Correction and Clarification on Last Post Re: Retiring Pastor

June 17, 2013

BCI received a number of public comments and several private comments on our last post, and needs to issue a correction and clarification.

Since writing the post, we have learned a few additional pieces of important information.  The subject line, “Boston Archdiocese Evicts 90-year-old Retiring Pastor” and tone of the post conveyed a perspective on this particular situation that we realize now may not have accurately reflected all of the facts.  We have also learned that there is much more to the situation in Newton and adjoining communities than we originally realized.

We were correct that pastors such as 90-year-old Fr. Connelly, who retire as pastors in a collaborative, have to leave that collaborative.  A “new” pastor coming in may not want the “old guy” looking over his shoulder when he becomes pastor, and the “old guy”  may not want to be in the position of looking over the shoulder of the new pastor or having parishioners come to the “old guy” to complain about the “new guy.”  We were also correct that Fr. Connelly wanted to live in Wellesley near his elderly sister and is going to live at St. Pauls in Wellesley with Fr. Bryan Hehir and Fr. Thomas Powers.

However, in this case, the word “evict” was too strong and misrepresented the reality of the situation. Fr. Connelly voluntarily retired at the age of 90, and even though in the parish bulletin he had expressed a desire to stay in the local parish post-retirement, we learned that he did indeed not want to be living locally under a new pastor. Much to our surprise, Fr. Connelly, is in fact friends with Fr. Powers and accepted an invitation to work as Senior Priest in residence at the St. Johns rectory in Wellesley.  We apologize for using the wrong word in the headline and any implication that Fr. Connelly forced out or that his going to live at St. Johns in Wellesley was involuntary.

As for the sense of a “takeover” of the orthodox Sacred Heart in Newton by the less-orthodox pastor, Fr. John Sassani, from Our Ladys in Newton, it is true that Fr. Sassani is much less orthodox than Fr. Connelly, and we still see this as a concern. As background, we understand that a group of Sacred Heart parishioners who knew Fr. Sassani primarily from his having given Lenten missions wrote a letter to the archdiocese asking that he remain as pastor of the collaborative in Newton. In addition, after uproar over the removal of Fr. Walter Cuenin from Our Ladys some years ago, the folks in Braintree may have wanted to avoid upsetting this particular applecart right now. Contributing factors as those may be, BCI still sees this as problematic. If one merely looks at Our Ladys’ bulletin for the past 6-8 months, one will easily see the evidence of dissent from the Catholic faith in the programs offered.  Why should a pastor who allows and encourages dissent from the Catholic faith be given the green light from the archdiocese to broaden their influence over the faithful and lead yet more souls under their care astray?  This will be the topic of a subsequent post.

In addition, we are told publicly and privately that the focus on Sacred Heart and Fr. Sassani is missing even more of the “big picture” of what is happening in the Newton/Wellesley area around Pastoral Planning.

Why are Our Ladys and Sacred Heart now combined–with two churches and Mass schedules, while the smaller St. Bernards in Newton is remaining alone? (St. Bernards is “combined” in name and church-going population with Corpus Christi, but the Corpus Christi church building is now used exclusively by the Korean Catholic community, so you have one parish building at St. Bernards with one parish Mass and sacramental schedule).

And what is happening in nearby Wellesley?  Why was Fr. Richard Fitzgerald suddenly transferred from St. Pauls to St. Columbkille in Brighton?  That leaves St Paul,  the more traditional and orthodox parish in Wellesley, highly vulnerable.
St. Paul still has a parish-based Catholic school, and many orthodox Catholics send their children there. However, BCI understands that Fr. Tom Powers at nearby St. Johns has been angling to get the St Paul parish school closed and instead, to locate a new diocesan-managed Wellesley Catholic Academy at St John’s (where Voice of the Faithful formed back in 2002 under his tutelage).  We all know what a diocesan-managed “Catholic” academy under Mary Grassa O’Neill means.  Father Fitz had apparently resisted this move for several years. Now what happens?

So the big questions are:

  • What will happen to the previous orthodoxy at Sacred Heart in Newton with the less-than-orthodox Fr. Sassani taking over?   Is this part of a pattern of orthodox pastors in Boston retiring and being replaced by unorthodox pastors?
  • Who will get the whole of Wellesley?
  • Why is a parish such as St Bernard in Newton standing alone, while other larger parishes are combining?

Again, we apologize for not having full information on the Fr. Connelly situation when we wrote our last blog post about the changes in Newton.

ps. We understand there are problems at another Sacred Heart–Sacred Heart in Middleboro — part of a new collaborative that also includes Sts Martha and Mary in Lakeville and St Rose of Lima in Rochester.  A report from the vigil Mass this past Saturday was very concerning. Any parishioners who were at that Mass or who heard what happened–please drop us a line.

Boston Archdiocese Evicts 90-year-old Retiring Pastor

June 3, 2013

If the implementation of the new pastoral plan across the Boston Archdiocese looks anything like we hear it looks in Newton, MA, we are in for a steep decline.

Latest news on the pastoral plan is that the 90-year-old retiring pastor of Sacred Heart in Newton, Fr. John Connelly, has packed his bags and is moving this week because he was asked by the Boston Archdiocese to leave the parish where he has served as pastor for the last 30 years. Out of obedience to his bishop, this very orthodox pastor has agreed to the plan and is moving to another rectory where he will now reside with two of the least orthodox priests in the archdiocese.

As background, as part of the parish collaborative effort, Sacred Heart in Newton is combining with Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton. According to local parishioners, the two parishes could not be more different. About a month ago in Boston Pastoral Planning Problems, we wrote how Sacred Heart has been led by an orthodox pastor while our Lady Help of Christians is more “new agey” in their liturgies and ministries:

Pastor, Fr. John Sassani of the new collaborative offers yoga at Our Ladys, despite the known objections of the Vatican and risk to the spiritual health of participants. His history of allowing promotion of agendas that dissent from the Catholic faith is well documented in his parish bulletins. Just take a look at the books his parishioners are encouraged to read in their book club, and see this comment from Newton church-hopper:

BCI you should look closer at Our Ladys. Besides glass vessels for the blood of Christ, look at the kinds of faith formation programs they have.

Our Ladys Book Club was reading “sister” Joan Chittister’s “In Search of Belief” last fall.
Chittister is a dissident nun, 60′s leftist and new-ager, supports women’s ordination, speaks at Call to Action conferences.

What an insult to the Blessed Virgin Mary for Fr. Sassani to have “Our Ladys Book Club” reading a book by a dissident nun who disobeyed the Vatican’s request she not speak at a women’s ordination conference!!!!:

What happens when the new pastor from the bigger parish takes over the smaller parish in the collaborative? They boot the former pastor, even if he is 90-years-old and ordained a priest for 65 years. Here are several notices in the Sacred Heart bulletin that detail the progression:

January 20, 2013: Fr. Connolly wrote in the bulletin about the pending collaborative and impact on him:

“Some folks have been asking how all this affects my situation here at Sacred Heart parish where I will complete my thirtieth year on June 30. A pastor who resigns his parish is obviously eligible for another parish. however, nobody wants a 90-year-old pastor. A pastor who retires has a number of options. He can live in his ancestral home, which I do not have. He could live alone in a condo he purchased decades ago, which I did not do. My option, therefore, means I would live in a rectory somewhere and help out. My present desire would be to remain where I am and be active in priestly ministry in the new collaborative here in Newton. I would prefer to live where I am living but I could move to Our Lady’s Parish. However, final decisions must await the appointment of the new pastor in April.”

February 3, 2013: Fr. Connolly wrote in the bulletin about a different plan for him:

To understand my future means to understand what it means to be a diocesan presbyter working under the Diocesan Bishop. When I was ordained in 1950 I freely and willingly made the solemn promise of respect and obedience to the bishop. This is what I have followed throughout my priesthood. Accordingly, I must say that at this time I shall remain on as pastor of Sacred Heart until June 2013. I will then assume the role of Senior Priest to serve anywhere else in the diocese except here in the new collaborative. I agree with the diocesan policy. The point of the policy is to allow the new pastor to assume his new duties as he meets his new parishioners and they meet him. My many years of teaching theology, especially the teaching of the faith on original sin, makes me understand and make sense of this diocesan policy.

If you read one of his final messages in the May 26, 2013 bulletin, you will see a summary of Fr. Connelly’s life (“Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill”) and yet another example of what an amazing priest we understand Fr. Connelly is.

The going-away party for him was Sunday. BCI understands he is moving to the rectory at St. John’s in Wellesley (closer to his sister at Seton Residence /Sisters of Charity, Wellesley) where he will live with dissidents Fr. Bryan Hehir and Fr. Thomas Powers (who was pastor when Voice of the Faithful was founded in their school basement hall).

Big parish led by unorthodox pastor merges with smaller parish led by orthodox pastor. Unorthodox pastor with his unorthodox parochial vicar (founder of Boston Priests Forum) take over; 90-year-old orthodox pastor of smaller parish obediently follows orders to leave, goes to live in rectory with leading diocesan dissidents to be nearby elderly sister. If BCI got some part of this story wrong, please let us know.

How exactly this represents forward progress and a chance to better evangelize the truths of the Catholic faith is unclear to BCI. What do you think?

Boston Pastoral Planning Problems

April 30, 2013

As Phase One of the new Boston pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission, is being rolled out, early indicators are that the plan is going to be anywhere from somewhat to highly problematic. This is the plan that will group Boston parishes into collaboratives staffed by a single pastor, with a shared pastoral service team (PST). For a while, BCI tried to stay neutral, if not cautiously optimistic about the plan, but each week as we see and hear more about the rollout, the more concerned we become.

BCI sees multiple problems.  At a high level, they include:

  • Promotion of the agendas and beliefs of those who dissent from the faith, pretending it is part of the “new evangelization”
  • Failure to plan for former pastors who will no longer be pastors
  • Unnecessary reductions in Mass schedules and availability of the sacraments
  • Unresponsiveness to the concerns of faithful Catholics by Cardinal O’Malley, Vicar General Bishop Deeley, and Assistant to the VG Fr. Bryan Parrish
  • Lack of understanding of the key success factors for evangelization (as exemplified by the meeting in Braintree this past Saturday)

It will take many posts for us to go into all of these.  We will start with just a preview of the first two areas today.

As seen here, the pastors for all of the Phase One collaboratives were announced recently:

Pastors of the Phase One Collaboratives

As of last week, all of the Pastors for the Phase One Collaboratives have been named. Each one has responded generously and willingly to implement the Pastoral Plan as Pastor of one of the Collaboratives. We promise them our prayers and support in the days and months ahead. These new Pastors are:

1. Saint Luke and Saint Joseph, Belmont ~ Fr. Thomas Mahoney
2. Saint Mary, Saint Margaret and Saint John, Beverly ~ Fr. Mark Mahoney
3. Saint Mary, Saint Theresa, and Saint Andrew, Billerica ~ Fr. Shawn Allen
4. Saint Mary, Brookline ~ Fr. Brian Clary
5. Saint Mary of the Angels, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Our Lady of Lourdes,
Jamaica Plain ~ Fr. Carlos Flor
6. Saint Mary and Sacred Heart, Lynn ~ Fr. Brian Flynn
7. Our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Maria Goretti, Lynnfield ~ Fr. Paul Ritt
8. Saint Lucy and Saint Monica, Methuen ~ Msgr. William Fay
9. Saints Martha and Mary, Lakeville and Sacred Heart, Middleboro/Rochester
~ Fr. John Sheridan
10. Sacred Heart and Our Lady Help of Christians, Newton ~ Fr. John Sassani
11. Saint James, Saint John, Immaculate Conception and Sainte Anne, Salem,
~ Fr. Daniel Riley
12. Saint Jerome and Immaculate Conception, Weymouth ~ Fr. Joseph Rossi

About 3/4 of the present group of pastors are new to their collaborative. Apparently Fr. Paul Soper, Director of Pastoral Planning, (who had a Voice of the Faithful group at his most recent parish for several years), is driving this and is largely getting his way with the pastoral appointments.  BCI is told they want hand-picked “chosen” ones in collaboratives, so in some cases the normal pastoral appointment process is bypassed and politics kick in.

BCI is going to share brief comments on just one appointment to exemplify our point about promotion of dissident agendas and beliefs–Fr. John Sassani.   He offers yoga in his parish, despite the known objections of the Vatican and risk to the spiritual health of participants. His history of allowing promotion of agendas that dissent from the Catholic faith is well documented in his parish bulletins.  Just take a look at the books his parishioners are encouraged to read in their book club, and see this comment from Newton church-hopper:

BCI you should look closer at Our Ladys. Besides glass vessels for the blood of Christ, look at the kinds of faith formation programs they have.

Our Ladys Book Club was reading “sister” Joan Chittister’s “In Search of Belief” last fall.
Chittister is a dissident nun, 60′s leftist and new-ager, supports women’s ordination, speaks at Call to Action conferences.

What an insult to the Blessed Virgin Mary for Fr. Sassani to have “Our Ladys Book Club” reading a book by a dissident nun who disobeyed the Vatican’s request she not speak at a women’s ordination conference!!!!:

There are many other examples we will have to cover in a future post. Readers tell BCI that Our Lady’s is very much a “new age” type parish–far from orthodox in liturgies and ministries. They are now paired with a parish that had been led by a very orthodox pastor.  All in the Boston Archdiocese should ask why a pastor who allows and encourages his parishioners to read this garbage would now be made pastor of a collaborative. Is this an early indicator for future collaboratives?

Then there is the new problem created–we have too many priests for the available pastor slots, so a number of former pastors are now sitting on the sidelines. 50 priests were forced to resign their roles this spring to make way for Phase 2 collaboratives.  (Normally, maybe 10 pastors change at this time of year, so 50 is a big number). There were 12 open roles for pastors of collaboratives, plus some additional openings not formally a part of the collaborative effort.  Because a lot more pastors were forced to resign from parishes than there are available pastor roles, a number of former pastors now have no place to go. The reasons are varied–some parishes cannot afford a second or third priest, some of the new pastors do not want certain of the former pastors as parochial vicars, some former pastors do not want to now be a parochial vicar, and there are issues and agendas on both sides (whether real or perceived).

To deal with this new problem, sources tell BCI that the office of Clergy Personnel has hired a new psychiatrist to coordinate the treatment of priests’ issues, including those associated with displacement and moving assignments. We are not kidding.

BCI has been praying for the success of the pastoral planning effort in Boston, and still hopes it is successful. But we are beginning to have very serious concerns about execution of the new pastoral plan, and the implications for the typical Boston parish. Readers are invited to share their initial reactions to what they are seeing of the implementation so far.

Boston Archdiocese Unveils First Wave of Massive Parish Reorganization. Watch Out!

January 11, 2013

The first wave of a massive change to the organization of parishes in the Boston Archdiocese was unveiled on Thursday. BCI is getting concerned that a well-intentioned and much-needed plan has the potential to turn into a train-wreck based on some early indicators. Read on.

Here is a link to the announcement by the archdiocese, including the list from the Archdiocese of the 28 parishes that will be grouped into 12 clusters (or “collaboratives”) in the first phase of the reorganization plan:

1. Saint Luke and Saint Joseph, Belmont
2. Saint Mary, Saint Margaret, Saint John, Beverly
3. Saint Mary, Saint Theresa, Saint Andrew, Billerica
4. Saint Mary, Brookline (a one-parish collaborative)
5. Saint Mary of the Angels, Roxbury and Saint Thomas and Our Lady of Lourdes, Jamaica Plain
6. Saint Mary and Sacred Heart, Lynn
7. Our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Maria Goretti, Lynnfield
8. Saint Lucy and Saint Monica, Methuen
9. Sacred Heart, Middleboro and Saints Martha and Mary, Lakeville
10. Sacred Heart and Our Lady Help of Christians, Newton
11. Saint James, Saint John, Immaculate Conception, and Saint Anne, Salem
12. Saint Jerome and Immaculate Conception, Weymouth

Here is a summary from the Boston Globe:

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston on Thursday announced the names of more than two dozen parishes participating in the first phase of a major reorganization that will eventually group the archdiocese’s 288 parishes into about 135 clusters, each led by a team of clergy and lay leaders.

The reorganization, to be phased in over five years, is designed to help parishes cope with diminished Mass attendance, a shortage of priests, and anemic fund-raising. Church officials hope the plan will eventually strengthen parishes and help reverse those trends.

The 28 parishes participating in the pilot phase — diverse in size, wealth, ethnicity, and geography — will be grouped into 12 clusters, or “collaboratives.” The collaboratives will gradually take shape over the next two years, as clergy and lay leaders are assigned and trained, and teams from each one create a long-term plan.

The parishes will remain open, but church officials said they hope will learn to work together to share resources.

This topic merits much more attention than time and space permit BCI to give to it today. We will share a few initial observations.

First, a new pastoral plan is a necessity given the changing dynamics above–but, for the record, it should be noted that the biggest problems are failed leadership at the highest levels of the archdiocese and diminished Mass attendance, which then translates to lower contributions. When BCI looks at the numbers, though we have fewer priests, the ratio of priests to active Mass-going Catholics is actually proportionate today to what the ratio was decades ago when we had more priests and more Mass-going Catholics.  It is unclear why the media does not realize that and the archdiocese does not publicly say that. We will get you data in the near future.

Second, it seems to BCI that the archdiocese is putting the cart before the horse. Just as we were thinking this yesterday, one long-time reader observed to BCI via email:

“RCAB has done nothing to build trust in its Catholics.  It has done nothing to foster the proper formation for staff and laity to handle how these changes happen — they have definitely put the cart before the horse. So with no trust, and the average parish council member not knowing the canonical difference between “church” and “parish,” there is likely to be a lot more heat generated than light.”

The right sequence would be to get the right people with strong leadership qualities and proud adherence to true Catholic Church teachings on-board  first to help lead and guide the path ahead–and also get the wrong people out of any leadership roles.  Then, you form and educate people with real authentic catechesis, not just “the new evangelization training.” And after that, then you roll out the changes.  The archdiocese has the order all wrong.

Third, the lack of financial transparency by the Boston Archdiocese is going to continue to hurt, rather than help build trust and enable success. Just one  example is described in this post, New Boston Chancellor Needs to Work on Transparency.  More than halfway into the fiscal year, there is still no published operational budget, as was published in 2010, 2011 and 2012.  Several readers report they wrote to Chancellor John Straub, some multiple times, and got no response. Any of the following could be the reason: a) He is not sufficiently capable or competent that he has produced a budget more than halfway into the fiscal year and is still working on it, b)  He is unconcerned about delivering what faithful Catholics are looking for in order to trust the archdiocese, c) He has a budget, but will not share it because there is something the archdiocese is hiding, such as mingling funds from separate entities, or borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, d) he flat out lied or deceived everyone when, upon his promotion to Chancellor, he said publicly, one of his goals would be to “continue to maintain that stability and transparency and enhance it where we can.”  Given this budget was published for the past 3 years, we have clearly gone backwards from the past. He has also failed to respond to inquiries about how the bills for 40-50% of parishes in the red are being paid. The next step for some readers is to take the matter to the Papal Nuncio and the Vatican  Congregation for Bishops. If the report does not appear soon, BCI may start a campaign calling for a new Chancellor to be named, since John Straub is already missing the mark.

Fourth, the arrangement of collaboratives, and nature of clergy personnel decisions could be wrought with controversy.  How will a doctrinally orthodox parish mesh with one that is doctrinally less orthodox?  For example, in Newton, the example cited with parishioner comments in the Globe article, a number of readers have written to share concerns because Sacred Heart has been led by a former seminary instructor and doctrinally orthodox pastor, Fr. John Connolly, who is in his 80s and near retirement, while Our Lady Help of Christians was led by the not-doctrinally-orthodox Fr. Walter Cuenin and is currently led by Fr. John Sassani, whose orthodoxy is exemplified by his recently permitting a Yoga Prayer program at the parish, despite clear admonitions from the Vatican’s Congregation of the Faith about the spiritual dangers of yoga. Sacred Heart has had pro-life Masses on a monthly basis, while in contrast, the Social Justice group at Our Ladys used to march in the annual Boston Gay Pride parade. Sacred Heart and nearby St. Bernards both have weekly Eucharistic Adoration on Saturday mornings; Our Ladys has no regular time for Eucharistic Adoration. When Our Ladys was renovated in the late 1990s, they installed a Protestant-style in-ground baptismal pool in the floor near the altar–and not long after the church reopened, BCI is told a lay Eucharistic minister fell into the baptismal pool during Communion, dropping a glass chalice on the marble floor, which shattered and spilled the precious blood of Christ on the floor. Now they have rubber mats and cordons to prevent that problem, but other liturgical concerns remain. The differences in the leadership, culture, liturgies and orthodoxy of the parishes could not be greater. Who will ultimately be the pastor of the collaborative? Will he be orthodox or not? How will the two diametrically different parishes blend together and make decisions? Beyond this collaborative, how will all clergy personnel decisions be made?  Will decisions be influenced by back-room dealings outside of standard pastoral appointment processes, as happened with the naming of Msgr. Paul Garrity to St. Catherine’s in Norwood in 2011 after Garrity had announced his retirement from the priesthood?  What will an orthodox parish do if and when their new pastor for the collaborative is not decidely not orthodox?

Lastly, the failed leadership at the top in the Boston Archdiocese will continue to undermine the chances for success of this broad, very important initiative. Bishop Deeley’s comments about why this effort will succeed are reflective of the problem. In the archdiocesan press release, he said, “We have confidence that Disciples in Mission will be successful because it is the fruit of a collaborative effort with clearly defined goals and objectives.”  Where to start on this one?

What are the measurable objectives?  How many Catholics is each collaborative expected to bring back to the Church by what date?  How much is weekly Mass attendance across the archdiocese expected to increase by, in what timeframe?

Worse still is the misguided notion that the initiative will succeed because it comes from a “collaborative effort with clear goals.” The Big Dig came from a collaborative effort with clear goals.  Obamacare came from a collaborate effort with clear goals. So did the 9/11 terrorist acts. So did the Nazi Holocaust. Are collaboration and having goals really the essential factors to have a model for “success”? Does the Vicar General really believe that collaboration with clear goals makes an initiative succeed?

First off, an initiative like this will succeed, if and only if, it has strong leadership starting at the top, and the initiative is rooted from top to bottom in the authentic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Strong leadership at the top means the archbishop is passionately committed to his episcopal responsibilities to teach, sanctify and govern. How is that going lately?  We have documented failures there since 2010. Furthermore, “leadership” as defined by an expert in the field, means attributes like integrity (alignment of words and actions with inner values, walking the talk, sticking to strong values, and building an entire organization with powerful and effective cultural values), dedication (spending whatever time and energy on a task is required to get the job done, giving your whole self to the task, dedicating yourself to success and to leading others with you), magnanimity (giving credit where it is due and accepting personal responsibility for failures), humility (recognizing that you are not inherently superior to others and thus they are not inferior to you), openness (being able to listen to ideas that are outside one’s current mental models),  and creativity (thinking differently, being able to get outside the box and take a new and different viewpoint on things).  On just the first three attributes–integrity, dedication, and magnanimity, the report card for our episcopal leadership is not very good. As for how well-rooted the archdiocese is in the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church, just look at their PR firm (filled with former Biden staff and Biden/Obama fundraisers), proudly ex-Catholic HR executive director, Secretary for Social Services and Healthcare (who speaks on panels with anti-Catholics like Barney Frank and thinks Catholic identity means supporting the controversial Catholic Campaign for Human Development), Campaign for Catholic Schools chair who raises millions of dollars for pro-abortion political figures, and certain parish adult faith formation programs.

BCI has been hoping and praying that the archdiocese can pull off this new pastoral plan successfully. But, the challenges and shortcomings above cause BCI to believe the archdiocese still does not get it. We wish we did not feel compelled to say this, but we simply do not think the Boston Archdiocese has what it takes right now to make this ambitious undertaking successful.  Longtime readers can attest that we have been right with our assessments a whole lot more since 2010 than we have been wrong. That is what BCI thinks.  What do you think?

Boston Pastoral Plan Indoctrination Process

December 12, 2012

Last week, Chancellor John Straub sent this email off to all employees at the Pastoral Center to inform them about the indoctrination, er, training process for implementing the new Pastoral Plan.  When you read the message, pull out a piece of paper and tally all of the mentions of why this is happening. Count the number of times you see references to an end goal that resembles helping bring people closer to God and the Catholic Church or to advancing the mission of saving souls. Additional BCI commentary follows the message.

 To all employees of the  Pastoral Center:

On January 16, 2013, we will be beginning Stage One of Training for the Pastoral Plan.  Stage One training is for the Pastoral Center.  In it we will learn some of the same leadership, management, and evangelization skills that will be taught in the collaboratives in their very extensive training program.

We will learn the same vocabulary, the same structures, and the same vision that they will learn.  Appropriately, we will lead the way in the training effort.

For each of us, the training will take eight days, spread out over seven weeks.  Each day of training begins at 9:00AM, and ends at 3:00PM.

There are five modules of the training program.

The Evangelization module, led by Bishop Kennedy and Michael Lavigne, lasts for two days.  You can choose [Wednesday, January 16 and Monday, February 4] or [Monday, February 25 and Tuesday, March 5]

The first of the Leadership modules, led by the Catholic Leadership Institute (and therefore called CLI One), will last for two days.  You can choose [Monday/Tuesday, January 28/29] or [Monday/Tuesday, February 11/12].

The second of the Leadership modules, CLI Two, will last for two days.  You can choose [Wednesday/Thursday, January 30/31] or [Thursday/Friday, February 14/15].

You need to complete CLI One before you attend CLI Two, so you cannot do CLI One in February and CLI Two in January.

The first of the General Topics modules will last for one day.  You can choose Thursday, January 17 or Tuesday, February 26.

The second of the General Topics modules will last for one day.  You can choose Tuesday, February 5 or Wednesday, March 6.

We ask you to please go to the following link to sign up for training as soon as possible:  – a confirming email will be sent when you have successfully registered.  If you have any questions, please contact Father Paul in the Office of Pastoral Planning (x5867,

Thank you,

John Straub

How many references to God did you find, or to carrying out the saving ministry of Jesus Christ?  That is really just one concern BCI has–it goes much deeper than this email.

Though we respect Bishop Kennedy and are sure he will do a great job talking about evangelization, that is about all we have some measure of confidence in right now.

Do most of the “new generation” of high-paid Pastoral Center employees and execs brought in under the McDonough/Hehir reign (e.g. Carol Gustavson, Terry Donilon, Mark Dunderdale, John Straub, Mary Grassa O’Neill,  etc)–who replaced the people who worked for the Church for lower pay because they loved Jesus Christ and wanted to advance the mission of the Catholic Church–even have the basics of Catholicism down? Are they bought into the mission of saving souls and that this is a vocation? Or is this just a good job for a sizable paycheck?

The reality, as recently shared by a BCI colleague is this: the ones with the power do NOT demonstrate that they care about the souls, and the ones who care about the souls are treated shabbily. Many of those who care about the souls have left or been pushed out, and those who remain that care are treated poorly.

How can you advance a pastoral plan in the face of this reality?  Does the archdiocese even have the right people on the ship in key roles?  Just in Pastoral Planning, we have a head of the office who allowed a Voice of the Faithful Chapter in his parish, and the newest addition to the office is from the same religious order as the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which the Vatican has criticized for a multitude of doctrinal problems. How can faithful Catholics trust in the plan, when there are obvious reasons to not trust the people in key leadership roles? Almost across the board, it feels like the people in the organization are woefully mismatched to the mission.

Does the archdiocese have the right fundamental structure–civil/legal, organizational and canonical–for pulling off this ambitious program?  No.

In the face of that, consider the following. Is it BCI, or does the tone of the Chancellor email and communication sounds strikingly similar to aspects of what Vladimir Lenin delivered in his 1920 Speech At The Third All-Russia Congress of The Russian Young Communist League.

… the youth will be faced with the actual task of creating a communist society. For it is clear that the generation of working people brought up in capitalist society can, at best, accomplish the task of destroying the foundations of the old, the capitalist way of life, which was built on exploitation. At best it will be able to accomplish the tasks of creating a social system that will help the proletariat and the working classes retain power and lay a firm foundation, which can be built on only by a generation that is starting to work under the new conditions, in a situation in which relations based on the exploitation of man by man no longer exist.

And so, in dealing from this angle with the tasks confronting the youth, I must say that the tasks of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist Leagues and all other organisations in particular, might be summed up in a single word: learn.

Of course, this is only a “single word”. It does not reply to the principal and most essential questions: what to learn, and how to learn? And the whole point here is that, with the transformation of the old, capitalist society, the upbringing, training and education of the new generations that will create the communist society cannot be conducted on the old lines…Only by radically remoulding the teaching, organisation and training of the youth shall we be able to ensure that the efforts of the younger generation will result in the creation of a society that will be unlike the old society, i.e., in the creation of a communist society. That is why we must deal in detail with the question of what we should teach the youth and how the youth should learn if it really wants to justify the name of communist youth, and how it should be trained so as to be able to complete and consummate what we have started.

I must say that the first and most natural reply would seem to be that the Youth League, and the youth in general, who want to advance to communism, should learn communism.

BCI really wants to see the Boston Archdiocese succeed with a new pastoral plan and get on the right path to saving souls via stronger parishes. But, the fundamentals still feel way off to us.  Maybe it is just BCI.  Other than the minor matters mentioned above, what do you think of the plans?

Boston archdiocese reshuffe, future kerfuffle?

November 16, 2012

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)

Boston Cardinal approves archdiocese reshuffle (WBUR)

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 [288] 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

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.

Pastoral Planning Perspectives

September 23, 2012

Our last post, where we gave a high-level summary of the new Disciples in Mission” Pastoral Plan, generated a fair amount of feedback.  Today, we will highlight some of that feedback, and some of our own as well.

As stated in the Pastoral Plan, its purpose is “to revitalize the Church in Boston by positioning our parishes more solidly for the task of evangelization, the work of reaching out to our brothers and sisters and drawing them more fully to Christ Jesus.”

We could certainly use a revitalization of Catholicism and the Catholic Church in Boston.  BCI agrees that something different needs to be done. About 270,000 Catholics go to Mass every Sunday, down from a high of 2 million just several decades ago.  This plan seeks a different approach to the problem of declining numbers of Mass-going Catholics and active clergy than has been taken in the past.  Many people think it will lead to more church closings, while the Boston Archdiocese specifically intends for it to eliminate the need for widespread church closings again. Time will tell if this proposal is the right approach. Today we discuss some key concerns with the proposal.

BCI has long been concerned about the financial condition of the Boston Archdiocese, and with more than 50-60% of parishes now in the red, who will pay for this plan? Mostly lay Catholics, since it is their donations who support their parish and the Archdiocese. It would be nice if the Archdiocese was seen as a good steward of donor contributions, yet nearly 2 years after the Archdiocesan Finance Council created a Compensation Committee to review the millions of dollars in excessive six-figure salaries paid to lay Pastoral Center executives and recommend a better way to handle compensation, there is still no evidence of meaningful action taken to reduce them. All we know is that the committee has met and is still meeting, they hired a consultant to study the matter and issue a report, but the report has not been made public. There is some talk about adjusting salaries during the annual reviews, and/or asking certain high-paid executives to accept a lower salary commensurate with Catholic Church standards when their contracts are up for renewal. At the point when Catholics are asked to dig deeper into their pockets to help fund this plan, why should they do so when the Pastoral Center has not tightened their own belts?

How will lay formation be handled? Who exactly will handle it?  Why is the plan coming before the formation, rather than formation coming first and laying the foundation, which then would then lead to better informed plans?  Interestingly, the position description for the Director of the Office of Pastoral Planning still does not require that the person in the role even be Catholic or believe Catholic Church teachings according to the Magisterium of the Church.  To be a judge on the Tribunal in Boston, thankfully, applicants should be a Catholic in good standing with “adherence and understanding of the Magisterial teachings of the Church.”  But, to run Pastoral Planning, those attributes are somehow not necessary.

Some readers may not be aware that an extensive Lay Faith Formation study was done, with a report issued in 2010.  The report is worth a read, as there are some good ideas.   One of them is the following:

2. The Secretariat for Faith Formation and Evangelization should establish and maintain a page on its website (at that tht lists approved programs, resources and opportunities that exist in parishes, collaboratives, and at the Archdiocesan level for the faith formation of the laity.
a. This webpage should identify and describe the lay faith formation programs and activities of the Archdiocese and make available the archdiocesan guidelines for the formation of the laity. It should clearly indicate any fees for these programs and the level of competency necessary to enroll.
b. The existence of this webpage should itself be well advertised and brought regularly to the attention of the laity, religious and clergy of the Archdiocese.

Can anyone point to BCI to the location of 2a?  Is that this page which lists all offices associated with Faith Formation and Evangelization?

Given the poor state of catechesis over the past 40 years for most Catholics, exactly what will be taught to Pastoral Center and parish staff (and by whom) to help them develop a stronger prayer and faith life and prepare them for evangelization?

Beyond those concerns, do we even have the right people and organizational structure in place in the Boston Archdiocese today to embark on this ambitious plan?  As objectively observed by “Objective Observer“:

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?

BCI believes comments like these and others on our last post should become a topic of discussion for Cardinal Sean and the Pastoral Planning Commission as soon as possible. During the next 3-4 months when the Cardinal reviews the plan, these are points that merit serious consideration.

Reader, Stephen, opined to another reader, in part:

Your comments represent the unauthorized use of common sense. This display of intellect has disqualified you from any decision making positions within the RCAB.

Please go back and review the 5-year plan to institute the new vision. Please pay close attention to the PPTT as well as the CLI and TINE. Note also well the EVNE and the PPO.

Much work must be done in Boston to either pave the way for some version of this plan or to modify it into another form so that the sacraments can be preserved for this generation and future generations.  Every person in the Boston Archdiocese will be affected by this plan, so keep the plan and those responsible for decision-making in your daily prayers.

Pastoral Planning Commission Proposal

September 14, 2012

Today, the Boston Pilot published a summary of the proposal by the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission, entitled, “Disciples in Mission.” This is the plan for a new parish staffing and pastoral leadership model in the Boston Archdiocese. The summary was released with a note stating, “each of the proposal’s recommendations involves detailed sub-recommendations that aren’t included below, so we encourage everyone to read the full proposal document.”

The full report is available online at BCI has read the full report and has plenty of comments to make, but we will hold back for this moment to just share the summary.

Part One: Recommendations for strengthening parishes for the work of the New Evangelization

1. That the 288 parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston be organized into approximately 135 Parish Collaboratives, these collaboratives consisting usually of two or three parishes, but sometimes only one, and, in rare occasion’s four parishes.

2. That the formation of the parish collaboratives be phased in, with appropriate flexibility, over a period of five years.

3. That the parishes of each collaborative be assigned one single Pastor.

4. That the pastor form the staff members serving the parishes of the collaborative into a Pastoral Team.

5. That the multiple Parish Pastoral Councils of the parishes in a collaborative become one parish council to assist the one pastor in fostering pastoral activity and in guiding the mission of the Church in each parish and in the parish collaborative.

6. That, if possible in accord with the norms of Canon Law, the benefits and advantages of collaboration be extended to Parish Finance Councils, such that one finance council serves the one pastor to assist him in the financial administration of the parishes and the parish collaborative.

7. That the pastor, pastoral team, and councils of each parish collaborative participate in extensive theological and practical training for the New Evangelization.

8. That, given this major reorientation of the mission of the Archdiocese towards the New Evangelization, the staff at the Pastoral Center and other Central Ministry staff will also benefit from the training necessary to help them understand what the New Evangelization is, what their role is for the New Evangelization, and the ways in which the offices of the Pastoral Center should effectively assist the pastoral teams in strengthening the work of evangelization in their collaboratives.

9. That the parish collaboratives receive the support they need to become successful collaboratives.

10. That each collaborative be required to develop a pastoral plan for the collaborative within eight to twelve months of the inauguration of the collaborative.

11. That the Archbishop utilize multiple means of communication to introduce Disciples in Mission to the people and parishes of the Archdiocese as an important foundation for the mission of evangelization and to place this part of the plan in the context of the life and work of the Church in Boston.

12. That further work, coordinated by the Pastoral Planning Office (PPO), be completed on several particularly important issues that have been foremost in the Commission’s deliberations, including parish collaboratives; Catholic schools; staff transitions; religious institutes, religious priests, and other non-incardinated priests; non-parochial pastoral services; parochial vicars; and strengthening the roles of regional vicar and vicar forane.

Part Two: Recommendations for strengthening the work of the New Evangelization in parishes

A. Recommendations for Re-energizing Pastoral Leadership for the Task of Evangelization

1. That the Office of the Episcopal Vicar for the New Evangelization (EVNE), the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) and the Pastoral Planning Office of the Archdiocese of Boston (PPO) come together in a partnership to provide the training required for the full implementation of Disciples in Mission.

2. That at the conclusion of Phase One of the implementation, the Archdiocese hire four staff members, the Pastoral Planning Training Team (PPTT). The PPTT will follow CLI through their processes, learn from them their methods and resources, and assume responsibility for the CLI portion of the training at the end of two years. In this way, CLI will “train the trainers” for Phases Three and Four and for ongoing training and support.

3. That EVNE, with the assistance of PPO, conduct an extensive consultation of the people of the Archdiocese of Boston, focusing on best practices for evangelization. This consultation will begin with a survey of the pastors and then have two additional rounds in the regions of the Archdiocese, making extensive use of technology to involve as many people as possible. The Catholic Media Group will provide technology support for this effort.

4. That the training itself have six stages in the first phase of implementation. Stage One will be for the Staff of the Pastoral Center and other Central Ministries Personnel. Stage Two will be for the Pastors leading the collaboratives. Stage Three will be for Parish Pastoral Council and Parish Finance Council membership. Stage Four will be for Pastoral Team members. Stage Five will be for each Pastoral Team. Stage Six will be for the Pastoral Team and several council members of each collaborative.

5. That at the completion of their training, each participant receive a certificate from the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization (TINE). Throughout the process, TINE will also provide team and council members with information about opportunities for ongoing formation and education.

6. That concurrent with the training program in the recommendations above, EVNE provide extensive programming for all of the parishes and people of the Archdiocese of Boston that does not fall within the structure of the training program, with a particular emphasis during the first year on events associated with the Year of Faith.

B. Recommendations for Strengthening Youth and Adult Faith Formation for the Task of Evangelization

1. The commission recommends the implementation of the recommendations contained in the reports of the Religious Education Task Force, which addressed the religious education of our youth in parishes and in schools, and the Committee to Study Lay Formation Programs, which addressed adult faith formation in the Archdiocese. (The reports of these two groups are attached as appendices to this pastoral plan).

2. That the archdiocesan offices responsible for implementing the recommendations from these 2 groups, provide an immediate report to Cardinal Seán that: identifies the recommendations that have been successfully implemented; and indicates the plans, timelines and needed funding to secure the implementation of the remaining recommendations.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The plan clearly reflects feedback from the consultation process. It has gotten stronger in the area of evangelization. At least there is no longer the “circular firing squad” concept where pastors are all automatically removed from their current roles. In the humble opinion of BCI, some aspects of the plan seem to have merit and some aspects do not feel totally baked. We will elaborate more separately, but for now we put this out and invite your thoughts.


January 26, 2012

By now, most regular readers must know about the new staffing and pastoral leadership model proposed for the Boston Archdiocese.  News of the proposed pastoral collaboratives, as part of the Pastoral Service Team (PST) initiative, is spreading like wildfire, now that the proposed parish groupings have been published.

All of the information is posted at this website:

Here are links to the proposed parish groupings by region: South, North, Central, West, Merrimack Region

Local newspapers and media outlets are picking up the local angles.  For example:

The Sentinel and Enterprise reported the following in “Archdiocese unveils plan for sharing of parish resources“:

In a proposal by the Archdiocese of Boston, 25 parishes in Greater Lowell, including those in Townsend and Shirley, will become 10 pastoral collaboratives that could eventually share resources, including pastors, priests, staff and ministries.

According to the archdiocese, a greater coordination of trained personnel and the consolidation of similar works and ministries in parishes within a pastoral collaborative will ease the burden currently experienced by pastors and staff.

Unlike the reconfiguration process that began in 2004 and closed or merged dozens of parishes, including six in Lowell, the new proposal does not mandate the closing of any parishes — just the sharing of resources.

Each parish will retain its individual identities and assets.

“No parishes are supposed to be closed. The archdiocese is just trying to ensure that all parishes will have the services they need to continue to grow in new and vibrant ways,” said the Rev. Brian Mahoney, pastor of St. Francis in Dracut.

The largest proposed collaborative is composed of four parishes: St. Mary in Ayer, St. Anthony in Shirley, St. John the Evangelist in Townsend, and Our Lady of Grace in Groton-Pepperell.

St. William in Tewksbury, which ranks among the largest parishes in the archdiocese and is the only Catholic church in Tewksbury, is the only Greater Lowell parish to stand alone.

The Swampscott Patch reported:

The plan calls for multiple churches, in some cases, to be served by a single pastor who leads a pastoral team, says Archdiocese Spokesman Terry Donilon.

One such group would form among St. Thomas Aquinas in Nahant, St. Johns in Swampscott and Our Lady Star of the Sea in Marblehead. There would be 27 collaboratives among parishes in the North Region of the Boston Archdiocese.

Just to recap, the idea is to create a structure called a Pastoral Service Team (PST) to provide pastoral services to multiple parishes.  The archdiocese describes the model as follows:

“The Pastoral Service Team would be comprised of a group of priests, deacons, pastoral associates and lay ecclesial ministers, who provide pastoral services to multiple parishes.  Because of shared ministerial leadership and shared finance & pastoral councils, the parishes would collaborate with each other on some ministries such as evangelization, faith formation and outreach.  This proposed new structure does not call for the closing of any parishes.  Rather, it focuses on the means by which pastoral services are provided in and to our parishes, and through collaborating on ministries, allows the Catholic community within an area of the Archdiocese to benefit from a broader set of local Catholic ministries.  Each pastoral collaborative, served by a PST, would be charged with the development of a local pastoral plan to best serve the Catholics in that particular area of the Archdiocese.

Initially there appeared to be a fairly warm reception by many priests to the proposal, as evidenced by the voting at the December convocation in Randolph, where 2/3 of priests said the direction in which the proposed PST model would take the archdiocese was either the “right direction” or “close to right.”

That was then and this is now. Things have turned substantially chillier in recent weeks as pastors, parish councils and parish staffs start to more fully grasp the implications.  Pastors will be asked to resign their positions, and new pastors will be appointed who have no loyalty to their new parish and no knowledge of the parish history or people for whom that parish is their long-term spiritual home.  One person commented privately to BCI that the current direction of the initiative seems to be creating 100+ “circular firing squads.”  Some degree of power and control will be given up by individual parishes as they are asked to collaborate and share resources.  Some parish employees will no doubt lose their jobs, and may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.  BCI is hearing of emergency parish council meetings and letters being written to Cardinal O’Malley.

As parishes all wrestle with the implications of the proposed plan, at the same time it is clear that the current model of parish staffing is not sustainable. We know that priests are stretched to thin, the number of Catholics attending Mass continues to decline and 40% of parishes are unable to pay their bills.

BCI is going to remain neutral on the plan and not voice an opinion for now, except to say the following.  Clearly, something must change in the current model of parish staffing.  It seems to BCI that either we close a hundred-some parishes or we adopt a different model of staffing and keep existing parishes open. Either option has its challenges. The manner in which whatever new plan is chosen and implemented is key to success.

Right now, we are hearing a lot of consternation. Pastors, priests, parish councils, parish employees and parishioners should all voice their input and feedback to the archdiocesan leadership on the proposed plans through the established channels in order to ensure your input is heard. BCI still has good reason to believe that the Cardinal and those in charge of pastoral planning will listen to every piece of input they get on this important issue.

As always, you can feel free to share and vent on BCI (but please do not use BCI as an alternative to sharing your input directly with the archdiocese on this particular issue).

Presbyteral Convocation: Comments by Cardinal O’Malley

December 9, 2011

This past Monday, December 5, about 400 priests gathered to discuss the plans for a new approach to parish pastoral planning and parish structure in the Boston Archdiocese.  BCI will share some of the publicly available information in various posts.  The first of these is the address by Cardinal O’Malley to the presbyterate.  The video and a transcript of his address can be found below. BCI will let his address stand on its own with no BCI commentary today.

12/05/2011 Strengthening Parishes – Cardinal Seán O’Malley from Archdiocese of Boston on Vimeo.

Archdiocese of Boston Presbyteral Convocation

December 5, 2011

Children often ask me if I am Santa Claus. Of course I am not Santa Claus, but once I was. In 1966 on this very day I was chosen to be Santa Claus. I put on a miter for the first time in my life and my classmates painted my beard white – in those days my beard was red. You see, I was Santa Claus, Heilger Klaus, for our St. Nicholas day celebration which consisted of a play in German about the fourth century bishop. We sang carols and it was the day we gave the Christmas presents to the German nuns and one hundred Christmas tress went up in every nook and cranny of St. Fidelis of Simaringen Seminary. I must confess I never imagined that one day I would have to wear a miter again or that I would live long enough to have a white beard as I do. After the celebration the Guardian of the seminary said “We have never had an Irish St. Nicholas before.” I did not know whether that was a compliment, an indictment or simply a statement of historical interest.

Pope Benedict, a Bavarian, like my seminary professors, has written much about St. Nicholas. One of the most interesting things about this saint is that he is the first saint to be so designated who was not a martyr. The first generations of Christians venerated only Biblical figures or those who died as martyrs to witness to the faith.

St. Nicholas the Bishop participated in the Council of Nicea and contributed to the writing of the Profession of Faith we pray each Sunday. Even though Nicholas did not shed his blood for the faith, he lived his faith in the Incarnation of Christ intensely and that allowed him to serve God’s people with such priestly pastoral charity that everyone intuitively knew that he was a saint just like the martyrs.

We are still the Church of the martyrs. In addition to my friend Archbishop Romero I think of a Guatemalan bishop who told me that in one diocese the catechists went to the bishop and said, “We come to you for protection, our lives are in danger”. The bishop told them, “The only thing I can do for you is accept your resignation. Then they will leave you alone, you will be safe.” Not one catechist resigned, but over a hundred of them were murdered. The bishop who told me that was murdered a couple of months later. We had stayed together at the Bishops Conference in Guatemala City. He was Bishop Gerardi. He was brutally murdered that day after presenting a human rights report to the government.

Yes, we are still the Church of the martyrs. We will probably never suffer the same violence as our brothers and sisters in the faith in Central America but we are called to bear the cross. Discipleship and ministry are never pain free.

Our modern culture has a huge aversion to pain and gives us the assurance that we are all entitled to a pain free existence. The Gospel of suffering teaches something different. In doing difficult things out of love we come to reflect the pastoral love of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock.

I want to thank you for coming to this gathering in such great numbers. Your presence here today is important – and a grace – for at least two reasons. First, today begins a months-long consultation on a proposal to strengthen our parishes for generations to come. I need to hear what you, our priests and pastors, have to say about this proposal. Second, our presence together in dialogue and in service to the Archdiocese is a beautiful manifestation of the sacramental bond we share in the sacred ministry of priesthood through Holy Orders. I pray that our work together today will strengthen that bond between us.

I am grateful for the presence of our seminarians at this convocation. I invited you here, because you will minister as priests in an Archdiocese that is very much formed by the things we discuss here today. It is only appropriate that you be witnesses to our conversation. As I look out at you, I must confess that it is very nice to see how your presence among us brings down our average age. We very much look forward to the day when the Lord and the Church will call you to partake of the ministerial priesthood. May God bless your seminary days richly.

On the day of our ordination to the diaconate, the bishop handed each of us the Book of the Gospels and said very simply, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” With that mandate, the “Evangelium” – the “Good News” of Jesus Christ – became the center and the work of our lives. As the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests puts it:

Since no one can be saved who has not first believed, priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have as their primary duty the proclamation of the gospel of God to all. In this way they fulfill the Lord’s command: “Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). Thus they establish and build up the people of God. (PO 4)

Each of us knows someone, perhaps even a good number of people, whose lives are empty of meaning, because of a tragic failure in a human relationship or a deep sense of abandonment by God or the Church. Their outward appearance may look healthy and normal, but they are broken and alone. They don’t feel Christ in their lives. A large group of folks do have jobs and their lives show a growing measure of success after success. But because the happiness they are seeking is rooted exclusively in the gifts of this world and not in Christ, in the end the satisfaction they experience is ephemeral and disappointing. It is only in Christ that one can truly know life and live it abundantly.

We need a New Evangelization and it must be focused on Christ. As Pope Paul VI told us almost a half-century ago in Evangelii Nuntiandi, “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” (EN 22). We need to bring the life-giving truth and person of Jesus Christ to the men and woman of our own day, especially those who have known Christ and his Church but have grown cool in their relationship with him and with her.

Our evangelization efforts in the Archdiocese of Boston will be rooted in and accomplished through five “mission initiatives” to which I commit the Archdiocese and myself today. The first initiative is becoming a Church that more readily and actively welcomes every man, woman and child to conversion of life in Christ Jesus. Everyone is welcome in the Church, because the Lord offers his gift of salvation to all. Let us each accept and help others to accept the radical and transformative call to conversion of life that is offered to us by Jesus Christ.

The second mission initiative is strengthening our parishes as primary communities of faith, communities that have the worthy celebration of the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of parochial life.

The third mission initiative is growing the Church through this work of evangelization. Currently less than 20% of our baptized Catholics are attending Mass each Sunday. We need to change this in a dramatic way and we need to begin doing it now.

The fourth mission initiative is developing excellence in faith formation for Catholics of all ages. Our people thirst for greater catechesis in the faith. We need to marshal, strengthen and make more available the great resources we have to satisfy that thirst.

The fifth mission initiative is re-energizing pastoral leadership. I am deeply aware of how challenging these past ten years have been for you, my brother priests, and how thin you have been stretched. I hope that our work together today indicates clearly to you that I am very much aware of the burden that you carry, committed to discovering ways to lessen the load, and very desirous of supporting and strengthening your love of the priesthood.

Where do we begin in our work of evangelization? I think the answer to that is clear. As I said at Pentecost in my Pastoral Letter on Evangelization (NP 6,7):

If the Church exists to evangelize, the parish is the chief venue where that activity must take place. Our parishes must be true centers of evangelization…

Many parishes are truly mission-based today and they have fervor for this outreach. Others are maintenance-oriented because their parishioners often have a consumer culture mentality. They come to Church to get something, and they expect the leadership to provide it. All the energy and resources of the parish are oriented to serving the people who are present, rather than reaching out to those who are absent.

We must work to help our parishioners to move beyond being consumers to being disciples who share actively in the mission and the ministry of Jesus. We are called to evangelize out of love for Jesus Christ and of the people who will be graced by what His Kingdom of love, peace and justice will bring to their lives.

In placing before you this vision for a New Evangelization before you, I am keenly aware of the challenges facing our parishes today. In fact, it is for that reason that we have gathered here this afternoon. In a little while, Bill Fay and Jack Ahern will lay out for you a proposal from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission to strengthen our parishes as primary communities of faith and mission. Without getting into the detail of the proposal, I want to say four things about it and your ministry as parish priests.

First, the proposal does not present a plan for the global closure or merging of parishes. This is not 2004. I am very happy about that. The closing of a parish, however necessary, always involves heartbreak. In the proposal before us, any discussion about the closure or merging of parishes will be initiated at the local level, in the pastoral collaborative. Moreover, by stepping away from closure and merging, the proposal puts the brakes on the large-scale downsizing of the Archdiocese that we have been engaged in since the early nineties – and well it should.

A Church that is committed to a New Evangelization and to re-energizing its clergy, lay faithful and parishes is looking at life and not death, growth and not decline.

Second, the success of this proposal turns on the success of the PST, the Parish Service Team. While every PST will have a pastor who is ultimately responsible for the spiritual and material good of a pastoral collaborative, the success of the ministry that takes place within a collaborative will be effected and measured by the respectful and enthusiastic collaboration of every member of the PST. I encourage you as clergy to call forth the religious and the lay faithful of the Archdiocese to the highest level of collaboration in your ministry that the Church recommends.

Third, with the possible introduction of approximately 125 pastoral collaboratives in this proposal, we face a new reality. Priests who have been living alone in a single-parish ministry would have the opportunity to live together. I want to encourage that. I say this not because I am a religious and consider community life normative. I say it, because my twenty-seven years as a diocesan bishop has taught me that the life of the parish priest can be a very lonely thing. You know that better than I do. By sacred ordination, you belong to “an intimate sacramental brotherhood” (PO 8). I exhort you to use the new opportunities provided by this proposal to choose ways to strengthen and reinvigorate the holy brotherhood that is yours in Christ.

Fourth, the biggest question I have heard raised about this proposal is: “There’s a lot involved in this. What kind of support can we expect from the Archbishop and the Pastoral Center?” I want to go on record today as saying to you that I and the staff of the Archdiocese will do whatever it takes to make this work. No doubt, there will be anticipated and unanticipated challenges. We will meet them, one by one, as they arise and try to do this in an organic way, taking the time needed to do this well. Implementation must be slow, deliberate and mission driven.

What you are being presented with is a proposal, a plan that has been developed to respond to the needs of our faith community. Central to all of this is our vocation to be pastors, to be spiritual fathers to God’s people. The great crisis of modern life is the diminishment of fatherhood and the dire consequences on the modern family. Some men put their work, their finances, their hobbies, their vices, drink, gambling, sexual pleasure, ahead of their obligations to their wives and children. We too are called to be spiritual fathers and we must be willing to put the needs of our family ahead of our convenience, comfort, plans and ambitions. We must never reduce what we do to techniques, organizational process of personal charisma. It is about vocation, identity, relationship with Christ, with the bishop, with our fellow priests and especially with the people we serve. Jesus said, “I have come to serve, not to be served.”

The temptation is to do things that are self serving, that make our life easier and more comfortable, that make us more popular. But being a father is always about making sacrifices for the sake of our family, it is our own kenosis.

A Protestant minister told me recently that he loved the concept of the Catholic parish, that the priest was the pastor of every person living within the parish boundaries whether they were Catholic or not. Ironically we Catholics often forget that concept of Pastor and seem to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for are not using the envelopes. As I like to say, we stand guard over the one faithful sheep and let the ninety nine drift away. Our ministry begins with our own personal ongoing conversion.

That will prepare us to be prophets to our own people and challenge them to an ever deeper commitment to the faith and to make more sacrifices to advance the mission that Christ has entrusted us, to make disciples of all nations. Our task is to make Jesus known and loved. Our task is to evangelize. All of our planning s to do just that and to allow our priests to be spiritual fathers to our people.

Our pastoral love for our people and our devotion to Christ must be very strong incentives to work for vocations, especially vocations to the priesthood. The present proposal of having a pastoral team serving a number of parishes is very flexible. If we continue to grow our seminary we will be able to have more collaborative, each made up of fewer parishes.

It is my stated intention that every parish in the Archdiocese will have a priest a pastor. This is the ideal presented by the Church and we enthusiastically embrace it. Other diocese with greater distances and fewer clergy might opt for something different, but in Boston we will have a priest as pastor in all parishes by having pastoral teams serving more than one parish when necessary.

Allow me to reiterate that pastoral love for our people should impel us to work and pray for priestly vocations. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “We must not be a barren fig tree.” The vocations we encourage will allow our Catholic people to have the benefits of the Sacraments and pastoral care in the future. If we drink the Kool Aid of cynicism and negativity we will poison ourselves and the negativity will infect our Catholic people. To do the task of evangelization we need a regimen of vitamins, the vitamins of prayer and priestly fraternity.

We must not look upon ministry as being separate from our interior life. The best service we can give is that of striving to be holy. As Mother Theresa said, we are not called to be successful but to be faithful. And if we are faithful, then we are being successful.

The pastoral needs of the Archdiocese can only be met by a united presbyterate, an intentional presbyterate as Fr. Ron Knott speaks of. Our ongoing formation and priestly support groups, spiritual direction, fidelity to prayer, fraternal correction, time for retreats, days of recollection and priestly friendships are all part of the course in moving forward to meet the challenge of evangelizing. The spiritual vitamins of prayer and priestly fraternity will give us the energy we need to bring the Gospel to God’s people.

Thank you for your presence here today. Know that you are loved by the Catholic people. As your Bishop, I thank you for your faithful response to follow Christ as his priest. Thank you for being a spiritual father to God’s faithful and for being brothers to each other.

Please reflect carefully on what you hear today and prayerfully consider the proposals. Remember that business as usual is not an option. It is not enough to keep trying to do everything as we have in the past. The Church is calling us to a new evangelization. St. Paul in his powerful letter to Timothy on ministry provides a stunning exhortation which the Church today could easily direct to all of us who have been ordained to serve God’s people through the Sacrament of Holy Orders:

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to the Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake, but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.  (2 Tim. 1:6-7)

I firmly believe that if we stir into flame the grace of our ordination, especially through fidelity to prayer and priestly fraternity, God will give us the strength to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel. Today we come together like the apostles of old to repair nets, to plan for the future, so that moved by the love of Christ and His people we might cast out into the deep, confident that the Divine Shepherd will bless our efforts.

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