Archdiocese Turns to Evangelizing

December 4, 2011

As our discussion about pastoral planning in the Boston Archdiocese continues, BCI would like to direct our readers to several articles and resources of interest.

Reader BobofNewton pointed us to this Wall Street Journal article, Archdiocese Turns to Evangelizing  Here are a few excerpts:

Archdiocese Turns to Evangelizing
With 16% of Local Catholics Attending Mass, Boston Church Leaders Take a New Tack; ‘We’re Not Used to Doing That’

BOSTON—The fourth-largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the nation plans to respond to a steep drop in churchgoing by venturing down a road taken by Mormons and Protestants: evangelizing.

Some 40% of Roman Catholic parishes in the Boston area can’t pay their bills, and only 16% of local Catholics attend weekly Mass, the Archdiocese of Boston said in an overhaul plan released this week that proposed the effort to increase membership.

“We’re not used to doing that,” said William P. Fay, a monsignor and co-chairman of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission, in an interview Thursday. “We are used to going to church, having communion, and making sure our kids are properly educated. Now, what we’re saying is that we’ve got a responsibility to reach out to other people and get them engaged and involved.”

The archdiocese is proposing to reduce costs and become more mission-minded by reorganizing its 290 parishes into groups of two or three parishes that will share a “pastoral service team” of priests, deacons and finance councils.

The plan does not call for closing churches, but each “pastoral collaborative” can recommend closures or merging of programs, and is also expected to come up with a local plan on how they will creatively “evangelize” to increase church attendance, said Msgr. Fay.

“Once you’re baptized, you’re supposed to go preach the gospel to other people,” he said. “It wasn’t something that was on the front burner, but we are trying to bring it to the front burner.”

Boston is far from alone. “Dioceses all around the country are looking at evangelism—I even know one diocese that is considering a door-to-door campaign,” said Mark Gray, a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. “This has always been much more common among Protestant denominations or Mormons…but now there is the sense that the Catholic Church should be doing this as well.”

The motivation is clear. The U.S. Catholic population is growing, but a lot of Catholics are skipping church. The number of people identifying themselves as Catholic rose to 77.7 million in 2011 from 74 million in 2005, but the weekly Mass attendance rate has fallen and is now about 31%, and far less in many urban areas, Mr. Gray said.

In Massachusetts, attendance has been dropping for decades, with some of the decline in the last 10 years a likely fallout from sexual-abuse scandals involving priests, said Msgr. Fay. “Some of it was, no question about that,” he said…

But the decline is also the result of many people being too busy to commit to church, Msgr. Fay said. “It takes two or three jobs to support a family…they’re worn out.”

“Only 16% of our folks are active Catholics…so what we need to do is really turn that around,” he said.

This article from The Boston Pilot, “Archdiocese proposes plan to share parish resources” gives more information.

“As opposed to a plan for merging parishes and closing church buildings, this plan adopts an approach that strengthens and enlivens our current parishes,” the document said. “By creating these teams, improved pastoral services can be provided to parishes without altering the parishes themselves.”

In a meeting with The Pilot, archdiocesan officials said the plan comes as a natural outgrowth of previous restructuring and plans in the Church, as it moves away from a mindset of maintenance within the community toward a mindset of mission within the community. Within the framework of the plan, as described in the document, the Church will move away from problems in keeping individual churches open miring the Church, and toward the mission of promoting the Gospel. According to the document, and archdiocesan officials at the meeting on Nov. 30, addressing these problems through PST actions will clear the way for a renewed focus on evangelization.

“Along the way we began to focus in on the issue of parishes, because if evangelization is going to take place successfully, it’s really going to happen at the parish level,” Msgr. Fay said, in the meeting. “As you can see from the documentation we have given you, that is the first significant proposal that we’re coming forward with.”

The archdiocese had planned to release the documents to the public at www.planning2012.org on Dec. 6, after a consultation with archdiocese priests on Dec. 5.

“We are looking at Monday as the first step in a months-long conversation here,” Msgr. Fay said. “This is going to go on for four to six months, this whole dialogue and hearing from people. Everybody who wants to be involved in this will have an opportunity to be involved in it, and to respond in any way that’s appropriate.”

Anyone can access http://www.planning2012.org. There is a place for the planning documents to be posted publicly after Monday. This website also links to a few resources you may find of interest, including a Catholic Radio program transcript on the topic, “Why Catholics don’t attend Mass and why they should,” and a link to a study commissioned by the Australian Catholic Bishops on why Catholics have stopped attending Mass.   The findings in the report released in 2006 are rather interesting. A summary can be found here at Catholic Australia. Here are the reasons divided into high level categories (but not listed in priority order):

Church-centered reasons

1. The irrelevance of the Church to life today
2. The misuse of power and authority in the Church
3. Problems with the priest in the parish
4. Lack of intellectual stimulation
5. Concerns related to the parish as a community
6. A sense of being excluded by Church rules
7. Structural factors

Participant-centered reasons
1. Family or household-related issues
2. Crisis of faith
3. Going to Mass simply not a priority

The full report is a very worthwhile read.  Can you guess what the most frequently cited reason is for infrequent Mass goers or those who no longer attend Mass?  C’mon guess.

32% of those surveyed who no longer attend Mass or attend infrequently said the most important reason why they do not attend Mass is “I no longer feel that being a committed Catholic requires going to Mass every week.”  More than half (54%) of all the infrequent or non-attenders among Catholic parents named this as one of the three reasons they could choose in the survey.

The topic of why many Catholics do not attend Mass merits more than its own full blog post, but this study gives some further validity to the need for evangelization, which is a key stated goal of the pastoral planning initiative.

Priests of the Boston Archdiocese gather on Monday afternoon in Randolph to discuss the pastoral planning proposal. Keep the Monday convocation of priests in your prayers.


Boston Archdiocese to reorganize management of parishes

December 1, 2011

This week at BCI started with a discussion focused on one parish closing in Cambridge and local regional reorganization. We continue that theme with a discussion of the new plan being broadly socialized for how the Boston Archdiocese will reorganize the management of parishes in the future.

Priests in the archdiocese have been called to a special meeting on Monday, December 5. The topic is, “Strengthening Parishes as Primary Communities of Faith.”  The Boston Globe and other papers have reported on the plan leaked to them. (not by BCI). Below are excerpts from the Globe article.  But before we get to the media coverage, it is important to remember why this plan is happening.

The document says, “The present way in which pastoral services are structured in the Archdiocese of Boston is not healthy and it cannot be sustained much longer. Priests are being stretched too thinly; pastoral associates and religious educators are not being replaced in sufficient numbers; permanent deacons are unevenly deployed; and we face a growing number of parishes (40%) unable to pay their bills, even as the cost for services in our parishes continues to climb.”

What the document does not remind us of is that underlying much of is this is a precipitous decline in the number of people going to Mass every week and identifying themselves as Catholic. Back in April when we discussed the Catholics Come Home initiative, we shared the table found to the right.  Through 1990, about 1 million Catholics attended Mass every weekend in the Boston Archdiocese.  Now it’s just 294,000.  The number of people who identify themselves as Catholics is down as well.  If 1 million people were attending Mass every week instead of 294,000, it is reasonable to assume that parish contributions and finances would be in much better shape. And if the same percentage of those million people decided to pursue vocations to the priesthood or some form of lay pastoral ministry or religious education as do today with lower numbers, then there might be 3X the number of priests, pastoral associates and religious educators.

That said, this substantial problem of declining numbers of Catholics going to Mass is not solved and the practical reality is as described in the planning documents. BCI commends the archdiocese for the efforts that have gone into this creative plan to keep parishes open and more effectively utilize the resources available. Here is an excerpt from the planning documents that naturally, has not made it into the mainstream media reports:

The principal thrust of the current draft of this pastoral plan is to form stronger Christian disciples by strengthening our identity as a Christ-centered, mission-minded, welcoming and evangelizing Eucharistic community of faith.

This challenging vision will be accomplished through five “Mission Initiatives,” specific actions that arise out of the strategic priorities established by Cardinal Seán. These initiatives are:

(1) Becoming a Church that More Readily and Actively Welcomes Every Man, Woman and Child to Conversion of Life in Christ Jesus; (2) Strengthening our Parishes as Primary Communities of Faith;
(3) Growing the Church through Evangelization;
(4) Developing Excellence in Faith Formation for Catholics of All Ages; and
(5) Re-energizing Pastoral Leadership.

All admirable goals.

Now, excerpts from the Globe report, to give you a few key details.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is proposing to reorganize the management of its 290 parishes by creating teams to oversee multiple parishes under a single pastor, in a search for efficiencies that would save money and allow staff to concentrate on the growth of the church.

The plan, to be unveiled Monday at a priest-only meeting with Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, does not call for the closing of more churches. The archdiocese proposes to create about 125 pastoral service teams that, once created, would be free to merge programs among churches and make recommendations to the cardinal about closing and selling churches, rectories, or other buildings.

“This would be something that comes up from the ground, not something imposed’’ by church leaders, said Monsignor William P. Fay, pastor of St. Columbkille in Brighton and cochairman of the Archdiocesan Planning Commission.

The exact number of teams and the way parishes are to be grouped together have not been announced, but most teams would oversee two or three parishes. Each parish would retain its own name and identity, though parishes within a group would probably share some staff members, as well as their pastor.

Church officials said yesterday that the plan would, in time, lead to a reduction in the archdiocese’s roughly 3,000 employees.

The introduction of the plan Monday will kick off months of consultations and fine tuning before any reorganization would be put into effect. If the final plan is approved by O’Malley, the changes would take three to five years to implement, Fay said.

The reorganization, years in the making, is the archdiocese’s response to a long list of recent challenges: falling Mass attendance, shrinking revenues, a shortage of priests and of lay people willing to serve professionally in the parishes, and the inevitability that pastors are going to be required to take on responsibility for more than one parish, according to a written explanation sent to priests by the archdiocese.

“The present way in which pastoral services are structured in the Archdiocese of Boston is not healthy, and it cannot be sustained much longer,’’ the document reads. Priests are being stretched too thin, and 40 percent of parishes are unable to pay their bills. “By improving pastoral services and reducing the costs for providing these services, every parish can better use its resources and talents for the sake of living and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.’’

The parish teams would include priests, deacons, pastoral associates, and advisory councils, as well as lay ecclesial ministers, who are trained and educated in church teachings but are not ordained. Each team will come up with a plan “for how best to utilize and apportion their resources, property, and facilities’’ to strengthen the parishes, the archdiocese said.

Though the archdiocese has not said how it will group parishes, it will take into account parishes that are near one another. Also, to avoid putting together struggling parishes, the archdiocese will aim to create clusters in which total weekly Mass attendance is above 1,600 people and the total annual offertory is at least $500,000, according to the church documents.

Under the proposed reorganization, church staffs would take on some of the day-to-day duties currently handled by priests, things like coordinating religious education classes or dealing with a broken boiler. That would free pastors to provide the vision to evangelize and expand the church, Fay said.

In addition to its upcoming meeting with clergy, the Boston Archdiocese is planning to hold 10 regional meetings to hear from parishioners, probably in February and March, Fay said.

The archdiocese also plans to establish a website to post documents related to the proposal.

After four to six months of consultation, the implementation of the plan could begin next year.

That is all BCI has time to say on this for today.  This is an ambitious plan and whatever happens will need our prayers.  Do keep the priests of our archdiocese in your prayers, and on Monday, pray for the success of the convocation.  A Divine Mercy chaplet prayed at 3pm Monday would be a fine idea.


St. Francis of Assisi Closing Confusion

November 30, 2011

For those following the saga of the bungled communication around the announced closing of St. Francis of Assisi in Cambridge, the plot thickens.

To be clear, BCI wishes we did not find ourselves having to even write this blog or communicate what is happening to the parishioners. We do not want to be publicly calling out mismanagement and naming names.  But if the archdiocese is unable to handle this effectively, someone ought to step in to fill the void. Because of all of the criticism we took for naming names a few days ago, for today, we will leave the parties responsible for fixing this problem unnamed. Now back to the saga.

Even though it was announced verbally to parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi that their parish would close and their $1.1M “coffers” would go to the welcoming parish, St. Anthony of Padua, and even though it was announced in writing to St. Anthony of Padua that neighboring St. Francis would close (in a notice posted here at this blog), yesterday we learned the story is changing. Various archdiocesan officials said publicly  yesterday that there was some “miscommunication”–that no closing was ordered, and a process will be undertaken to determine the future of the parish, even if the logical (but not inevitable) outcome is that the parish will close.  Hmm.

BCI has written to the archdiocese and asked for public clarification because parishioners are now thoroughly confused. How can the souls of faithful Catholics be led to salvation when their human bodies are confused about where they will be going to daily or weekly Mass to receive the Eucharist in the future?

In the meantime, here is a letter written by the former pastor of St. Francis, Fr. Norbet De Amato, O.F.M, to then-Archbishop O’Malley in 2004 describing why the parish should remain open.  Here is a .pdf but the text is reproduced below:

April 15, 2004
His Excellency
Sean P. O’Malley
Archbishop of Boston, O.F M. Cap,
2121 Commonwealth Avenue
Brighton, MA 02135-3193

Dear Archbishop O’Malley:

In compliance with the wishes of Bishop Richard G. Lennon, I am submitting the following reasons why I believe the parish of St. Francis of Assisi, East Cambridge, should remain open to the community. Supporting documentation regarding the demographics of East Cambridge was previously submitted during our Cluster Meetings. Due to Bishop Lennon’s request to limit the response to two pages, I am omitting the additional documentation but will forward upon request. The following addresses the demographic and growing needs of our community.

The demographics and census information for the City of Cambridge indicate that housing costs have been on the rise. In order to meet the needs of families in the East Cambridge Neighborhood, two projects are underway:

The first project is for affordable housing on the Comer of Second and Cambridge Streets, for 200 units.

The second project of great magnitude is North Point. This will be located at the intersection of First, Cambridge and O’Brien Highway. The project will be home to 5,000 housing and retail shopping units slated for construction when the T Lechmere Station is moved.

Currently, East Cambridge houses three new hotels and additional hotels located within walking distance from our parish. The close proximity andlocation of the Church on a main street allows visitors to attend services on Sunday and Holy Days. Our Chapel is open from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Daily Mass is celebrated at 7:00 a.m. allowing parishioners and workers in the area to start their day with prayer. A 12:10 p.m. Mass is celebrated on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Tuesday Mass is followed by St. Anthony Novena.

Our Parish is geographically located in a business area of the city serving the needs of many working people. The employees of Middlesex County Court Houses visit the Church on a regular basis. In addition to court personnel, staff from businesses and industries in the area uses the Church. The 12:10 P.M. Mass allows parishioners and workers the availability to attend services.

When 9-11 occurred, the Church opened its doors to all workers in the community. As a result of911, AA was no longer allowed to use the
Court House facility to house its groups. St. Francis is now the host site for AA Meetings. In the past, St. Francis housed the Youth Center until its new location was built. In the future, St. Francis will find open its doors to meet the needs of its changing community. Discussion of a child care or recreation center has taken place.

Our current parishioners often depend on the needs of an Italian Speaking Priest. We are blessed with Franciscan Friars enabling us to provide language services. Many of our parishioners are elderly and depend on our services for social stimulation. There is an 8 a.m. Sunday Mass in Italian for our Italian parishioners.

Currently, we host a weekly neighborhood macaroni and meat ball dinner followed by bingo open to the entire neighborhood. There are additional Italian Religious and Social Clubs who return to the Church annually to help celebrate their heritage and tradition.

Fraternally yours,

Fr. Norbet De Amato, O.F.M.
Pastor

BCI understands that the 2004 letter still accurately describes the parish situation today, including the anticipated developments at Northpoint.

As was stated before by BCI, we are not opining on whether the parish should stay open or closed–that decision rests with Cardinal O’Malley–after appropriate consultations and canonical processes are followed.  Just seems to us and a growing number of others that none of the appropriate consultations and canonical processes have been followed, yet the parishioners were told their parish is closing, someone leaked word to a developer the parish was closing, and the developer is sniffing around already trying to evaluate the potential for developing condos at the property.

Who is in charge of this situation? Is anyone else asking what is wrong with this picture?


St. Francis of Assisi Parish Closing: Response from Fr. Carreiro

November 29, 2011

BCI has gotten a fair amount of critical feedback on our last post, Cambridge Church Closing Calamity, where we discussed the news that St. Francis of Assisi in Cambridge will be closing.

Fr. Walter Carreiro, Vicar Forane and pastor of the designated “welcoming” parish, St. Anthony of Padua, sent us an email and posted an almost identical version of the email in comments. He took the time to write and to express concerns with the post by BCI, so we felt it appropriate to share his message in a dedicated blog post.  We will make brief comments following his letter, and we will post additional comments in a separate post. Here is his unedited message:

I would think that a journalist would at least attempt to get both sides of a story prior to publishing something with a potential to misconstrue events and statements.

I have included here the letter I wrote for our parish bulletin at St. Anthony Parish. This letter was written on Sunday, November 20, since it had to be at the publisher by November 21 due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Immediately following is a link to the publishers archive of our bulletin so that you may see it in the published format, including the Portuguese translation.

Greetings,

By now you have all heard the news about Saint Francis of Assisi Parish. It was in 2008 that the provincial of the Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception province wrote a letter to Cardinal Sean stating that when Fr. Norbert DeAmato retired they would no longer to staff the parish. At that time Cardinal Sean wrote a letter to the Vicar General, Bishop Hennessey and me stating that it was his thought that since St. Francis, being an Italian Personal parish and St. Anthony, being a Portuguese Personal parish that it made sense for the two to be merged with the eventual closure of St. Francis. At that time Bishop Hennessey and I met with Fr. Norbert to explain to him that at long as he chose to remain there that there would be no change in the status of St. Francis Parish. Just a few weeks ago Fr. Norbert, with his doctor and the provincial determined that it would be best for his health to step down as pastor. Another Franciscan Friar, Fr. Richard Donovan was assigned to be the temporary administrator. It was clear then that this was just to be temporary.

A couple of weeks ago a number of us, including Fr. Primo, the Franciscan Provincial from New York, met in Braintree to determine how we would go forward with St. Francis parish. It was prior to that meeting that I was asked to consider being administrator of the parish to work with the parishioners to bring it to closure. Realizing the difficulty of this transition I accepted this responsibility, naturally with a heavy heart of having to break the news to the parishioners. Cardinal Sean has continued in his belief that it makes sense for St. Anthony to be the welcoming parish for the people of the parish and for those things that are dear to the parishioners, statues, etc. It was because of this that I was at all the Masses this weekend at St. Francis. You can imagine the feelings that were present among the people. They were very kind to me but it’s natural that people would be angry, in tears, wanting to bargain and figure out how the parish could stay open. As you can well imagine it is as if they were being told that a loved one had a terminal illness and that death was inevitable and imminent. As I told them, there is no definite date when the parish will close. I will continue to meet with a group of parishioners there to determine what would be the best way to go forward taking into account any important events yet to occur there and how we will commemorate the move from St. Francis up the street to St. Anthony. I know that I can count on you to be welcoming to our brothers and sisters from there. I know that together we will make this as positive of an experience for them and make room for them here. As well, we will make room for their statues and those things which have made their experience as a parish dear to them. As the Archdiocese moves to a new model of parish configuration this is a good experience for us to challenge ourselves to be ever more open to all who come to St. Anthony to worship and, more importantly, to be a part of our family here.

As our responsibility as priests here expands this has necessitated a change in the schedule of Masses, which is included below. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Peace & Blessings, Fr. Walter

ST. FRANCIS ST. ANTHONY SACRED HEART
DAY TIME TIME TIME
Sabado/SAT. NO MASS 4:00 PM (& 5:30 PM) 5:00 PM
Domingo/SUN. 9:00 & 10:30 (8:00) 9:45 7:30, 9:00
(11:30 AM & 7:00 PM) & 11:00 AM
2a/MON. 7:00 AM (6:30 PM) 9:00 AM
3a/TUES. 12:10 PM (6:30 PM) 6:00 PM
4a/WED. 7:00 AM (6:30 PM) 9:00 AM
5a/THUR. NO MASS (9:00 AM & 6:30 PM) 6:00 PM
ADORATION: 9:30 – 6:00
6a/FRI. 7:00 AM (6:30 PM) 9:00 AM
Masses in parenthesis are celebrated in Portuguese Missas entre parenthesis são celebradas em português.

http://parishbulletin.com/Bulletins/935/935_Anthony_Cam_1127.pdf

There is much more to write and to refute, both in what was related to you, and how you chose to present that information. Let’s not forget that there are two sides to every story and an attempt should be made to not be so one-sided. I was not approached nor was an attempt to communicate with me made in any way.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Walter Carreiro (correct spelling)

We appreciate Fr. Carreiro taking the time to write.  We have time to just say a few things in response in this post for this moment.

He is correct that BCI did not approach him or attempt to communicate with him. Why is that?  Two reasons.  First, as we said in our previous post, we did call St. Francis of Assisi to ask about the rumor of the parish closing on Saturday Nov. 19, and the priest who answered the phone denied the rumored closing and said there would merely be a change in Mass schedule announced. Keep in mind, the closing had already been announced to selected parishioners a few days earlier, and it was announced several hours later to all of the parishioners. (As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”).  Secondly, the lack of response by virtually everyone in the archdiocesan hierarchy to inquiries by BCI over the past year–and to complaints by faithful Catholics–has led us to conclude it is generally not worth the time and trouble to even try reaching out to ask for comments or additional perspectives on a story. Based on Fr. Walter’s thoughtful and insightful response, we regret that we did not reach out to him.

Lastly for now, it also remains unclear to BCI, even from the response by Fr. Walter, what major details of our original post are considered inaccurate and thus would need to be refuted. Fr. Walter is a fine, honest devout priest, who confers the sacraments fluently in Portuguese. The Wednesday evening meeting with selected parishioners was blunt and confrontational as reported. Communications with St. Francis parishioners have not been good–as exemplified by the above letter being published in the St. Anthony parish bulletin, but NOT in the bulletin of  St. Francis, the parish actually being closed!  No written announcement has appeared in the St. Francis bulletin, and many of their elderly parishioners who are homebound rely solely on the bulletin for official parish news. A St. Francis parishioner commented to us via email, “Yikes, should I be learning of the process from him via your blog?? ”  A developer was apparently tipped off before the parishioners were notified. There has been no public decree.

The details that could potentially be refuted from our original post where we have now learned more are the following:
–Fr. Norbert is 89-years-old, not 92 and he apparently is not ill, but was advised by doctors and his provincial to give up the pastor role at the parish for health reasons
–Bishop Hennessey was apparently not notified of the Nov. 16 meeting at the parish
–The reason for St. Anthony being designated the welcoming parish is because Cardinal O’Malley thought it was a good idea
–Communications between the Franciscans and the archdiocese about what would happen to St. Francis after Fr. Norbert retired took place in 2008, (3-4 years ago) and not five years ago, as BCI said. Apparently the communications took place via letter correspondence at the time.

Though we do not believe any of those details are major in nature or would have substantially altered the message of our last post, we apologize for any errors.  More in a next post.


Cambridge Church Closing Calamity

November 26, 2011

Given the fact that the Boston Archdiocese has closed some 60-odd churches in the past seven years, one would think the archdiocese should have the process of closing a church down to a science by now.  Not so with the closing of St. Francis of Assisi in East Cambridge, where objectively one could say the archdiocese has bungled the situation and created yet another self-inflicted mess, with likely violations of Canon Law. This one has just not hit the Boston Globe or Boston Herald yet.

The key points to note are as follows:

1. A shortage of priests to staff the parish and/or demographics of the parish/region might make the closing inevitable.
2. Regardless of whether the church has to close, the manner in which this was handled and communicated to parishioners was so bad that it suggests incompetence, disinterest, or both by at least several members of the archdiocesan hierarchy.
3. The fact that no decree has been publicly issued by the archdiocese and the fact that developers were apparently clued-in to the forthcoming sale of the rectory and/or church before parishioners is suggestive of the same sort of corruption, insider deals, and violations of the Code of Canon Law that BCI has been documenting for more than a year.

Details of all of the above follow.

Background and Demographics

St. Francis of Assisi Parish is about 95 years old. It was a former Baptist Church, which, according to an article about the early history found to the right (click to zoom), was bought by Italian Catholics and converted to a Catholic Church in 1917.  It is an Italian national parish and has been  overseen by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate Conception, OFM, throughout the years. The most recent pastor has been Fr. Norbert DeAmato, O.F.M.

Fr. Norbert is 89-years-old, and recently became ill.  Apparently unbeknown to parishioners at St. Francis, archdiocesan officials met with Fr. Norbert some five years ago and told him they were happy to have him stay as pastor as long as he (and the Franciscans) were willing to let him do so. However, once Fr. Norbert left, there would be no other Franciscan available to cover the parish, and no archdiocesan or any other religious order priest.
There have been four Masses at the church every weekend, even though archdiocesan statistics show a total of 221 people attending the four Masses. There are two other churches within about 1/2-mile away–Sacred Heart and St. Anthony of Padua (Portuguese).
Notification about Parish Closing

BCI was told the following by a parishioner, attorney Maria Elena Saccoccio, who has given us permission to tell her story with her name. We have edited slightly without changing meaning, just for clarity for those not familiar with the details:

Without any notice, St. Francis of Assisi of East Cambridge summoned select parishioners for a meeting on Wednesday night, November 16.  There were three priests present. Chairing the meeting was Fr. Walter Carreiro of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Cambridge.  Fr. John Tackney of Sacred Heart in Cambridge was also present, as was Fr. Richard Donovan, OFM, who was temporarily placed at St. Francis after our pastor Fr. Norbert suddenly became ill.

It was announced unceremoniously that St. Francis would be closed.  Father Walter chaired the meeting.  We were consistently stifled in any comments that challenged in any way the decision on closure or the lack of prior notice. One parishioner was actually accused of being racist when she made a facial expression not compatible with what Father Walter expected.  Her displeasure had nothing to do with racism.  The church we are to be merged with has just about all Masses in Portuguese and we are not Portuguese.  One parishioner asked about the closure date, and each priest denied any knowledge whatsoever.  When pressed further as to whether or not we would be open in 2013, Father Carriero stated “no.”  Pressed further by the same parishioner that they somehow did have a closure date, the priests remained silent.

Another parishioner addressed the changing demographics of the area…When an elderly parishioner returned to the topic of closure date, I made an off the cuff remark that it would close once a developer made an offer to the Archdiocese.  To say that Father Carriero bellowed at me would be an understatement.  He was a bully and questioned my right to even comment, stating “How dare you say that–you do not have any personal knowledge;” and on and on and on.  I maintained my position and was supported by another parishioner as well.   I reiterated my position matching the tenor of Father Carreiro’s voice and stated “In my opinion, the church will be sold when a developer approaches the archdiocese to buy it.”  Fr. Carreiro pressed further for the basis of my opinion and I stated “Do you really think the archdiocese is just going to keep this property in perpetuity?”  Further, I explained that the basis of my opinion is that I am a lawyer and I read, plain and simple.

Another parishioner was chastised when he suggested that at City Hall Council meetings people get to speak for 2-3 minutes and we should do so here, given the gravity of the news.  Father Richard said this is not City Hall and no one gets to speak. He was supported by Father Carreiro.  It was too late for anything to be done.  The Franciscans did not have the bodies to send to oversee the parish and the Archdiocese made the decision.  It was a fait accompli.

The coffers (and they are substantial since they contain the proceeds of the parochial school from years ago) would be transferred to the St. Anthony of Padua (Portuguese) Church.  Note, we are much closer to Sacred Heart, only three blocks away, and most of our parishioners will clearly go there since everything is in English and they have already extended themselves countless times for the convenience of our parish.

This meeting was botched.  I was receptive at first and realize that St. Anthony’s is a poor parish and could use the money. Fathers Carreiro and Richard Donovan were bullies.  Fr. Donovan took up precious time complaining to us at the Wednesday night meeting that he had to change 16 light bulbs and we just did not realize how time consuming these things are.  Father Tackney was subdued and quiet throughout the meeting.  His parish (Sacred Heart) will inherit the work but not the wealth.

What a travesty and what a good way to lose Roman Catholics.  I was “coming home” to what?

No direct explanation was ever given to the parishioners for why the parish would be closing.

BCI did some of our own digging. When we called the parish a week ago today and asked the priest who answered the phone about rumors the church was closing, after a pause, we were told by him, “No, but the Mass schedule is changing,” and the changes would be announced by Fr. Walter (of St. Anthony of Padua) during last weekend’s Masses.   Hours later, Fr. Walter did announce the church would be closing within a year, and he also announced a consolidated Mass schedule for the three parishes–St. Francis of Assisi, Sacred Heart, and St. Anthony.

Mismanagement by the Archdiocese

The mismanagement of this situation is almost beyond words. We are so perturbed we can only write about this by posing questions:

  • Why was the meeting not scheduled such that regional Bishop Hennessey could be present for the meeting and announcement to the parish?  Based on his record this year, BCI is going to start referring to him as the “invisible auxiliary.”
  • Why was the cabinet official responsible for pastoral planning, Fr. David Couturier OFM Cap, not present for the meetings?
  • Why was Fr. Walter Carreiro–a fine, honest devout priest, who confers the sacraments fluently in Portuguese, but who is known for being brutally blunt–allowed to chair the meeting instead of just being asked to sit quietly and listen?
  • Why was the pastorally skilled Fr. Jack Tackney–who has welcomed multiple closed parishes over the past decade or so and who has hosted St. Francis’ religious ed program activities in the past –not chosen to chair the meeting?
  • Why has no canonical decree to suppress or merge St. Francis been publicly issued?
  • What exactly will become of the $1.1. million in cash assets of St. Francis (from the prior sale of the school building and parish savings)? And what will become of the cash generated from the sale of the St. Francis properties?  Will the assets go to the designated “welcoming” parish, St. Anthony (Portuguese) where many St. Francis parishioners do not plan to attend, while Sacred Heart, which actually does the work of welcoming the St. Francis parishioners gets nothing?  Why is that the pastorally correct move? Or will the archdiocese try to grab some of the cash as well?
  • Why was at least one developer already asking about plans to sell the rectory at St. Francis BEFORE parishioners were notified the parish was closing?  Was it Chancellor Jim McDonough or someone from his office who leaked this information and tipped the developer?
  • Will Vicar General Msgr. Deeley order the new excessively-paid $160K/year Director of IT, Stephen McDevitt, to cease efforts requested by Chancellor McDonough to determine who is behind BCI and instead begin an email investigation within the archdiocese to determine who leaked information about the planned closing of St. Francis to a developer before parishioners were informed and before any canonical decrees were issued?

How should this have happened?  It seems to BCI that Fr. David Couturier, both by his cabinet position and him being a Franciscan, should have joined with Bishop Hennessey, Fr. Carreiro, Fr. Jack Tackney, and Fr. Donovan to sit with the St Francis parish council and finance council (if indeed those bodies exist and actually meet) and explain the situation–namely, that the Franciscans need to pull back and the sacramental activity in that part of Cambridge is already spread over a number of parishes.  (None of which, incidentally, has any parking). They should have spoken for two minutes each, and then listened.

It seems reasonable that after that, they should have scheduled another meeting for all parishioners with Fr. Tackney and Fr. Carreiro.  (Fr. Donovan is leaving December 1).  The priests should have agreed in advance that Fr. Jack Tackney would decide how the meeting would run, and that he would be the voice of the presbyterate, except to answer questions about why the Franciscans are leaving.  The wizards at the Pastoral Center should have sent a clear proposal to the second meeting, through a letter from Cardinal O’Malley or Bishop Hennessey, outlining how the assets and liabilities would be treated, and to ask where the people saw themselves going.  They should have asked for comments.  This is free advice from outside the Pastoral Center on what SHOULD have done.

Instead, the Boston Archdiocese has taken an important pastoral opportunity to minister effectively to faithful Catholics and bungled it.   Along the way, the evidence that a developer was aware this property was becoming available also points to a likely violation of Canon Law.

Where to From Here 

BCI is not in a position to determine if the parish is sustainable for the long-term, pastorally and practically. (Projections of Catholics coming along with condos have not necessarily come to pass elsewhere).  But, it does not take a Ph.D. in Pastoral Psychology or a MacArthur Award to realize that the onus fell squarely on Bishop Hennessey and Fr. Couturier to meet with the people, along with the pastors of adjacent churches.  Whether or not the parish can or should remain open is a decision for Cardinal O’Malley, after reviewing all of the relevant information and having heard all parties. UPDATE: Bishop Hennessey was attending the USCCB fall meeting out-of-state on Nov. 16, but for him and the cabinet head in charge of pastoral planning to not be available for a meeting announcing the closing of the parish was a bad move both procedurally and pastorally.  They failed at what should have been an uncomplicated, clear execution of their ministries and ministerial duties. And whomever leaked word to a developer that the St Francis rectory or church were going to up for sale should start preparing either their letter of resignation or a really good explanation of why they think that leak was not a violation of Canon Law.

What to do now?  Vicar General Msgr. Deeley should probably call a little meeting on Monday to ask a) why Bishop Hennessey and Fr. Couturier abdicated their responsibilities and b) how exactly a developer came to learn of the property potentially being up for sale.  Bishop Hennessey and Fr. Couturier need to visit the parish and beg the forgiveness of the parishioners for their sins of omission, and start over again.  And this time, they need to LISTEN, in person, and heed the wisdom of those whom they serve.  Oh yeah, and whatever happens in a next meeting, let Fr. Jack Tackney do the presiding, thinking and the talking!


Radical Reshuffling of Boston Archdiocese Revisited

June 29, 2011

Our last post about the a rumored Vatican document in the works on reorganization of U.S. dioceses prompted so many insightul comments that we felt it was worth a follow-up post.

Earlier this month, BCI discussed an AP story published in the Boston Globe and other newspapers about a “radical reshuffling” of the archdiocese at a parish level planned for the not-too-distant future. There were a few things the folks at 66 Brooks Drive thought were not explained exactly right in the mainstream media article, so they clarified them. For your edification and reading pleasure, here are the clarifications and then some of our perspectives.

From The Boston Pilot (June 10, 2011), “Archdiocesan pastoral planning a work in progress, says official“:

BRAINTREE — Father David Couturier, Director of Pastoral Planning for the Archdiocese of Boston, responded June 8 to recent media reports about a possible reorganization of the archdiocese’s parishes.

An Associated Press story, released on June 3, asserted that the archdiocese was considering “reshuffling” their 291 parishes into 80 to 120 clusters. Each group would be supported by collective resources and clergy personnel.

“But it’s not the reshuffling of parishes, it’s a reshuffling or a reorganization of those who serve the parishes.” said Father Couturier. “Those 80-120 groups are the staffing of those parishes, not the parishes themselves.”

“The article seems to indicate that the 291 parishes suddenly become 80-120 parishes, that’s not what we’re looking at,” he added.

Msgr. William Fay, co-chair of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission, stressed that the idea is still being explored and is not in a recommendation stage. Msgr. Fay made his comments on the June 8 broadcast of The Good Catholic Life, a local radio show on 1060AM WQOM.

In February, Cardinal O’Malley formed the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission that will make a final recommendation to him on a plan for the parishes of the archdiocese. The 18 member commission consists of priests, deacons, religious sisters, and laity from around the archdiocese.

“What we’re trying to do is to develop first, a mission plan. This is not primarily about reorganization, it is a plan for positioning the archdiocese to be able to live out its mission in the 21st Century,” said Father Couturier.

“The cardinal has charged us with coming up with ideas about what can be and should be the mission of the archdiocese as we face incredible challenges and limited resources going forward.”

Father Couturier said that they have been “working intensely” with consulting laity and that the cardinal has met with priests of the archdiocese in vicariate, or regional, meetings. Meetings have also been held with parish pastoral associates.

He also said that online surveys have been established to gather comments on strategic priorities.

“All of that material was collected and put into some working models, but they’re working models” said Father Couturier.

“We’re still working through the models. We have lots of challenges to face and we want to do this in the most accountable and transparent way,” he said.

We had several reactions to this after reading the article:

First, we think the idea of a mission plan as a starting point for the effort is an excellent one, though we still have questions about the membership on the committee, as we said previously.

Secondly, we like surveys and would love for BCI readers to be able to provide input toward strategic priorities for the archdiocese! We must have missed the press release about the surveys as part of the open and transparent process the archdiocese has in place for this effort. If someone from the archdiocese would like more input toward strategic priorities, please give us a holler and send us the URL, as we would be glad to promote the survey if it is still open and help you get as much input as possible right away.

Thirdly, it sounds like there is a lot of work being done with working models. With all the work being done with working models, we would urge everyone working on this from the archdiocese to learn as much as possible from what has or has not worked in the working models of other dioceses, such as Camden, NJ, where Mass attendance has dropped dramatically after they embarked on a round of parish consolidation. This April 11, 2011 article from the Philadephia Enquirer reported:

In the fall of 2006, a year and a half before Galante announced that he planned to reduce the number of parishes by more than a third, the annual fall Mass count was 114,000 parishioners. Last fall, the count dropped below 100,000 in the diocese, which stretches across southern New Jersey.

BCI hears from sources in Camden that they worked hard on their working models, but in the end, as many as 30-40% of Catholics are apparently not moving to the new parishes. Coincidentally, Mass attendance in Boston dropped after “reconfiguration.”

Fortunately, the new planning efforts in Boston are intended to avoid closing parishes, but rather will be grouping parishes and considering a new model for a shared “pastoral service team” across that group of parishes.  That stands in contrast to a plan which would have involved “mergers,” where several parishes would have been brought together with at least one or more being closed or “suppressed,” and then one new parish entity would have been created with all of the assets and resources from the previous parishes now belonging to the new parish, which would have represented a new canonical entity.

The concept for this shared pastoral service team across a group of parishes was described in more detail by Msgr. Fay on the radio program, The Good Catholic Life on June 8.

The commission has been getting a sense of the direction they should move in with a first step. They have been taking great care with the future. They created a working paper for themselves to react to. they’re trying to imagine what the whole parochial life will look like. In the past, the archdiocese looked from the parish level, such as how many parishes we need. But now they’re looking at the people serving the parishes and look at them as teams. How ought they ensure the parishes have what they need as they are?

One of the ideas in this working paper is to staff 80-120 pastoral service teams who would each serve 204 parishes. Msgr. Fay wants to make clear this is not a recommendation they’re making yet, but they’re exploring it. Every parish needs a pastor, but how will we have enough pastors for all the parishes we have. There are 291 parishes. Should we have less, based on the number of pastors we will have? Or is it possible for a pastor to be a pastor of 2 or 3 or 4 parishes, supported by a host of people who would be responsible for the parishes. Some of the team would be parochial vicars or retired priests or religious or priests in education. There would be deacons, lay associates, catechists and more. They would be responsible for putting together a pastoral plan for their parishes. The key would be to bring the parishes together in a creative way. Perhaps they don’t need multiple religious education programs or multiple business managers. It’s up to the team to see how best they would work in the parishes. They might even make a recommendation to come together as one parish, not as imposed from above, but coming from among those in the parishes themselves.

This is not about consolidating 291 parishes into 80 to 120 parishes. Msgr. Fay said it was about pastoral teams and no parish was envisioned as closing. That number of 80 to 120 was purposefully small as well in order to engender as much discussion as possible.

You can’t say that one parish must forfeit assets to help a parish in the grouping that is struggling. Canon law would not allow it. They’re not combining the assets of all the parishes. However, where a parish in the past might have been able to afford a particular staff, maybe three parishes could.

Scot said some people are asking whether this pastoral plan will be “Reconfiguraton II,” referring to the process back in 2004. How did that inform the process of the pastoral planning commission. Msgr. Fay said the project of 2004 was a kind of downsizing, saying we can’t maintain what we have. From the beginning people realized we couldn’t have 350+ parishes. The difference today is that they don’t want to get caught up in that question. The key issue here is to ask how we’re going to bring ourselves together to focus on evangelization and use the resources we have in the future, becoming the prism by which we look forward as opposed to asking how we’re going to hang on. He finds it to be optimistic and it gives him hope and enlivens his desire to be a priest here in the future.

Msgr. Fay said it’s their hope that as parishes group there will be real excitement and hope to grow further and become vibrant communities. The key element is the pastoral plan for the future life of the parish by the pastoral team for the life of the parish for 2, 4, and 6 years and more. There will be more than 100 local pastoral plans that tie into the archdiocesan pastoral plan. It won’t be one-size-fits-all.

There is much work still to be done. A multitude of issues need to be thought through. Just one example of the canonical conundrum is the canonical requirement that each parish have its own Finance Council. But if there is one pastor for 4 parishes, making him attend 4 separate Finance Council meetings means additional workload and stress, not greater efficiency.  Initial concepts under discussion may not find their way to a final recommendation or implementation. Though BCI has voiced our concerns about the membership of the archdiocesan pastoral planning committee previously, what we have seen of their work to date appears to be thoughtful and not rushed.

Responsibility for the future of the archdiocese does not just rest on a committee, as several readers expressed yesterday. More on that topic next time.


Radical Reshuffle for Boston Archdiocese

June 7, 2011

An Associated Press story published in the Boston Globe last Friday and picked-up by USA Today and other newspapers has got people talking once again about what the archdiocese will look like at a parish level in the not-too-distant future.  (Sorry to disappoint those readers who might have thought from the title that this post has to do with a reshuffling of the archdiocesan cabinet leadership team–it is about a reshuffling of parishes, not lay executive bureaucrats).

Here are excerpts from the article, with a little bit of BCI commentary at the end.

Boston church weighs major reshuffle

BOSTON—The Boston Archdiocese is considering a radical reshuffling that would unite its 291 parishes into 80 to 120 groups so that each cluster could share resources and clergy, according to an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press.

The changes aim to save money at the parishes, which are “in a spiral of financial distress,” church officials say in confidential minutes of meetings where the plan was discussed. Archdiocese officials stress that the plan is still a work in progress.

Under the plan, more church closings would be possible, but they would be initiated by the new parish groups, not the archdiocese, as they were during the recent, painful round of closings.

In the minutes obtained by the AP, the Rev. David Couturier, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Pastoral Planning, says it must be “absolutely clear that the archdiocese is not going to be closing churches from above. That doesn’t mean that at the local level the recommendation may not come whereby the local parish says, `We really don’t need this building.'”

The archdiocese, however, would still have final say.

Parishes are broader territorial entities that include churches and other Catholic buildings, such as rectories. Under the plan, they would be assembled into groups of two to four.

The minutes also reveal Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s regret about how the archdiocese handled the closings that started in 2004, reducing the number of parishes from 357 to 291.

At the time, parishioners charged the archdiocese with shutting down healthy parishes without warning or reason. Some have since occupied their parish churches in round-the-clock protests…

No parish would be eliminated under the plan. But in anticipating problems with grouping parishes together, Courturier cited the sometimes “ugly” competition between them and “an adversarial relationship with the archdiocese.”

“We have to do something about the lack of trust that erupts from time to time in the archdiocese,” Courturier says in the minutes.

The memo was from the Archdiocese Pastoral Planning Commission, the group charged with proposing a new plan for the parish structure. It was sent to members of the Presbyteral Council, a group of priests advising the cardinal. The minutes were from seven monthly meetings of the Presbyteral Council, ending in April 2011.

The documents were given to the AP by Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes, which formed to fight church closings. He said he received them unsolicited.

Borre predicted any structural change would be followed by numerous church closings. He added that the reshuffling alone would meet heavy resistance no matter what, because people simply don’t trust the archdiocese anymore.

“If there were trust and openness, then you could rationalize this to a degree. But I will tell you that from the pews, they are headed into a buzz saw now,” he said.

Rather than realigning parishes, Borre said the archdiocese should reform what he said is a flawed and wasteful central office that’s weighed down by bloated six-figure salaries and which cripples parishes by taking too much of their collections.

Archdiocesan spokesman Terry Donilon hailed O’Malley’s financial management, including efforts to improve education and evangelization and erase an annual $15 million deficit in its central operations. (The archdiocese still has annual operating losses overall, including $8.2 million last year.)

The archdiocese has cited numerous statistics to show it must run differently. Among them: 40 percent of its parishes won’t be able to pay their bills this year; the number of available priests will plummet from 316 today to 178 in a decade; only 17 percent of local Catholics now attend Mass.

Under the new system, a senior pastor would lead each group of parishes, with charge over a “pastoral service team” that would include priests from the other parishes within the collection. The new group would have a single, merged staff; a single rectory; and a single parish center.

In theory, the streamlined parish would run cheaper, even as it’s being strengthened spiritually and numerically by an ongoing evangelization push, including the “Catholics Come Home” advertising campaign that aimed to draw lapsed Catholics back to church.

Monsignor William Fay, head of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission, emphasized the current restructuring plan is a work in progress. He said there’s no set timeline to complete it, and changes will come only after extensive consultation with local Catholics.

“We’ve got to move forward aggressively, but in a very thoughtful way,” he said. “We should be able to take the time we need to take to make sure this is done right.”Screen Options

American Catholics are traditionally loyal to their congregations and pastor, but not the hierarchy, and that makes it tough when archdioceses try to lead change, said David O’Brien, a church historian at the University of Dayton…

It’s also clear, though, that the current structure must be altered, O’Brien said. “You’ve got to do it, and they’re trying,” he said. “You have no choice.”

For the record, BCI had nothing to do with this article, or the leaking of documents to Peter Borre or the AP.

BCI feels the article accurately portrays the statistics about the situation with parishes and that status of the new pastoral planning initiative.  We agree that the archdiocese needs to do something about the lack of trust. (Note to 66 Brooks Drive: A good way to rebuild trust is to operate with integrity and transparency).  We would take issue with any “hailing” of Cardinal O’Malley’s financial management.

BCI also both agrees and disagrees with the comment from Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes.  We totally agree that the archdiocese should reform a “flawed and wasteful central office weighed down by bloated six-figure salaries” but at the same time, fixing that alone will not solve the problem. We face problems of a decline in church-going Catholics (1.3 million in 1960 compared to 294,000 in 2010), a decline in priests, and parishes (with associated church buildings) that once served 1.3M Catholics now only seeing 23% of that number of people.

The concept, as described at a high-level in this article and which we reported on previously, is to combine several existing parishes into one entity, while keeping as many of the church buildings open as possible.  One “Parish Pastoral Center” would serve several parishes with one pastor, one Finance Council, one Parish Council, several priests living in the rectory, and shared staff for religious education and administration. (BCI note: if the current archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Braintree cannot be made “pastoral” in the very near future, we would recommend they not reuse the term “Pastoral Center” in the new plans for parishes).

How this all plays out will be interesting. With appeals still in process from the last round of reconfiguration, Boston is treading carefully and cannot do exactly what other dioceses have done.

What you can expect to not see is a top-down plan worked out by the Archdiocese for some sort of “global merging,” whereby the archdiocese would set criteria for when parishes would be merged and suppressed. (That could have the canonically complicated result of 291 parishes being “suppressed” with the assets of several parishes combined into new entities). Instead, look for decisions to be made on a local level, with individual local studies done and recommendations made on an case-by-case basis for combining parishes.

What does BCI think of all this?  BCI agrees there is no choice but to do something. We voiced our skepticism about the committee in our Feb. 4 post, Pastoral Planning Commission.

  • Why so many money people?  (And when we say “money people,” we mean big money people)
  • Why the recycled cronies of Fr. Bryan Hehir and Sr. Janet Eisner–yet again?
  • Why the person who led the “sham search” that placed the current Chancellor?
  • Why the person who led one of the previous planning committees which solicited input from everyone, included input from only a few while neglecting to include some of the best ideas in the report, and basically got nowhere fast?
  • Why soak up one of the limited spots with someone from a parish that moreso resembles a part of a college campus rather than a diocesan parish? (and whose parish bulletin is currently promoting a June 19 Gay Pride Mass at St. Cecilia in Boston).

We still have these concerns, and wonder where a committee which includes members such as the above will ever get to, let alone considering there is no timeline for a deliverable or recommendation.

What do you think of the pastoral planning effort and direction reported above?


Pastoral Planning Commission

February 4, 2011

From the archdiocese that lacks the leadership and fortitude to summarily shut-down a handful of “Invisible Vigils”–which continue to waste millions of dollars in scarce donor funds six years after they began and six months after their last canonical appeals were exhausted– now we have yet another committee to talk about the future parish and pastoral configuration of the archdiocese.

Before we dig into this new committee, how is that new Finance Council Compensation Committee coming along that is supposed to look  at the $1M+ in excessive six-figure salaries?  They approved it Nov. 4, but the names still are not even posted anywhere like, say, the Finance Council page of the RCAB website, so it sounds like there is stunning progress to report there.  So now we have a yet another new committee–at least this time with names publicly announced, rather than the anonymous committees the folks at 66 Brooks Drive seem to have favored in recent years, like the anonymous search committees that chose Mary Grassa O’Neill and Terry Donilon.

Here is the notice from Wednesday announcing the new committee:

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley today announced that he has formed an Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission.The work of the eighteen member commission is to present a final recommendation to the Cardinal for a pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of Boston that identifies the resources available for the foreseeable future and allocates these in a manner that will allow the mission of Christ and his Church to grow stronger in our Catholic community.

In case you are wondering what this means they will do, in principle, they are to come back with a plan to create a much smaller number of “parishes” and pastors of those newly-defined “parishes” comprised of mostly the same number of church buildings as we have today. The Boston Globe described is as follows:

Under a draft proposal, neighboring parishes would be merged into a single parish, with worship at multiple church buildings. Each clustered parish would be run by a pastor, with help from a team of priests, as well as a consolidated lay parish council, finance council, and parish staff.

BCI’s take on this as of now is that the commission will meet…and meet…and meet, and not really get any place. Last time around in 2004, there were recommendations made by clusters, there was a central committee, there was a review by the Cardinal and his advisors like Fr. Bryan Hehir, Jack Connors and a host of others weighed in behind the scenes, and a lot of “recommendations” never made it through the quicksand and political snares.  What did we learn from that effort, and what will make this one different to avoid the snares of the past?  Not clear.

There are some good people on the committee, and some that we do not see as adding meaningful value.  One person familiar with the composition of the group  described them in an email to BCI as a “circular firing squad.”  Lest BCI be accused of personal attacks, we will make observations about the committee without mentioning specific names.

  • Why so many money people?  (And when we say “money people,” we mean big money people)
  • Why the recycled cronies of Fr. Bryan Hehir and Sr. Janet Eisner–yet again?  Are these people the only ones considered qualified or sufficiently politically-connected to serve?
  • Why the person who led the “sham search” that placed the current Chancellor?  Are we so pleased with how that choice has turned out that we want this person’s wisdom and insights once again?
  • Why the person who led one of the previous planning committees which solicited input from everyone, included input from only a few while neglecting to include some of the best ideas in the report, and basically got nowhere fast? Do we really want a plan for  “priestless Sundays” in which hostesses distribute pre-consecrated hosts to those who show up for a “communion service”?
  • Why include someone on the committee from a particular religious order when one of that same order’s members instructing a Masters of Arts in Ministry (MAM) class on immigration not long ago asked Catholic students to role-play being a foreigner in a strange land by assuming the identity of a gay or lesbian on another planet?
  • Why soak up one of the limited spots with someone from a parish that moreso resembles a part of a college campus rather than a diocesan parish?
  • Why will the committee work not be transparent and public as it progresses?  What is the means of public comment and parish input before the merger plan is communicated?
  • What about the charter, composition and operating approach of this latest committee and effort is to instill such confidence by clergy and laity that a redo of any “recommendations”  will not occur this time around?

If the Cardinal and his leadership cannot make a decision to cut the salaries of overpaid bureaucrats to save $500K-$1M+/year when the supporting information is objective and clear, and if the Cardinal and his leadership cannot make a decision to end “Invisible Vigils” costing $500K-850K/year after all appeals are done, then who in the world thinks this new pastoral planning effort–operating behind closed doors under no deadlines–will reach a set of recommendations and decisions that are acted on?

We hear from multiple sources that the Cardinal is on-the-road for a good part of the next 3-4 months, perhaps in the diocese only 14-20 days between now and the end of May.  The Vicar General may be heading back to the military in the spring.  With an absentee archbishop, who is setting the future direction of the archdiocese?  Is that responsibility now abdicated to this new committee?


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