’ which indicate that 165 priests now serving as a pastor at a parish will not be chosen to lead a collaborative and will be dismissed as a pastor.

“Given that all of us who are pastors are vessels of clay, and not all of the pastors are equally effective, it is nonetheless true that the pastors, in a most significant and irreplaceable way, kept the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Boston alive in the parishes following the devastating reaction . . . to the abuse scandal,’’ he wrote.

The scandal broke in 2002 after documents showed that for years the church had transferred pedophile priests among parishes without revealing their crimes.

Helmick suggests allowing pastors to retire as normal, until they number 125, as the best way to avoid outraging the public and demoralizing priests, even if it takes longer than the three to five years the archdiocese says it will need to make the changes.

He concluded by writing: “I hope I have not ruined your day by sending you this letter.’’

Donilon said that, on the contrary, O’Malley welcomed the letter from Helmick – whom Donilon called “one of our best pastors’’ – and had received others like it. He said there is no plan to dismiss pastors.

Not every current pastor will lead a collaborative, and anxiety among priests about their roles in the new structure is understandable, Donilon said. But the goal of the still-developing plan is to free the church from the burden of maintaining an outdated structure so priests can focus on spreading the faith, he said.

For the record, BCI is not a fan of the Council of Parishes and their general tactics.  But because this article is out in the public domain and is likely to spark dialogue, BCI is posting it.

Pastors, priests and others involved should feel comfortable voicing any objections to the plan to the Cardinal, Vicar General and pastoral planning leadership responsible for this “still-developing” plan (Msgr. Fay and Fr. Bob Oliver).  Clearly something different needs to be done to address the declining number of Catholics attending Masses, poor financial condition of 40% of our parishes, and smaller number of priests we have available to serve.  It seems that some of the perceived merits of the original concept of the plan have been overshadowed in recent weeks by some amount of consternation over the manner of implementation. How this plan will enable more effective evangelization is unclear to many people.

BCI hopes whatever form the final plan takes will be influenced by the feedback received and concerns raised.

34 Responses to Priest Asks Cardinal to Delay Mergers

  1. Boston Blackey says:

    It reads like the good Monsignor was thrown under the bus by someone at the Chancery. I have known Monsignor Helmick, as a pastor, for many years and he has always been very loyal to the Archdiocese and the Archbishop of Boston. He has done an admirable job as pastor of St Theresa of Avila Parish and School. I am sure his comments were meant for Cardinal Sean, period. A very good priest and pastor has had his reputation besmirched for some unknown reason. Monsignor Helmick deserves to be treated more respectfully than the thugs at the Chancery have treated him.

    • Church Mouse says:

      Boston Blackey implies that loyalty to the Archdiocese and the Archbishop of Boston precludes one (especially priests) from providing feedback to “plans” emanating from the chancery. It is possible that Msgr. Helmick was “thrown under the bus…” (one can only imagine the political machinations that go on), that his letter was intended to be private. However given the Cardinal’s reputation in Boston as hands off, surrounded by a powerful few, is it so bad that the letter has become public. I am well acquainted with Msgr. Helmick (his pastor’s notes in the weekly bulletin are inspirational) and was pleasantly surprised by his letter. In a collaboration it is pretty certain that he won’t lose his pastorate. He is well connected within the church hierarchy and has/had close ties with previous RCAB Cardinals. I find his concern for his fellow priests admirable.

    • Carolyn says:

      Msgr. Helmick speaks plainly to the person(s) who needs to hear the message. He does not weigh in on every topic. Whoever leaked his letter owes him an apology.

      The pitiful part is that someone allowed Terry Donilon to be quoted in reply to the reporter’s query. Talk about salt in the wound of the pastors…

      The reply to AP should have come from Msgr. Bill Fay. Msgr. Fay is not only knowledgeable about his planning commission and its workings, he is articulate, smart when talking to reporters and is a pastor himself. Another option would have been Fr. Jack Ahern, who co-chairs the commission and knows how to speak to reporters, as well as being a multi-parish pastor. Relegating it to something written for Terry, and delivered by him, without the credibility of a pastor, was a tactical error. Pastors respect their peers, and would feel some reassurance having a pastor speak to the reporter.

      And on a related topic, why in Heaven’s name is RCAB still paying a PR firm more than $500,000.00 per year? Presumably, that’s not for abuse topics, as those expenses have been farmed out of Central. So is it to soften the edges for the cardinal? If so, that’s a lot of money to make a guy comfortable.

  2. jbq2 says:

    It has to be pointed out that this idea of pastoral service teams is a national effort set up by the Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is based on the “dying off” of a “few good men” who are the pastors. They must be replaced. There is something developing in the shadows. Deacons and women pastoral associates are being trained to replace them. This brings up the perplexing issue of continuity to the message of Jesus Christ in the Gospel. The strong message of silence from liberal women in the Church means that a concordat has been arranged to give them a share of power. This goes as well for the organized movement of gays in the Church. This also explains how this Church of social justice (Malachi Martin) can have no qualms with interacting monetarily with a socialist administration. It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is. Christ came to fulfill the Old Testament. Statements that there are now only two commandments (Love of God and love of neighbor) by a local pastor are harbingers of a socialist state.

  3. God Bless Msgr. Helmick! At least a priest is sticking up for the health of the archdiocese and the chancery is not.

  4. ACS says:

    I’ve attended multiple rounds of the pastoral planning consultations and Msgr Helmick’s concerns are shared openly by other priests as feedback to “the Plan”. It remains to be seen if our feedback will be heard as continually stated by Msgr Fay, Fr David Couturier and the other APPC members. In all but 1 of the sessions I’ve attended, there has been vehement disagreement with this PST approach. While all agree that we need to do something to turn the tide, this approach is not the answer.

    What has been mentioned several times, but seeming placed on deaf ears, is that the need for solid catechesis to adults and children alike will help to fill the pews, and (with God’s grace) turn to more vocations. Let’s start with that premise.

    Clustering parishes with one overworked, disconnected pastor will not further evangelization. How can that environment be welcoming and effective in bringing people back? Sure, collaboration among parishes is a good starting point, but a forced structure won’t work. Particularly in an Archdiocese with a history of territorial parish boundaries, not to mention the scarred history from priest abuse and failed reconfiguration.

    Folks, spend a few moments providing feedback to the process via your parish councils or directly at:

    Praying continually for the good, holy priests who are true to the Church’s teachings and aren’t afraid to preach the real doctrine (not this leftist stuff). St John Vianney, intercede for them and for us!

  5. Mack says:

    Msgr. Helmick is a wonderful priest. He is dedicated and very pastoral. I’m sure that his concerns about this plan are well-founded. I just hope that the cardinal will listen to him and the other priests.

  6. Anni says:

    I’m troubled that this letter, which Msgr. Helmick wrote on Dec. 9, was just released to AP. It really does sound like someone was trying to get some outside attention. It is really disconcerting that Peter Borre released the letter without Msgr. Helmick’s permission, but with the permission of a second party who was in receipt of the letter. The letter shows that Msgr. Helmick’s concerns were pastoral and supporting of his brother priests.

    He makes some cogent points. Regardless of how the RCAB is packaging the “consolidation” of parishes, it IS downsizing. Regardless of how the RCAB is trying to sell the Pastoral Service Teams, there will be one pastor or moderator in each team and the other priests will be “something else”. Not pastors. Their ministry is going to change drastically, and it’s all “terra incognita”. The massive reshuffling of pastors is going to cause some distress – among both priests and parishioners. I know several priest who accepted new assignments in smaller parishes in their mid-60s after spending years in large parishes with schools and other services. One priest friend figured that this new assignment, which he accepted when he was 62, would be his “last pastorate”. He figured that he’d serve there 12 years or so and then retire. What happens to priests in this situation? Is he made pastor somewhere else? Is his life, at age 67, disrupted? Did anyone at RCAB consider the psychological and emotional consequences of this sort of drastic change? I think not.

    On the other hand, there are some current pastors who will best served – or more specifically their current parishioners will be best served – by their reassignment to some other group of parishes. A lot of damage has been done to the spiritual life of many parishes in the archdiocese and “we” deserve better.

    I agree that something has to be done because the current model is not sustainable. However, I cannot understand how the PSTs (and the whole concept and nomenclature reminds me more of a group I’d ask to repair my refrigerator) is going to help meet the goals set forth by the APPC. How does this model help (re)evangelize the Catholics of the Archdiocese? If we aren’t reaching them now, how are we going to reach them better now that Father and his “team” are living at St. SomewhereElse and we only get to see one of them on Sunday? What happens to daily Mass? I mentioned elsewhere that I drive over 100 miles each week to attend a 7 am Mass and the availability of 7 am Mass is dwindling. My pastor says daily Mass (9 am) two days each week. He’s got one “parish” now. If the reconfiguration plans go through, and he’s “the one”, he’ll have three parishes. Do you think that he’s going to say more than two Masses each week?

    Meanwhile, my pastor has never mentioned abortion, contraception, or same-sex marriage at Mass or at any parish function. Last week he did put the cardinal’s letter in the bulletin, but didn’t say a word about it. I am waiting to see if he will mention doctor prescribed suicide at Mass tomorrow. He has rebuffed my multiple attempts to put pro-life information in the bulletin. No reason, other than “I am the pastor”. I would love to do adult education/evangelization in my parish. Heaven knows we need it. I’ve had a Eucharistic Minister tell me that Protestant Churches have “eucharist” and that attending services in other churches is equivalent of attending Mass. I could go on…

    If we don’t evangelize our people in ten years we’ll have fewer and fewer Catholics.

    We need to assure that every Catholic in the Archdiocese has access to daily Mass. We have to ensure that pastors and other priests are preaching on the Scriptures and are also teaching Catholic doctrine. I don’t see anything in the PST model that assures either of these goals.

    • Anni says:

      Not a word about Doctor-Prescribed Suicide this morning. He did have some pamphlets at the back of the church. I did not see a single person even look at them. I could have predicted this…

  7. Stephen says:

    The faithful are stacking dwindling chips in a loosing poker game.
    It’s over people.

    Anybody at BCI hear about the Valid and Licit ordination offered this week right here in the diocese?

    How about the latest local shows by Ivan of Medjugorje, our local ‘seer to the rich and famous’ based here in Boston?

    Closing parishes is so…yesterday.

    A $20 Mil renovation, and they destroy statuary of the Crucifixion and Our Blessed Mother on her knees at the foot of the cross.

    Its intentional, the modernist progressives have the power and they are destroying the faith.

  8. jwsr says:

    While Monsignor clearly did not mean his letter to be released, I cannot find anything in it that is not eminently reasonable, and commend him for his good advice to Cardinal O’Malley.

    The mass firing of all Pastors (not just 167) and immediate game of “musical chairs” is the one part of this PST plan that makes least sense. It makes even less sense if you consider that this plan is reasonable only IF the declines in Priests and Congregations continue.

    IF declines in Priests and Catholics continue, Parishes are going to have to close, and it would be better done if already clustered, and the interim would work better if the Parishioners were already sharing staff and Pastors. The problem all the commenters have made is that the priority of the committee SHOULD have been to stem the tide, not manage the decline. I don’t fault them for putting out a plan IN CASE no improvement occurs – that is responsible – but in failing to focus on what the Church needs, and advocating rapid implementation, when that decline is still in doubt (in 2 years, the Archdiocese has a class of 15). Monsignor Helmick’s suggestion that clustering be done, but only AS NEEDED, over a long period, if combined with an actual plan to bolster the faith and spread the Church, makes real sense. I only wish he had been in on the discussion when this process started.

  9. jwsr says:

    While we are on the subject of aspects of the PST that make no sense, and that are being brought up at meetings.

    40% of Parishes cannot meet their financial obligations. Why does the committee believe that their model will fix that?
    Not all situations are the same; some Parishes cannot because they are poor, and are in cities that are poor; some Parishes cannot because their Pastors spend too much and hire too many people; some cannot because their Parishioners, though of means, are too few or do not make the support of their Parish a priority.

    Linking two poor Parishes in a poor area together and making them hire well-paid professional Staff will only make their situation worse. Linking Parishes where one Pastor spends or hires too lavishly will not help unless the big spender is NOT made Pastor. Linking a Parish where the people choose not to come or support their Parish with one where people do will only create resentment in the PST. All the problems that make a failing Parish can make a failing PST, they will just be bigger failures. If the committee can say HOW finances will be improved, they should have said so. Otherwise this is just a plan to make Parishes bigger, not better.

  10. ctcrust says:

    If Msgr. Helmick’s letter was meant for Cardinal Sean only, he must know of a way to get it to him without falling in the hands of a leaker.

    One must assume that the likes of a Peter Borre has cohorts who would love to be the conduit of embarrassment for the Cardinal.
    I fault the Monsignor here.
    Borre, a preyer devoted to dissidence, knows how to get attention on a large scale. He bypasses the local impact of the Globe for the far greater reach of AP.

    The Pastoral Planning Team has come up with a plan to address the current crisis without closing parishes. Msgr. Helmick is not on that team so his Monday morning quarterbacking was a way to register his disapproval of the plan to his boss by a personally intended letter.

    Helmick’s concerns are genuine if indeed pastors are to removed from the pastorate altogether. But he is also saying if parishes are highly successful leave them alone. Lumping them with other successful parishes will only cause internecine battles for dominance or if they are united with parishes of a non monolithic culture, that union will result in an exodus of parishioners from the original parish. That is the sad outcome of people, without prejudice, simply wishing to be with their own culture.

    Thank you Monsignor for your letter and a pox on Borre and his moles.

    • Marie says:

      And, if it were not for Peter Borre and his “moles” where would your voice be heard and where would you find fair and balanced reporting of facts, from the Archdiocese approved p.r.? I think not. Peter Borre brings fresh air and new perspective; he is the catalyst bringing and holding together the Catholic faithful while you all wallow in self interest and ego…human traits!

    • jwsr says:


      “a plan to address the current crisis without closing parishes.”

      The criticism that has been leveled at the plan is a disagreement over WHICH crisis needs fixing. The plan rolled out, for all its mention of Evangelization actually addresses only staffing and finances. This, for good or bad, only reinforces the perception that these are the only priorities of the Central office.


      “the plan has the flexibility”

      I think you have missed the point of Monsignor Helmick’s letter. As presented, the committee did NOT put this forward as a long-term plan, but advocated immediate mass firings and reorganization. As a dire picture of where the Church may be in 10 years, and what may have to be done if nothing changes, the plan is productive. Proposing a short (less than five years) or universal implementation, as the committee does, eliminates any possibility of flexibility. THAT is one of Monsignor Helmick’s points.

      “I[n] O[ther] W[ords], it is not reorganization or catechesis.”

      Again, it is entirely unfair to say anyone who opposes the Plan is selfish. Most of the critics I have heard fault it for NOT addressing the most important issues.
      A new organizational flow chart is NOT going to solve all of the Archdiocese’s problems.
      The assertion that Evangelization will just happen, if only Parishes become BIG Parishes and get a new name, is laughable.
      The idea that the process for selection of Pastors will now magically become perfect now that they have a new title just doesn’t convince people either.

      On the other hand, bolstering solid authentic Catholic catechesis within the Archdiocese is both an intrinsic good, AND potentially addresses the problems of Evangelization and Vocations. In many people’s minds, the lack of focus on catechesis leads to the conclusion that the committee doesn’t understand the root of the Archdiocese’s problems.

      • naturgesetz says:

        “Most of the critics I have heard fault it for NOT addressing the most important issues.”
        It addresses the issues it was intended to address. This plan is not being presented as the total answer to all the issues or “solve all of the Archdiocese’s problems.” To criticize it for not being what it isn’t supposed to be is like saying, “The new windows you want are no good because we can’t sit on them.”

        “The assertion that Evangelization will just happen, if only Parishes become BIG Parishes and get a new name, is laughable.”
        I don’t hear that assertion being made. As I understand it, the expectation is that this plan will make it easier to focus resources and efforts on evangelization and mission. Of course it will still be necessary for the people who will be involved to do the work.

        “The idea that the process for selection of Pastors will now magically become perfect now that they have a new title just doesn’t convince people either.”
        Again, AFAIK nobody’s saying that.

        “In many people’s minds, the lack of focus on catechesis leads to the conclusion that the committee doesn’t understand the root of the Archdiocese’s problems.”
        Apparently you didn’t understand what I meant when I said “it is not reorganization or catechesis.” What I meant is that we don’t have to choose only one. We can have both. But this is not the plan for catechesis and evangelization. So to criticize it for not dealing with those things in entirely beside the point. This is not intended to solve all the Archdiocese’s problems. THe committee’s task was a narrow one which was intended to be only one element of a much broader effort to move from maintenance to mission. Your description of this proposal, “As a dire picture of where the Church may be in 10 years, and what may have to be done if nothing changes, the plan is productive,” is something like what it’s supposed to be. But a lot of that picture is already here, and IMO it would be much more prudent to start dealing with it now, rather than wasting five or ten years while we wait to see if it “magically” improves.

        Perhaps the implementation should go more slowly than was originally envisioned. But IMO every year that a parish which is unable to pay its bills has to limp along on its own, when it could have been grouped with other parishes and enjoyed the benefits of sharing resources for mission, is a year in which we have failed that parish and its people.

      • jwsr says:

        The committee specifically says its mission is and the resulting plan should be judged by whether it fulfills the stated goals;

        Strengthening our Parishes
        Developing Excellence in Faith Formation
        Re-energizing Pastoral Leadership

        The members have been repeatedly asked at meeting HOW the plan relates to any of those, and no answers have been forthcoming, except that, if the Parishes become bigger all of that will happen. This makes EVERY person at the meeting worry that either the committee members never thought of any of these, or that the stated goals are merely market-tested catch phrases with no relation to the plan.

        Further, while it is in doubt HOW the plan will help Parishes needing help, it is clear how immediate, universal implementation will SCUTTLE progress of those Parishes that ARE growing, succeeding, evangelizing, and catechizing, in other words, throwing out the good works of effective Pastors and dedicated Parishioners (and having the additional negative of DE-energizing leadership ). I think Monsignor Helmick put it much better than I could.

        You, and every Committee member also endlessly refer this as a plan to go “maintenance to mission”, without any connection to what the plan ACTUALLY would do to achieve this. As long as it is presented that way, it is going to be, and should be, judged by how it meets that goal. The ” I don’t know ” , or ” we will bring your concerns to the Cardinal ” answers just undermine the plan and the planners.

      • naturgesetz says:

        jwsr —

        I had been under the impression that the plan under discussion was aimed specifically at the goal of “Strengthening Our Parishes,” and that the other four goals were to be separately addressed. I could be wrong about that. I’ll see if I can locate the website or whatever they call it for clarification.

      • naturgesetz says:

        jswr —

        I found the document, and it is as I understood. It says:
        “24 This paper has been prepared to assist an extensive consultation of the Catholic faithful in the
        25 Archdiocese – the clergy, the religious and the laity – regarding the second Mission Initiative of
        26 Disciples in Mission, ‘Strengthening our Parishes as Primary Communities of Faith.’”

        As for the other four goals, as I read 84 through 95 of the proposal, the committee is saying that each PST will decide how to go about achieving them.

        Sometimes I get the impression that we are often in a Catch-22. If headquarters says, “Do it this way,” there are people who will complain that they know better than someone at a desk in Braintree; and if someone says, “Start collaborating on pastoral plans to achieve these goals,” there are people who will complain that this doesn’t tell us exactly how their plans will achieve the goals.

        I get the impression that there is a large measure of unwillingness to change behind the opposition, whether it’s, “Just leave me alone until I retire (then do whatever you want),” or “Something has to be done over there but not here; and don’t ask me to help, because it’s not my problem.”

        What I definitely do not see in the opposition to this plan is any sign of recognition that the current way of doing things is a failure. Because if there were such recognition, zeal for the gospel would have people clamoring to do things better now not in five or ten years.

        My question to every naysayer and footdragger is, “If you don’t want this plan, what are you going to do differentlynow, next month, next fall, and within the next year to improve catechesis and evangelization in your parish?” And my next question is, “What do you propose we do for our struggling parishes throughout the Church of Boston? If not the current proposal, what do you propose?”

      • Anni says:

        naturgesetz makes a very important point: Many of our current parishes ARE failures. The current model is not working. Something has to be done to fix it or in 10 years we will be like Isaiah’s remnant, hoping that someday we will see a vibrant RCAB again.

        A main concern is that if the priests of the Archdiocese don’t buy into the reconfiguration, it will not work. We are going to have a group of disaffected pastors, many of whom will have been displaced from viable and vibrant parishes and placed in collaboratives where they have to build from scratch, dealing with people who come from two or more parishes and who will spend the first couple years jockeying for position in the consolidated “Catholic communities”.

        I have spent time in the American south and have attended Mass at large parishes that had vibrant communities. I attended a Mass in Hampton Virginia and another in Cary, NC where the church was packed to the walls with young families. These churches are large and cover many communities, and they “work”, so there are clearly models for parishes that include large geographic areas.

        On the other hand, I’m not sure how it can all work in RCAB. Over 10 years ago I was on one of the committees that was charged with making clusters work better collaboratively. There were four parishes in my cluster. All had the same weekend Mass Schedule. I suggested that the parishes could work out schedules that would provide better options for people in the different parishes, but no one agreed. I suggested that the four parishes, which each had a 9 am daily Mass at that time, rotate once a month with a 7 am Mass to provide the opportunity for working people to attend daily Mass. Not a single person agreed with that idea. We went away from our series of meetings without making a single change in our schedules or in how we provided services.

        I suggested that the parishes form a collaborative for services and materials like snow plowing and buying fuel oil. I explained that we could get better pricing this way. No one agreed. Each parish had its service providers, who often were parishioners and they didn’t want to change. I suggested going out to bid to get better pricing. That didn’t “fly”.

        What should make me think that it will work now?

        I am trying to keep an open mind about this plan, but so far I have not been convinced that it is going to make us a stronger church.

      • Boston Blackey says:

        I can only speak to the four parishes in Roslindale and West Roxbury. The WR/Ros parishes are large and 3 of them have schools. From what I have heard and read, they are all in good shape financially and the Sacramental indices are in excellent shape. Sure the numbers are down but will combining parishes help? What about the schools? Will they be closed as being duplication of effort? None of this makes any sense to me. Now I really am glad that I am moving to a different state (my new parish has 7 priests and 12 deacons a grammar school and a high school along with a cemetery).

      • naturgesetz says:

        Boston Blackey —

        I think the actual groupings of parishes may need considerable rethinking. It may be, for one thing, that town and city boundaries have been given more weight than they deserve. I don’t know if regrouping the parishes you mention could give a better result. I’ve heard a bit more about the situation in Peabody, where St. Ann and St. Adelaide are miles apart and basically have nothing in common. It may be that it would make a lot more sense to group St Adelaide with North Reading or the Lynnfield parishes and to put St. Ann in either the St. John the Baptist group in Peabody or the Sacred Heart group in Lynn (with possible ripple effects into adjoining groups).

        It might even be a good idea for them to go back to the drawing board and redo the groupings without having the town lines shown and see what they come up with. Some groupings might seem natural and solid. Others might be more tentative, and in those cases they might take city and town boundaries into account to resolve the close calls.

        But I don’t think a need to adjust groupings discredits the basic concept.

    • jwsr says:

      So as I understand, we agree to agree. You are enthusiastically for and I am cautiously against, but we are unanimous that the plan does nothing to address Evangelization, Maintenance to Mission, Faith Formation, Welcoming, Changing the Culture/Mode [whatever that means] of Parish life or Re-energizing Pastoral leadership.

      I would be happy to instead talk about what the plan ACTUALLY is supposed to do, and debate its merits based on those criteria if anyone could tell me what those were. The committee is no help in explaining those actual criteria, so perhaps a list might be useful. [I am asking in all sincerity; please let me know what you think this will address]

      The plan increases the size of Parishes; this could address the issue of fewer Priests, and the increasing isolation of Priests.

      The plan allows for a more orderly process for closing churches, if that becomes necessary due to continuing declines in active Catholics.

      Conceivably, there could be cost savings in consolidation, but this only happens if the merger allows the reduction of staff. The part of the plan that calls for hiring of highly paid full-time staff to replace the [often part-time or part-volunteer] laid-off staff seems to negate that cost saving.

      To my mind, these are all managing the decline, and accepting the decline as inevitable. I suppose it might be an acceptable plan B, but not a plan A. The Archdiocese would be much better not wrapping it up (very poorly, I might add) in religious-y catch phases, but putting it out as a distasteful but possibly necessary outcome if evangelization, catechesis and call to vocations does not work.

      • naturgesetz says:

        jwsr —

        As I understand it, the plan is supposed to provide an orderly way of dealing with the projected decrease in the number of priests over the next 10+ years.

        It does not “increase the size of Parishes,” as you suggest, but it provides a plan for doing what has already begun, namely, assigning multiple parishes to a single pastor.

        It provides a mechanism (pastoral service teams) to allow the pastor to handle his responsibilities more efficiently.

        The PST’s allow additional priests to assist the pastor as long as there are priests available.

        The PST’s allow for cooperative ventures and cost-sharing among the parishes served by a PST, thereby giving struggling parishes a better chance to survive.

        The plan requires each PST to develop its plan for meeting the remaining goals.

        You raise the question of replacing part-time, low-paid staff with high-paid, full-time staff. As I understand it, this is neither a requirement nor a direct purpose of the plan. It arises because the planners have identified, as a fact, that the generation of part-time and low-paid individuals who became DRE’s as religious sisters became unavailable are approaching retirement age. Realistically, when these people retire, it will not be possible to replace most of them with volunteers or low-paid people. Therefore, the planners believe, it will be necessary to pay normal wages and offer full or nearly full time employment. Since struggling parishes will be unable to afford it, the sharing of the expense among the parishes seems the only feasible way to replace those who will soon retire.

        In some cases, perhaps, a PST might lay someone off in advance of their planned retirement date, but as far as I know, there is nothing in the plan which requires them to lay anyone off. It’s all a question of affordability and mission.

        It may well be that in some situations the cost of a new DRE will be more than the parishes had been paying, but the proper comparison isn’t between those two figures, but between the cost of the new DRE and the total cost to the parishes if each had to hire its own DRE.

        Next, a word about scheduling the implementation of the plan. Msgr. Helmick suggests a rolling implementation as pastors retire. It seems to me that such a method would undercut one of the potential benefits of the plan. As anni has pointed out, there are at least some do-nothing pastors. Other pastors are ready, willing, and able to undertake the effort to grow the Church. A rapid implementation would enable the Archbishop to select pastors who are “with the program,” who want to be part of the effort to shift the culture to mission and evangelization. A rolling implementation would keep the stick-in-the-muds in place, passively hindering the effort to stem the decline through their inaction.

        As to whether the plan accepts decline as inevitable, I think it says, short-term, it is realistic to expect it. We don’t have seminarians “in the pipeline” to increae or even stabilize the number of priests, for example. And something has to be done to change the “culture.” But if we leave our current structure in place, the current stick-in-the-muds will continue in maintenance mode, and we’ll have shining beacons of vibrant parishes amid the encircling gloom of decline. How long have our Popes been calling for the New Evangelization? How long had David Couturier been telling us that business as usual won’t work? And what has been the effect?
        the plan does not accept decline as inevitable over the long term. The plan does recognize that directives from Braintree for parishes to become welcoming, evangelizing participants in mission will continue to be ineffective unless there are pastors committed to those goals with resources available to achieve them. That, not empty hope, is what will stem the decline.

    • jwsr says:

      Yes, it is a plan for the orderly management of the decline of the numbers of Priests. It also proactively deals with the committee’s projected decline in the number of Catholics. Problem is, that is basically all it does.

      [ I assume that the argument over the solution of making Parishes bigger is a semantic one; the PSTs ARE bigger, but basically are to function AS Parishes, so I sometimes use the terms interchangeably ]

      I will try to get to the replacement of low-pay/volunteer Parish staff with high-paid “professional” staff later (that requires a little more digging into the committee’s foundational writings), but I am a little confused by your circular arguments about the associated benefits. I have criticized the plan, and your commentary, for assuming that if the Archdiocese fires all its Pastors, then re-hires 127 superPastors, this will re-energize the Church. Anni complains about Pastors that weaken the Faith and the Church by failing to pass on authentic Catholicism, and you complain about “do-nothing pastors”, the problem being that the re-hired superPastors are from the same pool and process as the regular Pastors you just displaced. I don’t see how firing and then re-hiring the same people will produce the different result you say will appear.

      Given that there may be fewer Priests in the future (but this would be a good idea even if that does not happen), it would be be a better approach to not declare Parishes (and by implication, their Pastors) “failures” only based on their size and the regularity and size of their payments to the Central office. (that seems to be the only metric the committee used)

      Seldom is a Parish or Pastor entirely successful or failing, but each has its strengths and weaknesses. Pastors and the Cardinal ought to be able to get a picture of what Parishes do things well, and which and what they do not, something which is done by gossip nowadays; and be able to share best practices. We also need to expand our definition of both failure and success. Are 100 first communions a success when the statistic includes 70 last communions? Is a Parish in a wealthy suburb that has no money problems, but does not pass on Catholic doctrine really a success? Is paying the Central Office, while running the Parish by selling property or collecting rent on a closed school really a financial success? Is a small or poor Parish that sends less than 18% to Braintree, but has lots of vocations and a growing, faithful congregation really a Failure?

      Not all Priests have the same strengths and gifts, but if they are becoming fewer and rarer, do we not have to treat them all as precious, and make sure what Priestly talents they have are best allocated and supported? I do not see how making Pastorship the equivalent of a distant CEO position, or even making it a one-size-fits-all job description helps.

      • naturgesetz says:

        jwsr —

        You raise the objection “that the re-hired superPastors are from the same pool and process as the regular Pastors you just displaced. I don’t see how firing and then re-hiring the same people will produce the different result you say will appear.” But of course, although the superPastors come from the same pool, not all current pastors would become superPastors. The process of selection of superPastors should put in place the 125 who appear most likely to lead successful, mission-oriented teams. In other words, it’s a golden opportunity to get rid of the deadwood from the ranks of pastors. Hopefully the underperformers who don’t make the cut have some sense of priestly vocation and will be willing to be part of a PST even if they are the chief honcho. If they don’t, it speaks very poorly of them.

        I agree that financial stability is not the sole measure of success for a parish. And if there are wealthy parishes where nothing but maintenance is happening, it would be great to get them into a grouping where their wealth could help carry another parish or two, and a new, mission-oriented pastor could revive their culture.

      • Boston Blackey says:

        The problem, as I see it is, who or what determines the “deadwood”? All of these pastors were apponted by the RCAB based on some sort of merit. This is very troubling to me.

      • jwsr says:

        But the “The process of selection of ” [ current Pastors ] ” should put in place the” [ 287 ] ” who appear most likely to lead successful, mission-oriented teams. ”
        and according to you it doesn’t

      • jwsr says:

        I would also add that a one-time, universal free-for-all scramble for Pastor “seats” would favor the careerist, self-promoting politicians over those who quietly and faithfully serve, an added concern.

      • naturgesetz says:

        When you need 287 you can’t be as selective as when you only need 125. Whether the careerists manage to edge out the quietly effective is a concern, of course. My hope and expectation is that there will be real attention paid to the suitability of priests for leadership in the new culture of mission.

        As I see it, the plan does not make success inevitable, but it makes it much more feasible than what we’ve got now. It gives us our best chance.

  11. naturgesetz says:

    No doubt Msgr. Helmick expressed the concerns of many priests. But his letter suggests that all current pastors want to remain pastors and that they all ought to be pastors. I think both are false assumptions. (For the latter point, see Anni’s comments, above.)

    Beyond that, it is unfortunate that the reason he gives in the quoted material amounts to the self-interest of the pastors. Why must their personal desire to remain pastors outweigh the needs of the faithful? If there are solid reasons why the plan should not be implemented, fine. But it seems to me that when parishes are having trouble going it alone — and have not already made the obvious sensible decision to collaborate and share expenses, as they have been urged to for years — somebody needs to knock heads together and say that pastors have to stop treating parishes as their personal fiefdoms and work together for the good of the whole church of Boston.

    And it’s not just pastors: from what I’ve heard, laity attending consultation sessions also seem to care only about, “What will it do to me, me, me?” It will be very unfortunate if nothing is done to throw a life preserver too the sinking parishes because of the narrow self-interestedness of vociferous individuals who can’t see beyond their own desires to the greater good.

    It is also worth noting that the plan has the flexibility to allow for more parishes to stand alone if they can become self-sustaining and numbers of priests increase in the future.

    Finally, people need to realize that this is only one element of a larger effort at renewal in the archdiocese. IOW, it is not reorganization or catechesis. The idea is to move the diocese from a culture of maintenance to one of mission. The reorganization is intended to make it easier for us to implement that culture of mission by enabling us to achieve economies through collaboration, rather than continuing unsustainable duplication of efforts.

    • Liam says:

      Personally, I know one parish whose stand-alone status was not exactly welcomed by parishioners, but was enthusiastically lobbied for on behalf of the pastor for the dynamic you cite….

    • Stephen says:

      See the modernist in our midst and his techniques?
      – “Why must their personal desire to remain pastors outweigh the needs of the faithful?”-
      set up false dichotomies
      -“the obvious sensible decision”-
      You are stupid if you disagree
      -“somebody needs to knock heads”-
      This is a power play, and we have the power
      -“parishes as their personal fiefdoms”-
      Destroy church power and those given ordained authority
      -“vociferous individuals who can’t see beyond their own desires”-
      Insult those who disagree
      -“one element of a larger effort at renewal”-
      don’t worry we have a plan

      The plan of the modernist that we continue to see played out is exactly what we need to be worried about.

      Catholic symbolism transcends time. The destruction of truth so vividly seen by the destroyed statue at St. Cecelia’s is real and tangible. The Catholic faithful should always be prepared to attend the Mass in cold unheated basements lit by candles. As they have through the centuries, the faithful will enjoy the comfort of Christ made present in the form of bread. It has always proven enough to warm and inspire souls for the Church’s true ‘mission’.

      • jwsr says:

        Much in the post that is valid, but the setting up and knocking down of straw men that you complain about is hardly “modernist”.

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