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?


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