The big news yesterday is that the new Pastoral Plan for Boston, “Disciples in Mission” was approved by Cardinal O’Malley and announced at a press conference.
Here are some of the headline stories:
Pastoral planning to promote the New Evangelization (The Boston Pilot, with text of the press conference remarks by Cardinal O’Malley)
Boston Cardinal approves archdiocese reshuffle (Boston Globe)
Clearly, something has to be done to address the declining number of people attending Mass (down to about 15-17% of Catholics now), declining number of active priests, and the reality that at least 40% of parishes are in the red, and perhaps as much as 50-60% by some internal estimates. We very much support the objectives of this effort–evangelization and growth–and we commend the archdiocese for the tremendous amount of work put into developing the plan and getting broad input on it. BCI does not have an alternate proposal to this Pastoral Plan, and this is the plan approved going forward. But that said, BCI thinks there is likely to be a bit of a kerfuffle on the path to the reshuffle.
Here is the gist of the plan, as described in the press release:
The Pastoral Plan groups the  parishes of the Archdiocese into approximately 135 collaboratives. Each parish maintains its own identity in the collaboratives. Each parish retains its buildings, its canonical rights, its financial assets and obligations. The collaborative will have one Pastor who will work with one Pastoral Team, one Parish Pastoral Council and one Parish Finance Council. Together they will develop a pastoral plan for their local collaborative, focused on serving the needs of the parishes in their local collaborative and advancing the mission of the New Evangelization. The formation of the parish collaboratives will be phased in, with appropriate flexibility, over a period of five years. Pastors, pastoral teams, and councils of each parish collaborative will participate in extensive theological and practical training for the New Evangelization. The first list of parishes being grouped will be announced in January 2013. For a full review of the plan and for additional information please visit www.disciplesinmission.com.
Here are a few things to be concerned with in implementation, which we hope and pray the archdiocese will address:
- Canon Law (Can. 537) says that each parish is to have its own Finance Council. “in each parish there is to be a finance council which is governed, in addition to universal law, by norms issued by the diocesan bishop and in which the Christian faithful, selected according to these same norms, are to assist the pastor in the administration of the goods of the parish, without prejudice to the prescript of Can. 532 (which says the pastor represents the parish according to the norm of law). Canonically, it is not entirely clear how to pull this off, though we know that Fr. Bob Oliver, the canon lawyer working on this for Bishop-elect Deeley, has been all over it trying to figure out how.
- Beyond the letter of Canon Law, it is not clear how one Finance Council will make decisions in a fair way across multiple parishes in a collaborative, each of which has its own unique financial condition, some of which might be in the red and some of which might be in the black.
- Did the “Catholics Come Home” campaign of 2011 help boost Mass attendance? If not, what is to be learned from that effort, so we do better at evangelization in the future?
- What will be done with all of the empty rectories?
- Will this effort lead to more parish closings, but just done at a local collaboration level, parish by parish, rather than at a diocesan level? What could be done to avoid that outcome?
- Fr. Paul Soper was chosen as permanent Director of Pastoral Planning role. He has a Voice of the Faithful chapter at his parish. Even if he inherited the chapter when he took over as pastor, given their track record of dissent from Church teachings, why has he allowed them to remain?
- The announcement says, “Pastors, pastoral teams, and councils of each parish collaborative will participate in extensive theological and practical training for the New Evangelization.” BCI has read their “plan” and found things to like, but also a lot of holes. For example, if the Archdiocese cannot or will not put a stop to heretical lay adult faith formation programs in parishes such as those documented in “Boston Parish Adult Faith Formation – Good and Bad,” (which include speakers like the national co-chair of “Catholics for Obama”, a talk on Buddhism, and reading a sex novel), then why should anyone believe in their new “extensive theological training”? If the Archdiocese does not realize they should not be allowing people like Obama-supporter, Fr. Kenneth Himes of BC to speak at parishes and should not be promoting his talks, how can the Archdiocese assure Catholics they can get theological training correct? And years after they said the were going to post and promote a list of approved programs, resources, and opportunities for lay faith formation in parishes, collaboratives and at the Archdiocesan level, such a web page still cannot be found. If they cannot even put up a web page, how will they pull off this ambitious effort?
- Who is going to pay for this plan and its implementation? If it is to be the people in the pews, why should they dig deeper into their pockets in these difficult economic times while the Pastoral Center has done nothing to curb the excessive six-figure salaries paid to lay executives? Two years after the “Compensation Committee” was formed to revisit excessive six-figure salaries, there have been no changes and nothing whatsoever to show for their efforts, except engagement of an expensive consultant and empty words in an annual report .
- Does the RCAB have the right people on the ship to set direction and drive and execute this effort? Have they gotten the “wrong” people off the ship? If they have not yet gotten the “wrong” people off the ship–despite years of evidence they are the wrong people–how will the RCAB ever attract the best people, especially after the ship has set sail?
- Does the RCAB even have the right structure in place to pull this off?
- If the RCAB cannot deal, or refuses to deal with problems like the ongoing presence and influence of Fr. Bryan Hehir, Jack Connors, and Terry Donilon, how will they ever execute a program intended to evangelize fallen-away Catholics with the truths of the Catholic faith?
- Re-read this blog post, “Pastoral Planning Perspectives” including these objective observations from a reader:
The plan assumes competent people in leadership for evangelization, and a sound financial footing for RCAB to pull it off. I am not convinced that RCAB can assure us of either at the moment.Many dioceses have implemented this kind of plan, but they have done so only by beginning with extensive lay formation. To make the plans, announce them and implement them, and then announce a plan for formation assumes that the people, having learned of the plans, will be eager to support them by giving time and energy (not to mention money) to these formation efforts.
Has RCAB put the cart before the horse? Given the five-year plan, wouldn’t there have been time to provide the formation program to parish planning and finance council members, then let them help recommend the collaborative options?
When RCAB says it is paying for something, it means WE are paying for it. There isn’t some magical pot of money from which RCAB draws — it’s our donations that fund all the salaries and expenses of the central administration.
Is it time for one other adjustment to take place as part of this collaboration? Is it time for the civil body of Corporation Sole and its finance committee to be dissolved, and for a new civil structure to replace it? We wish for religious freedom from our government, and yet we do not expect fiscal accountability of the civil structure of the archdiocese. Corp Sole is one man, one vote. Period. And that man, for good or ill, is accountable for every act to which he affixes his signature.
Is it time the structure reflected a civil leadership body of bishops, priests and lay faithful who are personally liable and accountable for the civil undertakings of the Archdiocese? Has the 19th century fiction of Corporation Sole run its course? Archbishop Williams asked for the Corp Sole form from the legislature. He exhibited remarkable wisdom in his selection of those who advised him, and in the execution of diocesan fiscal affairs. His successor, Cardinal O’Connell’s, fiscal abuses are well documented. Every ordinary since has either overbuilt, overspent or at least been manipulated by those who sought personal gain from dealings with RCAB. Could it be time for the fiscal and civil reins to be held in more than one hand? And could it be that changing the way parishes are run is the ideal time to recommend a change in how the fiscal and civil structure of the diocese is run?
How many more base salaries over $160,000.00 (with benefits and employment tax contributions that’s actually right at $200,000.00) can WE afford to pay? And how many more conflicts of interest can the Archdiocese of Boston afford to pursue?
That said, they need to do something. All Catholics should support the goals of evangelizing the truths of the Catholic faith to a secular society and trying to increase the number of Catholics attending Mass. This plan looks directionally like the best or only approach left to consider today–short of immediate widespread church closings. But, in the opinion of BCI, the RCAB is so ill-prepared, ill-financed, ill-organized, inappropriately staffed and lacking in strong leadership, that the implementation will probably never realize the vision. If they could only muster the ability to address the issues detailed above, maybe it has a prayer of success.