The more we see and hear of the implementation of the Boston pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission, the more we conclude the acronym for the plan, DIM, is a good way to describe the outlook for the plan. One example of the problems are expressed in a guest column in a local paper, “Catholic church ‘collaborative’ plan shrouded in hypocrisy” written by a parish volunteer at St. Mary’s of the Assumption in East Walpole. Here are excerpts:
Guest column: Catholic church ‘collaborative’ plan shrouded in hypocrisy
WALPOLE —Christ’s message of love, respect and service to others seems to be missing from the Boston Archdiocese’s pastoral plan called “Disciples in Mission.” The ouster of the parish priests from their current assignments as part of this plan is the latest in a string of deceptive acts created by the hierarchy and imposed on the parish priests and their congregations. The plan is designed to keep churches “open” so that the money continues to flow in, but fails to address the priest shortage in any meaningful way, while inflicting pain on the parish priests and parishioners.
In gratitude for years of service, parish priests were asked to tender their “resignations” earlier this month. In the work world, requesting a resignation means the termination of employment. Requesting the resignation of priests who have taken a vow of obedience and know they can be reassigned at any time shows a complete lack of respect for these men.
At St. Mary’s of the Assumption parish in East Walpole on Oct. 20, when questioned about the need for resignations and the pain inflicted on the parish priests by this plan, Fr. Paul Soper’s response was that he went to the chapel and cried. How similar to Peter’s weeping after he denied Christ three times in the garden.
After the clergy sex abuse scandal festered for years in the Archdiocese of Boston, and across the globe, under legal pressure, the hierarchy finally admitted its wrongdoing.
In 2004, the Archdiocese under Cardinal Sean O’Malley made decisions with limited, if any, input from the congregations to shutter parishes. People left the Catholic Church.
Now we are looking at “collaboratives” instead of “closings” designed to avoid a negative response from parishioners and a huge drop off in contributions that occurred when parishes where shuttered. Will people leave the Catholic Church?
Handing down edicts has and will continue to alienate people. More egregious, however, is the failure to deal honestly and directly with the people. Were there no lessons learned from the sex abuse scandal and the 2004 closings? And where is Christ in this plan?
At St. Mary’s, Fr. Soper danced around the issues of whether parish could be removed from its assigned cluster and whether Fr. Delay could remain the pastor. After two hours of discussion and multiple inquiries, the answer was still unclear until a parishioner pressed for a “yes” or “no” answer. Fr. Soper’s response was “no.” The “flexibility” of the plan that Fr. Soper spoke about in The Pilot in November 2012 appears to be only for the hierarchy, not the parishes.
Even more upsetting than the lack of a forthright answer, however, was Fr. Soper’s outright refusal to bring to Cardinal O’Malley the concerns of the parishioners, including a request to allow Fr. Delay to stay at St. Mary’s until he retires. Removing St. Mary’s from Phase II and putting it in a later phase would accomplish this. But the hierarchy has spoken – the “collaboratives” are a done deal.
In response to queries about how decisions were made in the creation of the clusters, Fr. Soper, a Harvard educated man, selected for this task for his ability to “quantify and analyze data,” explained the laughable “sacramental index.” The formula was based on the number of Baptisms, First Communions and Confirmations, weddings and funerals, and the total offertory. Fr. Soper’s academic calculations fail to recognize that many registered Catholics come to Church only for the sacraments, using the Church as a backdrop for the photo opportunities provided at these “events,” with the occasional Easter and Christmas visits. There was little to no regard for the vitality of the faith community, the same people who are charged with evangelizing under this plan.
Week in and week out, Fr. Delay draws standing room only crowds at Mass. Father understands that the young people are the future Church. He involves the youth in the parish as altar servers, lectors, religious education teachers and through the summer Bible camp and countless other activities.
At the parish center meeting, parishioners recounted stories of Fr. Delay’s outreach to those in need – cooking and delivering a full Thanksgiving dinner for a woman with cancer so she could celebrate with her family, helping a family left homeless by a fire, comforting people in their time of sorrow and need and welcoming all, including members from two parishes in Norwood that were shuttered.
Just this past week, Fr. Delay held a prayer service for the teenagers of the parish grieving the tragic loss of a 14-year old classmate and friend. Through his words, and more importantly his actions, Fr. Delay serves as a role model and inspires the people of St. Mary’s to love and serve others and treat all with dignity and respect. It is painful to watch him be treated so poorly by the Archdiocese, yet he remains a humble servant.
There is no question that the Church needs to address the shortage of priests and the Archdiocese needs to consolidate the parishes. The hypocritical plan of the “Disciples in Mission” and the disgraceful treatment of beloved parish priests like Fr. Delay serve only to further alienate the very people who are expected to be evangelists. The Archdiocese needs to start dealing openly and honestly rather than developing duplicitous plans and obscuring the facts. The hierarchy needs to focus on Christ’s message of love, respect and service to others.
Mary Garrity is a volunteer at St. Mary’s Church in East Walpole.
BCI does not know much about Fr. Delay or about St. Mary’s in East Walpole, and we do not necessarily agree with all of the views expressed by Ms. Garrity. Still, we do agree there is are problems with hypocrisy and inconsistency in the plan. Some priests are made to retire at 75-years-old and some can stay on. Some priests can stay in their existing parish community as pastor of the new collaborative and many must leave. Those issues will be the subject of a future post as we talk about the dim outlook for “DIM.”