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?


Reconfiguration Consternation

October 16, 2010

Today we continue our exclusive Boston Catholic Insider series on the next phase of parish reconfiguration in the Boston archdiocese.  Just to get new readers up-to-speed, we started with Chancellor Spills Beans to vigilers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Boston regarding future plans to consolidate parishes, we then talked in Vigil Vigilance about the ongoing church occupancies and a proven way to end them  (which no one is acting on still) that would also dramatically lower the cost to the Archdiocese of maintaining those shuttered churches, and yesterday in Vicar General, Moderator of the Furious, we gave some background on Fr. Richard Erikson, who has parish pastoral planning under his limited scope of responsibility and will apparently be a spokesperson on the plans going forward.

We offer you today two areas to ponder: Fr. Erikson’s most recent comments, and a sense for the hodge-podge of planning efforts he attempts to rationalize in his Pilot column.

Vicar General’s Most Recent Comments

Here are excerpts from Fr. Erikson’s email to priests and column in The Pilot, called “Inspired by a Man on a Mission”:

He [St. Paul] would go to the ends of the earth, and lay down his life, so that people would come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ and so that vibrant communities of faith would be established.  Two thousand years later, we are carrying on St. Paul’s zeal and mission through evangelization and mission-centered planning for our future….Accompanying these efforts, and being driven by the same mission, is a renewed comprehensive effort at pastoral planning…

The more recent planning initiatives find their roots in the 1988 Synod that established the Office of Planning and Research and the formation of clusters of parishes to begin working together to find common goals in 1994.  Our archdiocese is indebted to Fr. Robert MacMillan, SJ, Mr. Harry Foden and Sr. Mary Anne Doyle, CSJ for their generous efforts…

Continuing in the spirit of St. Paul, and with the dedicated guidance and leadership of Fr. George Evans, the 2007 Pastoral Planning Report (available at www.bostoncatholic.org, click on pastoral planning) captured various voices and perspectives and called for a “culture of planning” throughout the Archdiocese, along with an “infrastructure that can sustain effective pastoral planning at all levels.”  The work of Fr. Evans and his committee demonstrated the fact that we are at a critical juncture, a turning point in the history of our archdiocese, as our parishes are challenged by a smaller pool of available clergy, changing demographics, tighter finances, and a secularized culture.   Sr. Marian Batho, CSJ, brought the challenges and perspectives of the Pastoral Planning Report to the people of our archdiocese through a year-long process of consultations on the report.

In 2009, motivated by the recommendations of the Pastoral Planning Report and by the feedback from the consultations, Cardinal Seán hired Director, Fr. David Couturier, OFM. Cap., and Associate Director, Mr. Joshua Phelps for our Office of Pastoral Planning.  Fr. Couturier and Mr. Phelps have been tireless in assisting the archdiocese in mission-centered planning for our future.

Hodge-Podge of Planning Efforts

Readers should immediately notice the variety of people, approaches, and ecclesiologies referenced in this message. We have a hired Jesuit, a hired Capuchian, members of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and a diocesan priest known for wanting “priestless parishes” among the players.  Not mentioned was another Capuchian, Br. James Peterson OFM, Assistant to the Moderator of the Curia for Canonical Affairs, who was also briefly involved in this effort until his input was ignored.  One can only imagine the starts and stops, as well as the conflicting agendas and theological viewpoints of the participants over time.

For example, the Fr. Evans group included a very diverse group of people, some of whom have controversial histories and have been described by our sources as holding “radical” views.  They asked for comments and suggestions from just about everybody.  Aa number of people with experience in this area submitted plans or solid ideas, yet we are told that Fr. Evans either refused to share all of these ideas with the committee or failed to include all good ideas shared with the committee in the final report.  Several sources report that Fr. Evans’ goal was driving toward “priestless parishes”—an idea also backed by people he consulted with such as Fr. Bryan Hehir and Msgr. Dennis Sheehan.  Here is the Evans’ report.   You will note that it includes a potpourri of ideas for consideration but basically no real recommendations.  That is because the committee could not get to consensus on anything other than “Cardinal Sean should look into X, Y, and Z and then decide what he wants to do.”

We hear that several people submitted their disregarded suggestions to the Cardinal, and though he liked many of them and wanted to combine elements of them into one plan, that new “plan” was not the Evans report. So when the Evans report came out, it received faint, half-hearted praise. After the Evans report came out and the dust settled, in May of 2009 Cardinal O’Malley sent for his Capuchin colleague, Fr. David Couturier, and they were off to the races with yet another “plan.”

Who is Fr. Couturier?  Here is the press release announcing his appointment. As a Capuchian, he wears the same kind of brown robe as Cardinal O’Malley, and we are told he and Chancellor McDonough are not exactly drinking buddies.  Could be because Couturier comes across as having more backbone than the average Pastoral Center staffer that the Chancellor can manipulate, and he  also seems to have nothing to gain or lose from the McDonough/Connors/Hehir regime.  (Perhaps Jack Connors has had his fill of mundane parish closings after previously meddling on the Meade-Eisner commission, and he has now turned his sights toward bigger and better things, like controlling the money flow into the archdiocese and getting more property assets for BC and Partners?)  Couturier has the benefit of also being a Capuchin, and the reality is that Cardinal O’Malley tends to listen to other Capuchins, even if their ecclesiological bent is different than his own.

We know little about the other person mentioned, Associate Director of Planning, Joshua Phelps, except that he has a B.A. (2005) and M.A. in Philosophy (2007) from Boston College, has research experience, and was a pastoral associate for the archdiocese before this job.  He also somehow made it through an interview/selection process in which some combination of Fr. Erikson and/or Chancellor McDonough managed to frighten off other well-qualified candidates for the job.

Anyway, this 2009 document, “Developing a Pastoral Plan for Parish Staffing” is basically Fr. Couturier’s plan for a plan.  It says that a plan was to be submitted by March of 2010.  Such a plan has not been released publicly yet.  We do know that it was tough to arrive at a plan that satisfied his boss, Fr. Thomas Foley (the Cabinet Secretary for the Parish Life and Leadership Secretariat) and Cardinal Sean.  Even if no “churches” were to close–and some probably will–a key issue was the number of “parishes” to group individual “churches” into.  Will the magic number be in the neighborhood of 50 parishes?  Will it be more like 150 parishes?  The archdiocese wants to start rolling this out in January of 2011, and though nothing has been publicly confirmed, we have some sense for the number of “parishes” they are aiming for.  Anyone wishing to weigh-in on what you think can do so via email or comments.

Something important to note in this process–and what no one is mentioning publicly–is the demographic reality of the priest-to-Church-going Catholic ratio.  We will talk about that next time, as well as what you might expect to see going forward in the Boston Archdiocesan pastoral plans.

In the meantime, the vigils at shuttered parishes apparently continue. At $4,100/day in cost and 93 days since the Archdiocese learned the Vatican had denied the final appeal, that has cost the archdiocese an additional $380,000.  What ministry is suffering for lack of these funds because the Archdiocese lacks the will to simply do what they have proven works already?  Who is in charge of decision-making in this area?

ps. Note to Chancellor McDonough: primary sources for this post are NOT at 66 Brooks Drive


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