There have been a few changes in the Office of Pastoral Planning lately that all Boston Catholics should be aware of. In particular, the newly named Interim Director of this important office, Fr. Paul Soper, is pastor of St. Albert in Weymouth, which, coincidentally, is one of the few parishes in the Boston Archdiocese that still hosts a chapter of Voice of the Faithful.
Just as a reminder, an extensive pastoral planning process is underway to determine how a new model of Pastoral Service Teams (PST) will be implemented in Boston. The idea is that parishes will be grouped, with one pastor (and perhaps a parochial vicar and deacon) serving anywhere from one parish to 3 or 4 parishes, along with a shared service team to include roles such as business manager, religious education and faith formation director, youth ministry, music ministry, secretary, and maintenance.
The office coordinating all of this is seeing the departure of two key staff members, and Fr. Soper has been named Interim Director for an indeterminate period while they search for a replacement full-time director.
This post is not making any judgments about Fr. Soper. We are not acquainted with him and are not giving any personal commentary about him. He may be a great person and pastoral leader in his parish. We are reporting that Fr. Soper has a chapter of VOTF in his parish. And that gives the perception that he would likely be supportive of their agenda. We will give you the basic information and you will have to decide what you think of this change.
Bulletin Notice about Pastoral Planning Change (3/18/3012)
Many of you heard my announcement of last weekend regarding my new assignment as Interim Director of the Office of Pastoral Planning for the Archdiocese. I apologize to those who were at the six o’clock Mass, when I was at one of the consultation meetings, and failed to make arrangements for that announcement to be made. Sorry.
Just to lay out for you the details in writing, such as I now know them. The Office of Pastoral Planning has in recent years been staffed by Father David Couturier, OFM Cap., and Joshua Phelps, a layman. Joshua got a new job offer last month, and has left the office. Fr. David is being reassigned by his religious community, and will be leaving the office in May. This leaves this office unstaffed during a time when we are taking big steps in finishing our consultations, preparing a proposal to give to the Cardinal, and, if he approves it, beginning the process of implementation in a gradual and organic way. A successor for Fr. David will be sought, but this will likely take a fair amount of time. It seemed to make sense to have someone familiar with the process step in on an interim basis to staff that office. The Cardinal, through Monsignor Deeley (the Vicar General), has asked me to step in to that position. And because of my decision 22 years ago that I would put into the hands of the Archbishop of Boston the decisions about where I would minister, I have, of course, agreed to accept this interim position.
I want to emphasize that I do not know yet any details about how this will impact my ministry at St. Albert’s….
I love you and care deeply about you, and I know that you love me as well. I assure you that that love has sustained me through these recent months and am certain
that it will continue to do so.
Voice of the Faithful bulletin notice at St. Albert the Great, Weymouth
Voice of the Faithful Holds Conference on Catholic Campus
Last week, the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University hosted the 10th Annual Voice of the Faithful Conference called “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.” The lead speaker of the event was the controversial Bishop Geoffrey Robinson.
Bishop Robinson has been on a tour across America and it was reported last week in the National Catholic Reporter that he “urges change in Church teaching concerning all sexual relationships.”
The Center allowed this conference on campus despite Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport banning Voice of the Faithful from meeting in parishes in the Connecticut diocese. Of course, Bishop Lori cannot force Fairfield, a Jesuit university, to comply but many Catholics would hope that such a strong statement by the bishop would encourage a Catholic college to comply of their own volition.
In fact, just four days before the conference the VOTF issued a statement expressing their “disappointment” that Bishop Lori was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore. They accused him of having “fallen short” in his duties to protect children from clergy abuse.
But VOTF’s invitation to the Jesuit campus should hardly come as a surprise as the Center is directed by the holder of the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Chair in Catholic Studies, Dr. Paul Lakeland, Professor of Religious Studies who also serves on the advisory board of the VOTF.
In 2009, Lakeland opposed the Connecticut bishops by backing a state bill that sought to transfer control of Roman Catholic parishes to lay-run boards.
Although its unclear what the advisory board does, it was formed last year as the clergy sex abuse scandal moved off the front pages of newspapers and necessary improvements were made in how the Church deals with these issues. VOTF was reportedly suffering an identity crisis.
Where to go now? What to do?
Already seen by many as the dissident Catholic group that arose in protest of the burgeoning sex abuse scandal but since then has morphed into what some bishops have called “anti-Church and, ultimately, anti-Catholic “ and a group that “has used the current crisis in the Church as a springboard for presenting an agenda that is anti-Church and ultimately anti-Catholic,” VOTF formed its first theological advisory council, according to a news release at the time.
Unsurprisingly, Lakeland was named to the board. A former Jesuit priest, his book Can Women Be Priests? reportedly sought to refute theological objections to a female priesthood and called for it to be introduced.
In his book The Liberation of the Laity, he wrote: “What we have is an episcopate of men selected more for their commitment to the party line on outmoded ideas about contraception, ordination, and homosexuality, more for their administrative capabilities than for their stature as spiritual leaders.”
Other council members include Francine Cardman, associate professor of historical theology and Church history at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
Cardman has been listed on the website womenpriests.org as a supporter of the ordination of women. She has written extensively on the subject including her piece “Non-Conclusive Arguments: Therefore Non-Conclusion?” in which she wrote, “The rereading of central Christian dogmas in light of the present hermeneutical situation could, on the other hand, even come to require that women be allowed the possibility of ordination.”
She was quoted in USA Today concerning the apostolic visitation on nuns, arguing that the inquiry should be seen “as part of a much older tradition of misogyny in the (C)hurch and especially distrust of women who are not directly and submissively under male, ecclesiastical control.”
William D’Antonio, fellow of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, was a signatory of the letter in support of the nomination of the pro-abortion rights Kathleen Sebelius. That letter was the brainchild of a group called Catholics United which was described by Archbishop Charles Chaput as having “done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.’”
D’Antonio is also the co-author of eight books on the sociology of religion, including Voices of the Faithful, the subhead of which is “Loyal Catholics striving for change.”
Also on the board is Christine Schenk, CSJ, the executive director of FutureChurch, a national organization committed to female ordination and ending priestly celibacy.
The advisory council, according to a VOTF press release, is there to “advise VOTF’s board of trustees on issues relating to its mission and goals, offering analysis and recommendations solicited by the board, and will counsel the board on issues it feels are pertinent to VOTF’s success.”
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has barred a controversial Australian bishop from speaking in his California archdiocese.
In a May 9 letter to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary of the Sydney, Australia archdiocese, Cardinal Mahony invoked the Code of Canon Law to explain that he had decided to “deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”
Cardinal Mahony took action just as the Australian bishops’ conference issued a public statement warning of “doctrinal difficulties” in Bishop Robinson’s new book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. The Australian bishops noted problems with Bishop Robinson’s treatment of “the nature of Tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Scripture, the infallibility of the Councils and the Pope, the authority of the Creeds, the nature of the ministerial priesthood and central elements of the Church’s moral teaching.”
This article further details the Mahony communication to Bishop Robinson:
In his letter, Cardinal Mahony said he had recently learned of the Australian bishops’ statement about the bishop’s book. He also said he had learned that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, has urged Bishop Robinson to cancel his U.S. visit.
Cardinal Mahony requested Bishop Robinson to cancel his visit, citing Canon 763 of Canon Law. The canon pertains to a bishop’s duty to safeguard the teachings of the Church in his diocese.
“Under the provisions of Canon 763, I hereby deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” the cardinal wrote. He also urged Bishop Robinson to cancel his entire speaking tour and to work with the Australian bishops’ conference, saying he would expect him to “follow exactly” their recommendations.
For Cardinal Mahony to have banned a speaker in his diocese, you know something must have been problemmatic. This suggests a bit of a problem with VOTF. Yet Bishop Robinson spoke at the Paulist Center in Boston that year (where the current VOTF President was the local VOTF chapter lead), and Robinson also spoke at the VOTF conference in 2012..
To present a more complete perspective, here are some articles that give more information about Fr. Paul Soper and his background:
The position of Director of Pastoral Planning–interim in nature or permanent–is a very important one, with responsibility for how parishes are grouped, what the plan looks like to be implemented, implementation and perhaps even some input on pastoral assignments for the new PSTs. The person in the position should enthusiastically support everything the Catholic Church believes and teaches. Hopefully, that is the case for Fr. Soper. That Fr. Soper has a chapter of VOTF in his parish is objectively factual information. It gives the perception that he would be supportive of the VOTF agenda. BCI believes that presents a source of concern which the Boston Archdiocese should address. What do you think?