A more important way to explore why annual reports are important is to consider the role of statistics.
Some of the top Catholic statistic sites are the following:
CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) at Georgetown U.
ARDA (The Association of Religious Data Archives)
Glenmary Research Center
Why are statistics important? Statistics are part of a larger truth. They're an important way of thinking about church, which is after all an organization of people united for a common purpose. Understanding statistics helps us plan for the future. Church-related planning, like all planning, is best when we know "where we are" or "were we were" in order to plan for "where we want to be". It should be obvious that statistics are not a part of the "faith and morals" of the church, nor do they need to be, in order to be valuable. And while they do not tell the whole story, they do at least point a way, or they may suggest that we narrow our options, so that our choices are more likely to lead to success.
With this in mind, let's look at a few of these statistics that are readily available. The most important thing to know about diocesan statistics is that they are self-reported. Thus, any figure you see, whether from Annuario Pontificio (the official Vatican source), or the P. J. Kennedy and Sons yearbooks, or Glenmary, or CARA, is based on the figures that the diocese provides. These are seemingly based on the number of active parishioners, plus baptisms, minus funerals, to use a simple-minded example.
It gets a little more complicated, with removals and converts and so on, and it is probably wise to include "confirmation" as a determinant, too, since the diocese counts adults as those 13 and over. They do not ordinarily include children below 13 in the figures. On the other hand, Glenmary always adjusts the figures upwards, using county population and birth rates as a guide, in order to show the total Catholic population. That is why Glenmary totals always skew upwards, though the proportions they report match well with other research organizations. This affects a lot more than just Glenmary, because it turns out that most other sites, for example, the ARDA site, also use Glenmary under the hood.
Another facet of this statistical work is that not all people who are polled say what they do, but rather, what they would like to do, or think that they should be doing. This is why the percentage of people who actually attend mass on a weekly basis is almost certainly less than the percentage of people who say they do. A good article about this reporting problem, which is not unique to Catholics by any means, is here.
Specific to the Catholic church, adherent figures provided by the diocese, which are always based on parish records, are suspect right off the bat. For example, CARA has found in two different surveys that only 6 out of 10 Catholics are registered at a parish. It would seem that, in general, the Catholic numbers under report the total number of Catholics that are actually out there, and over report the attendance at weekly mass.
A brief look at the three sites mentioned above shows how very Catholic the U.S. is. Glenmary in their summary for 2000 say that there were 62 million of us. That is a 16% increase from 1990 to 2000. Catholicism in the Northeast was not really dying out for those 10 years - it was growing at a rate of 4% - a slower rate that that of the West, which was growing at about 40%.
The next largest group, Southern Baptists, came in at 20 million. Granted that the number of Protestants combined comes up to about 65 million, the dominance of Catholics as a group is unsurpassed. When you consider that Protestants are very culturally diverse and not likely to ever vote as a bloc, you can appreciate why so much is made of the political activity of the Catholic bishops. Even if they were not completely persuasive, and managed to convince only about a third of their voting-age constituents on a particular ballot question or candidate, that would still be far more people (or, votes) than any other denomination could muster, even if the other denomination had 100% participation.
more stats from Glenmary:
- Catholics have the largest number of adherents in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
- Catholics are one of the four largest groups in every state of the union as well as in the District of Columbia.
- Of the 48 metro areas with 1 million or more people, Catholics are the largest single group in 37.
- Massachusetts may no longer rank in the top ten in population overall, but it is number seven for total of Catholic adherents. When you consider proportion of Catholics to state population, it ranks number two in the country (after Rhode Island). In 1990, Mass. was 49% Catholic, in 2000, it was 48% Catholic. The 48% figure does not hold true for the Springfield Diocese, however. Here in Western Mass. the proportion of Catholics is lower, but still higher than the U.S. average, which is about 22%.
One of the truly interesting statistics at Glenmary is the 9.1% rise in Catholics in the Springfield Diocese in the period 1990-2000. See Table 4, Dioceses Ranked by Percent Change in Adherents.
This is a head-scratcher after listening to so many announcements from the chancery on Elliot St. about how the number of Catholics has been plummeting locally. There were 67 dioceses in the U.S. with a poorer record than Springfield, and about 106 with a better record, for the ten year period. It will be interesting to see what transpires for the next report, due in 2010.
These are impressive numbers and show that Catholicism is far from declining as a social force, especially in this state. However, what I find most interesting is none of these, but rather the percentage of Catholics attending Sunday mass, what we might call the hardcore, or "base" of the most visible Catholics.
CARA has made a specialty of this statistic in recent years. It is somewhat sobering to see that the "good old days" when, supposedly, mass attendance was very high, turn out to be less well-attended than we had supposed. Just before Vatican II .40 was reported for attendance at Sunday mass. Statements like "everyone went to mass" or even "almost everyone went to mass" are simply not true, at least for the periods since 1970 or so. The Gallup organization, however, reports much higher levels of Catholic church attendance reaching back into the 1950's. Though some of these numbers seem inflated, there does seem to be some validity to the idea that mass attendance among Catholics was well over 50% in the 1950's, only to decline drastically in the 60's and early 70's. This decline seems almost unrelated to Vat. II upheavals and the so-called sexual revolution of of the hippie-dippy 70's, two factors the holier-than-me types like to focus on. Bottom line, all agree that mass attendance has fallen off, overall.
When it comes to proportion of those attending mass today: "...Twenty-three percent of adult Catholics say they attend mass every week (once or more often). Given that those who attend less often have some probability of attending mass in any given week..CARA estimates that approximately 31.4 percent of Catholic adults attend Mass in any given week...."
This statistical result dovetails with the Mullin Report, which found that about .29 of Catholics, on average, attended mass in the Springfield Diocese for representative periods in 2005 and 2006. Berkshire County, on the other hand, represents a more puzzling question.
The figures in the Mullin Report for the three regions (No. Adams, Pittsfield and Lee), show attendance of 2,445, 6,491, and 2,760, respectively. The total of 11,696, measured against the countywide Catholic population of 69,757 as reported in ARDA, shows only .17 attending Sunday mass.
BUT, hold on, don't forget, ARDA uses Glenmary statistics. Therefore, the 69,757 include children, and it is said that the counters for the Mullin Report counted only adults. So, the figure of .17 is not accurate, it must be more. Perhaps it may be as many as the .23 attending weekly, or the .31 overall figures cited by CARA. It's sad that there is no way to confirm this, for the Mullin Report does not tell us whether it counted only adults, nor does it break out numbers of Berkshire County Catholics, as opposed to the whole diocese, nor does it even total the numbers up, I had to do that myself.
On the other hand, according to ARDA (and these are more reliable figures) Catholics in Berkshire County are everywhere (except, apparently, in church). For example, out of every 1,000 men, women and children in Berkshire County, 516 are Catholic. The next highest number are Jews (29 out of every 1,000), followed by several mainline Protestant denominations, who clock in at around 27 or 28 people for every 1,000.
EVEN MORE STATISTICS
We need look no further than the Dec. 11 issue of the Catholic Observer (diocesan newspaper) and read the comments by Mark "Mariano" Dupont. He was commenting on the public hearing to consider the wisdom of creating a historic district in order to protect the closed Our Lady of Hope church from alternation or destruction. In defense of the bishop maintaining complete control of the building, Dupont said that "...if the result of this action causes the property to sit vacant, that may prevent future investments and limit scholarship funds for Catholic education in Springfield - which is what the bishop had envisioned with these proceeds..."
This seems to be a straightforward pitch and yet I believe I detect some spin on it. Dupont is quite specific about what the proceeds of a sale, if any, will be used for but his assertion raises questions. Granted that investments and education are good values, how do we know that this is what the money will actually be used for? Contrast how specific Dupont is about the proposed use with how vague the track record is, as exemplified by the missing records for what the diocese has actually spent money on over the last two fiscal years. Why would the bishop not "envision" that any money realized from a sale of OLOH would instead be used for more pressing needs?
For example, the amount of money owed to the diocese by parishes has climbed into the millions over the last 5 years or so. Why would the bishop not envision that the proceeds from OLOH would be used to offset this money? The upkeep of Thomas Dupre has been a very substantial amount of money ever since he fled the diocese in Feb. 2004. Why would the bishop not envision using the money for that? The law firm of Egan, Flanagan and Cohen have sat in cubicles for three years defending the diocese in a three-year insurance trial, June, 2005 - June, 2008, and Jack Egan continues to be on a retainer; in fact, he appeared at this very meeting of the Historic Commission. Why would the bishop not envision that part of the proceeds from a sale of OLOH would go toward our lawyers? Their fees by this time must be staggering. And there are many other areas of debt.
But, what are those areas of concern? How much is the overall debt? What is the diocesan budget all about, anyway? How much do we owe, and what are our assets?
All of this is white space, because we have no data.
Stay tuned for a retrospective look at the Mullin Report, published in March of 2007. This was ostensibly a review of the infrastructure of the diocese, and yet it focused solely on the finances of the parishes. It will occur to many that since 29 parishes have been scheduled for closure or alteration ever since the publication of the Report, that it was an advance justification for the parish-closing program. And that does appear to be the case. This process will have reduced the number of parishes from 125 to 95 or so, a decline of about 25%.
Don't get me wrong, changes in the structure of the diocese, including the alteration of parishes, are just a fact of life. I'm not saying these should not take place. My concern is in governance, i.e., HOW these changes take place. For an organization that professes to believe that the clergy and laity are equal down the line, and should share in decision-making, this parish-wrecking program is a disgrace. We are a better church than that.
In the absence of good data, thorough discussion and real consulting with parishioners, the Pastoral Planning process as we have seen it in action over the last few years is really nothing more than a corporate Financial Planning process. All of these results were suggested in the way that the Mullin Report was conceived, carried out and presented.
However, there are also many statistics in the Mullin Report about the attendance at Sunday masses that raise questions about how much Catholics in this area of the country support the diocese. These are some of the concerns we will take up in the next post.
Last time we discussed Chicago-area Bishop Paprocki's attempts to salvage some of the rapidly fading Charitable Immunity doctrine and use the protections that remain to arrest what he considers the current unchecked liability situation vis-a-vis the Catholic church and lawsuits filed by abuse victims. Moreover, he provided a wish list in his address to the National Diocesan Attorneys Association that would actually expand Charitable Immunity (albeit under different names).
Here we address a paper that Paprocki often refers to in speeches and articles. The Rev. John Coughlin has written a chapter titled "Canon Law and Constitution Law: The First Amendment: Anthropology, Separation, and Neutrality". It is numbered "Chapter Four" and is apparently part of an upcoming book. It can be viewed online here, as part of the offerings of the non-profit Social Science Research Network (SSRN).
Paprocki quotes Coughlin to support his contention that there are constitutional protections that would deny large damage awards to victims:
...The state has every right to encourage shareholders in a for profit corporation to change corporate leadership by holding the corporation liable for negligence on the part of the corporate executives and thus cutting into the enterprise’s profits. The application of the same liability rules loses its claim to neutrality when state law punishes a church for making what is essentially a religious decision and compels the church to divert funds from its charitable and educational purposes to compensate victims...
Coughlin's quixotic understanding that "religious" decisions are grounded in and have great protection from the U.S. Constitution, and that such decisions trump other values, is not confined to the argument about damage awards. In property disputes as well, he asserts that there is no middle ground. The state simply cannot tell the Church what to do with its land and buildings - even if a diocese has chosen to go the bankruptcy route. With regard to sex abuse, he goes so far as to apply his reasoning to a bishop's decision about employment retention for a troubled priest. According to Coughlin, even if the priest offends again, the original decision (the employment retention) would still be valid and protected, because it was a religious decision. Not kidding. We will now look at his paper and see where, exactly, he gets the idea that this is a valid point.
This article is about 50 pages long. The parts most pertinent to abuse settlements and property disputes are in pages 30-52. However, these are built on Coughlin's earlier points about the real nature of Church/state separation, so we start there.
He explains that the Church is not the creation of the state - and vice versa. Each has a place, and needs the other. While this is momentarily reassuring, he does not explain why the RCC in the past has often transgressed this boundary, preferring to wield political power of great significance in addition to their spiritual mandate.
He says that the real significance of the Church is that it symbolizes what lies beyond, and that religious language shows the way toward the truth that the highest human dignity lies in self-transcendence. He says that in "... submitting to the state's rules for social order, the church reaps the advantages of these rules and sets an example in support of the rule of law. The cooperation of the church, however, is not intended to suggest that it endorses every instance of the state's public policy. It remains critical to the church's function of affording a language of transcendence that the church maintains a prophetic voice in the public realm." (pg. 3)
Throughout this discussion his emphasis is on belief - not action - and he is careful about disclaiming any desire on the Church's part for power or influence in the public realm. That comes later, when he begins to complain about damage awards and the debilitating effects of bankruptcy on the well-being of the Church.
Coughlin often opposes "secularism" to the aims of the church. He does not define it well and most often uses the work "ideology" rather than "religion" in describing it. However, he never actually defines what it is, so it's difficult to take seriously his claims that "secularism" runs rampant in the culture as a state-endorsed substitute for the cultural agency formerly held by the Church.
He talks next (pg. 9) about the two strands of thought underpinning the separation clause of the 1st Amendment - the theological and the rationalist. He finds that the theological is rooted in the Reformation which followed Martin Luther. To him, the fact that the freedom of religion called for is specific to a Protestant majority position and world view somehow allows the RCC world view to slip in as well.
Next, he discusses the rationalist strand, and finds that somehow, the struggle of evangelicals (the minority position among Protestant church at the time of the adoption of the 1st Amendment) is supposed to parallel subsequent struggles of the RCC to find a place in American culture. Not everyone will see the connection.
In the next section he draws some interesting history lessons out of the difference between the Congregational churches in New England (who supported the Revolution) and the Anglican church in Virginia (who did not). Apparently, disestablishment made a lot more sense if it was a question of disestablishing the church of your former enemy. A bit stickier question in New England arose as more and more religions demanded their own accommodation, after the initial bow to Congregationalists. Especially is this true in the states where the Congregational church continued to be supported with taxes well past 1800. One of these churches seeking accommodation, of course, was the RCC. And, there is no doubt that in order to reach a level playing field, the RCC had to overcome discrimination throughout the 19th century - a point not lost on Rev. Coughlin.
On pg. 23 Coughlin expresses his fondness for that "classic work" by Mark De Wolfe Howe, "The Garden and the Wilderness". Never heard of it? Me, either.
In it, Howe criticized the growing tendency of the Supreme Court in the middle of the 20th century to apply strict separation of Church and state following the Lemon and Everson decisions. Howe characterized these cases as the "Secularist's rule of separation" that threatened to "cast out the theology of the first Amendment". This squabbling about original intent dominates many paragraphs of Coughlin's chapter as he buttresses his conviction that the U. S. Government has done exactly what Howe and others feared - it has encroached upon the garden of religion.
Howe's actual image is that the 1st Amendment was not intended to separate the garden (religion) from the wilderness (the state) for the benefit of the state - it was the opposite. He believed that the garden needed to be protected from the wilderness. And so does Coughlin. In order to effect this, both men believe in robust protections for the garden, even to the point of allowing the override of otherwise reasonable and neutral laws of the state.
The anthropological aspect espoused by Coughlin is actually a more powerful argument than either common law or canon law - it concerns "what is fair" rather than what is written and codified into a body of law. It therefore resembles the movement of the Holy Spirit - dangerously free and hard to pin down. Under this reasoning, dignity and basic human rights may evolve as society evolves - as we have seen in the movements of gay rights, women's rights, and civil rights.
Supposing this to be true, and that "natural law" is as good for religion as it is for the civil area, we should then advocate public support for all religions, not just the Protestant one, or just the Catholic one. It seems to me that the policy first meant for the Protestant faith (as Coughlin argues) can be extended to the RCC only by also continuing the extension to all religions.
Is this really what Coughlin wants? Or does he want an exception made for only the RCC? If he wants just the exception, this exclusivity sounds like the other "we are above the law" church arguments justifying employment retention of problem priests and diocesan dominance during parish property controversies. But, if it is to be valid, his argument must stand for more than the immediate corporate interest of one religion - namely, that of the RCC perishing from their current financial distress.
A side issue is: if Coughlin and others are convinced that "secularism" is a religion, and if the 1st Amendment prohibits the establishment of a religion, then why are they not able to argue and prove that "secularism" should be outlawed? On pg. 29, for example, he talks about the "dominant secular approach in public education". His point is that "non-religious" is essentially the same as "irreligious" - harmful to religion. He claims there is no middle ground.
In pages 35-38 he shows the same tendency when discussing the various Supreme Court property cases - there is no middle ground, whether the subject is Watson, Kedroff or Keshik. One must see things through either a secular lens, or a religious one. The neutral rules approach of Jones v. Wolf is anathema to Coughlin. That approach states that "a reasonable and generally applicable law will pass muster against a free exercise claim".
Here I believe we come to the heart of Coughlin's approach. He disputes Jones v. Wolf, and would rather that free exercise claims are allowed to prevail over "reasonable" arguments. But, if generally applicable laws - such as those preventing and punishing child sexual abuse - are made subordinate to a free exercise claim - what happens to the public good? And, what happens to the moral integrity of the church that would insist on such a free exercise claim? This question is not addressed by Rev. Coughlin.
In pg. 39 and ff. he discusses three important Supreme Count cases: Borne v. Flores, Jones v. Wolfe, and Smith. All of these have upheld neutrality as applied to church/state disputes, and minimized exceptions based on religious prerogatives. Not surprisingly, Coughlin disputes their conclusions. Indeed, he attacks the very idea of neutrality. He insists that what looks like neutrality from the civil point of view may be unfair and harmful to the religion when looked at from within the faith-structure of the religious entity. Thus he has, essentially, a religious world view, and never really gives this up. This robs his arguments of any effect they might have on a non-believer, and it also calls into question (for this believer, anyway) the application of his logic to the issues of church property and sexual abuse settlements, to which we now turn.
On pg. 43 he begins arguing that the submission of a diocese to the bankruptcy courts presents grave problems. Bankruptcy almost guarantees that the courts will be involved in telling the church what to do vis-a-vis assets. Pardon me if I lapse into the vernacular here and say "Well, duh."
It is incomprehensible that Coughlin can at the same time speak up for the "practicality" as he calls it (expediency?) of a diocese filing for bankruptcy in order to protect its assets and shortchange victims in settlement cases, and at the same time complain that by so doing, the courts will be involved in an unconstitutional encroachment on the rights of the RCC. Nevertheless, he gives it a try.
The real summit of his argument occurs around page 46 and ff., when he applies this reasoning to the sexual abuse crisis. This is the part that Paprocki often refers to, albeit obliquely. What Coughlin says here is stunning in its audacity. I will quote some passages at length, but first let me point out a few things.
We remember that the issue of liability is what brought us down this trail. Paprocki, when arguing that something - anything - was needed to replace Charitable Immunity, was casting about for ways to justify limiting or even eliminating damage awards to victims for sexual abuse. He stated that in granting these awards, courts were taking money away from the diocese (and, ultimately, from parishioners) unfairly, because those parishioners, and those contributing to the diocese, intended their money to go to good works - school lunch programs, hospitals, beds for the homeless, and so on - and not to the victims of sexual abuse, however just that verdict might appear, standing alone.
In this next section, Coughlin tries to undercut the state assignment of liability to the diocese. He argues that if the liability depends on a theory of torts that finds the diocesen officials responsible for the actions of the priest - as past employment retention decisions have well established, both within and outside the church - then that theory of tort liability is wrong. The bishops decision is sacred, in other words. The connection to the divine that the bishop claims, by virtue of apostolic succession, must be allowed to override the needs of the state in protecting its citizens from harm.
I think his argument is very mistaken. It may even be immoral. But, maybe your opinion differs. If you think that Coughlin has a point and that I have not understood, or that I have misrepresented his arguments, please let me know. In the meantime, here is the last word from Coughlin (footnotes are omitted):
The application of neutral rules to legal issues related to the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis raises a series of questions about the relation between canon law and constitutional law. At the outset, I should mention that I do not think that these questions admit of easy and clear answers, but the difficulty of the questions ought not to prevent them from being broached in a discussion about constitutional law. For example, consider the case of the diocese that files for bankruptcy relief under federal law in order to limit its liability to victims of child abuse. At first glance, it may seem simply to be a case of the application of neutral rules by the bankruptcy court. The diocese will be treated by the federal court in the same way that any other bankrupt petitioner is treated without regard to religious belief. A more careful examination, however, discloses at least three concerns that call into question the possibility of government neutrality toward the Church.
First, once the bankruptcy petition has been filed, the federal bankruptcy court now has effective control over many aspects of the diocese’s internal activity. For example, the federal court, pursuant to its statutory mandate, has the power to liquidate the diocesan property, determine which assets will be retained and which will be sold, limit the function of (or completely close) branches of the diocesan mission (such as hospitals, schools and orphanages), and set the salaries for diocesan employees, even that of the bishop. Such choices almost inevitably involve the federal court in the kind of administration entanglement that raises constitutional issues about the separation of church and state and religious freedom.
Second, the resolution of the bankruptcy claim might require that the federal bankruptcy interpret the meaning of canon law. In order to limit its liability, the diocese asserts that it is not the owner of parish property pursuant to canon law. The diocesan assertion arises in face of the specter of vibrant parish communities being forced to liquidate their property to pay for the settlement with the various creditors not the least of which are the plaintiff class of victims. To the contrary, the creditors argue that the ownership and control of parish property in canon law is more complex than the diocese suggests. In support of their argument, the creditors call upon an expert in canon law who testifies that although the juridic person of the parish owns (dominum) its own property, the diocesan bishop exercises the ultimate control (imperium) over the parish property.
The issue that arises for the bankruptcy court is akin to an intra-church dispute in a hierarchical church. Following the approach to intra-church disputes articulated in Jones v. Wolf, the federal court must now resolve the dispute by looking to the neutral rules of state law for the resolution of property disputes. As previously mentioned, this includes “the language of deeds, the terms of the local church charters, the state statutes governing the holding of church property, and the provisions in the constitution of the general church concerning the ownership and control of church property.” The canon law and other church documents are to be interpreted by the federal court “in purely secular terms.” Would such a secular interpretation be able to resolve the canonical issue that arises from the diocesan renunciation of any ownership interest in parish property and its conflict with the principle of hierarchical governance in the Catholic Church? Should a civil court attempt to interpret the meaning of canon law in the first place?
Third, the diocesan position about the ownership of parish property raises an even more serious constitutional issue. Does the nature of the bankruptcy proceeding exert undue influence over the Catholic diocese with regard to the governance of church property? Certainly, the diocese is technically correct to assert that in canon law the juridic person of the parish own its property. Standing alone this assertion ignores the canonical reality that the parish is but an integral and subordinate part of the diocese and in under the authority of the diocesan bishop. For the reason just explained, the diocese takes this position in order to shield the property of parish communities from inclusion in the bankruptcy settlement. As pragmatic as the position of the diocese might prove in the bankruptcy proceeding, does the position not at the same time suggest that the parish property is controlled by the parish, a form of church governance more congregational than hierarchical? Will diocese be held to the position adopted in the bankruptcy proceeding in non-related controversies that concern the ownership and control of parish property in other civil courts?
Diocesan liability for clergy sexual abuse claims under state tort law poses similar questions to those associated with the bankruptcy example. Is the secular law that establishes diocesan liability truly neutral or does it impact on the diocese in concrete ways that violates a primary aim of the First Amendment?
Let us assume that a diocesan bishop learned during the 1970s that a priest in the diocese was alleged to have abused a minor. Let us further assume that the bishop also had certain theological, canonical, and pastoral concerns that ultimately convinced him to re-assign the guilty priest to ministry. Among these concerns were the Catholic belief in the forgiveness of any sin for a repentant sinner, the doctrine on the permanent nature of priestly orders, the pastoral need for priest personnel in the diocese, and the thought that a canonical trial to dismiss the priest was neither justified nor practical given the specific facts of the case. It may prove that the bishop’s theological, canonical, and pastoral judgment was correct, and that the priest does not offend again. However, we shall assume that subsequent to re-assignment, the priest then commits one or more additional criminal acts of sexual abuse.
Under the state criminal law, the priest should be prosecuted just as any other person accused of child abuse. However, I think that to the extent that the bishop’s decision to re-assign the priest rests on theological, canonical, or pastoral factors, it falls under the protection of the First Amendment. It is my position that as a mater of constitutional law such a decision must be left entirely to the diocesan bishop. At the same time, the religiously motivated decision of the bishop to re-assign the priest functions as the predicate upon which diocesan liability is established in state tort law. By acting as an incentive not to re-assign the priest, the state tort law is establishing an answer to the question: who is fit for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church.
To be clear, I am not arguing that the bishop ought to re-assign a priest who is a convicted felon to ministry, only that under the First Amendment the decision about fitness for priestly ministry is essentially a religious one and must be left to the proper church authority. When a theory of tort liability depends on the bishop’s decision about who is fit for priestly ministry, it seems to me to present a constitutional issue about government interference in a religious matter.
Another constitutional issue concerns the influence of state tort law on the religious freedom of the church to choose its own form of internal governance. The reason that the Catholic diocese is sued by a victim of clergy sexual abuse is at least in part financial. Generally, the diocese, not the offending priest or the parish where the abuse may have occurred, has the deep pockets to compensate the victim and pay attorney’s fees. It is the Catholic Church’s hierarchical form of government which makes the diocese liable for damages to the victims of clergy sexual abuse. While it is impossible to know with any certainty, the statistical evidence discussed in Chapter Three suggests that the rate of abuse among Catholic clergy may not be that different from other groups of clergy, public school teachers, and the population in general. Has the state tort law resulted in the situation in which the Catholic Church is exposed to a disproportionate burden to pay damages because of its hierarchical form of government?
In other words, does state law increase the risk of financial burden on a truly hierarchical church as opposed to those churches less hierarchical? This constitutional question is rendered all the more acute in light of the nineteenth century struggle of the Catholic Church to organize its property in accord with its hierarchical form of governance rather than the congregational form.
Apart from the nineteenth century record of anti-Catholicism in state law, the neutrality of state law with regard to church governance is called into question any time the law significantly influences the diocese to act contrary to canon law. If the state tort law exerts an influence over the religious freedom of a church to adopt a hierarchical form of internal governance it seems to raise a First Amendment issue. In a lawsuit against the diocese brought by victims of clergy sexual abuse, it is obviously beneficial to the diocese to claim that parish property does not count as part of the diocesan assets. The form of separate parish incorporation most financially advantageous to a diocese in defending against a plaintiff’s lawsuit would be one in which the diocese and the bishop actually had no control over parish assets. However, such a form of separate incorporation remains contrary to the one suggested by the Holy See to the bishops of the United States at the start of the twentieth century in which the bishop retains actual control over the separate parish incorporation consistent with the requirement of canon law. Has not state law has created the conditions in which the diocese would be more protected from financial liability if the diocese denies the hierarchical from and adopts a congregational form of governance?.......................
...................First, I am not arguing the First Amendment ought always to immunize religious entities from liability under state tort law. The church that negligently fails to repair its property, causing some innocent person to slip and fall, cannot claim that the First Amendment bars the victim from bringing a lawsuit under the neutral application of law. Rather, when tort liability significantly influences a decision such as who is fit for priestly ministry or what form of internal governance a church ought to adopt, it seems to me that the First Amendment must function to protect the church’s autonomy to reach such a decision free of government influence. In this regard, a church is different for constitutional purposes from any other corporate entity. For example, the First Amendment is not in play when a public school teacher sexually abuses a minor after the school had notice of a prior allegation of sexual abuse against the teacher. The teacher, administrator, and school district may be liable for damages under neutral application of law. The same is true of the Catholic hospital where surgical negligence by medical staff results in injury to the patient. On the other hand, the law loses its neutrality if the basis for liability acts as incentive for the church to adopt policies contrary to its religious beliefs.
Second, I do not think that the constitutional issues are resolved by the claim that state tort law is only influencing church policy and not directly controlling it. If the secular government says to the church, you are free to assign whomever you like to ministry without government interference, but adds if you should assign a convicted felon who then commits another crime, you will open yourself to enormous financial liability under state law, it seems to me that government position is acting to influence the church policy on fitness for ministry just as surely as a direct government usurpation of the authority to make such decisions would.
Likewise, if the government says to the church you are free to adopt whatever internal form of governance your religious creed might require, but adds if you adopt the hierarchical form rather than a congregational one, you may be financially penalized even to the point of bankruptcy, it is akin to a state law that requires churches to adopt the congregational form of government. In either case, the proximity of the impact of the state policy is not remote, rather it has a clear influence on a question that is from the church’s perspective essentially religious. This is precisely what the First Amendment was intended to prevent.
Could it be that the application of neutral tort rules in cases of clergy sexual abuse at the start of the twenty first century is accomplishing what plainly anti-Catholic statutes and court decisions could not accomplish during the nineteenth century? This returns us to Howe’s question with which I introduced this section on neutral rules: “Is it possible, perhaps that a church is denied its constitutional liberty in a state which compels it to adopt a form of government which its tradition repudiates?”
Mark De Wolf Howe is also quoted as saying about church-state issues, “what you think of all these questions depends on what you think of the Catholic Church.” It may also be the case that one’s answers to the constitutional questions about religious liberty correspond to whether one accepts the assumptions of canon law or the secular state about the proper relationship between church and state. To be sure, the First Amendment does not supply us with clear answers to precise legal questions but only some general principles on which to base such conclusions. Just as certainly, the adoption of the First Amendment was in no small part motivated by the desire to protect the church and religious liberty from the state and not to empower a dominant secular state.
-- the end --
i.e., where in the Sam Hill is the Annual Report of the Diocese of Springfield for June 30, 2007 - June 30, 2008?
and, where is the Annual Report of the Diocese of Springfield for June 30, 2008 - June 30, 2009?
Historic district won't help church's future
December 07, 2009 Springfield’s Historical Commission erred last week when it recommended that the City Council create a historic district to save Our Lady of Hope Church.
Please don’t get us wrong. Hungry Hill without Our Lady of Hope Church is inconceivable. The neighborhood and the church have walked arm–in–arm for so long that it would be a tragedy – perhaps a travesty – to demolish or drastically alter a building that has served as a spiritual home and symbol for thousands of people.
But we also recognize that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield cannot live on spiritual symbols alone. Faced with changing demographics and a drop in priests and nuns, church officials decided to close Our Lady of Hope along with several other churches in the region.
The decision was painful, but necessary. And now that the diocese will have to dispose of the building, we believe the diocese – not the City Council – has the unquestioned right to deal with the situation.
A historic district would unfairly tie the diocese’s hands and prevent it from carrying out its overall mission. It could not stop the diocese from closing or selling the church, but the Historical Commission would have to sign off on the building’s demolition or exterior alterations. That could violate the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment.
Although the parishes are the bedrock of the church in Western Massachusetts, they are not its only mission. The diocese oversees a variety of charitable missions that require financial and administrative support.
We believe the diocese and parishioners should sit down and devise a practical plan for the building’s future. A historic district will only place an adversarial roadblock in a situation that calls for cooperation.
We hope Our Lady of Hope Church is standing 100 years from now, but we do think it’s the diocese’s right to carry out its mission. We would hate to see the church wind up like the old Hampden County Jail. It was unused, dilapidated and, in the end, most folks were glad to see it go. Our Lady of Hope Church deserves a better fate.
This editorial is heartfelt and would give an open minded person pause if the organization in question was well-connected to basic human values, including historic preservation, was open to dialogue with its members, and was proven to be aboveboard in its financial dealings.
The Diocese of Springfield has shown time and time again that it is none of these things. They think they are above the law - and this is not just an analogy - they really do think they are above the law, and have said so on too many occasions to count. Because of this obstinacy, stronger medicine is called for, and the historic district may not be perfect, but it may at least slow them down.
Such commonly-felt virtues as respect for historic structures means nothing to the Elliot St. crowd, who, we must remember, were kept on-board to a man when McDonnell replaced Dupre. The self-interest of the Corporation seems to be all-encompassing. Nor do they appear to be interested in what their members, who are rightly described here as the bedrock, think and feel and say. Free speech within the Catholic church, for dues-paying members, simply does not exist.
I realize that these are strong statements, but there can be no other explanation for why officials have tried to pass off the Pastoral Planning process as "representative", "fair and transparent" and so on when every Catholic with a brain understands full well that hand-picking representatives, limiting debate, conducting secret meetings, and dropping decrees on parishes like so many bombs conveys the opposite message.
My final theme, financial transparency, is the icing on the cake.
Most Catholics, even so-called devout Catholics, will be very surprised to hear that this Diocese, the one that has closed or altered beyond recognition 29 parishes in the last few years, has not even bothered to provide the most basic level of financial disclosure. They have not published annual reports for the last two fiscal years. Let me say that again: NO annual financial report for june 30, 2007 - june 30, 2008, and NO annual financial report for june 30, 2008 - june 30, 2009. The big question is: Why? I can think of many reasons, but none of them inspire the trust in the Diocese which this editorial writer is asking for.
With this background, the editorial writer should do a mea culpa and re-write this editorial. He or she should especially study that ever since the Mullin Report in March of 2007, the parishes of this Diocese have been put under a microscope; they have been chastised for not doing more, for not contributing more, for not being more, indeed, as if they have failed.....and in the very same time period, this Diocese could not even be bothered to put the most basic information out there for all to see about the larger picture, so that the cards are on the table.
In one word.....
The following parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield have filed appeals to keep their churches open:
Chicopee: Assumption of the Blessed Mary, St. George, St. Patrick
Easthampton: Sacred Heart of Jesus
Holyoke: Mater Dolorosa
Ludlow: St. Mary of the Assumption
Northampton: St. John Cantius, Sacred Heart
Springfield: Immaculate Conception
The reporter, Jeanette Deforge, did a great job of rounding up all the latest information.
The article continues below:
Members of Assumption of Blessed Mary Church in Chicopee appeals closure plans by Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield
Nov. 4, 2009
CHICOPEE – They call their church an “exquisite jewel” with stained-glass fleur-di-lis doors, an altar created in Italy and a relief panel in which the building’s architect is said to have depicted the face of his granddaughter on one of the cherubs surrounding Mary.
Members of Assumption of the Blessed Mary Church here are joining a growing number of parishes across Western Massachusetts which are appealing plans by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield to close their doors.
Nine among the 19 churches in Hampden and Hampshire counties identified in August by the diocese for closure have filed appeals. The diocese says the changes are needed to address dwindling numbers of Catholics and a shortage of priests.
Already one church – Immaculate Conception in Springfield’s Indian Orchard neighborhood – has won a temporary reprieve from the order to close. Its parishioners have used everything from highway billboards and social networking on Twitter to draw attention to their, and other churches in the diocese are lining up to ask – and pray – for reconsideration by the diocese.
At another church, St. Patrick’s, also in Chicopee, parishioners are set to hold a vigil on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. at the church at 319 Broadway to bring attention to their fight to stay open.
Assumption parishioners gathered recently to develop a strategy and came up with a long list of reasons for why it should not close, said Marie Proulx Meder, who is leading the fight.
“One of the main things is the condition of the church,” she said. “Our church has been fully renovated, not one but twice with funds donated by parishioners and has been fully maintained.”
The final Mass at Assumption, as at St. Patrick’s, is to be Nov. 29, the first Sunday in Advent. In all, five parishes in Chicopee are to be affected by the diocese’s plans for the future, and the parishioners know they have their work cut out for them.
“We talked about having a vigil in early November and fund-raising to hire a Vatican lawyer,” Meder said.
The group of about 20 parishioners has also asked the Rev. John J. Bonzagni, the monsignor who heads the Pastoral Planning Committee that decided the churches to be closed, to meet with the congregation. It has also filed a second appeal asking the diocese to delay the closing until at least December, Meder said.
The church, which now has about 1,200 members, was formed in 1874 in a building on Academy Street. It then moved to Front Street, but when a fire destroyed that building it built the existing building on Springfield Street in 1922.
Meder’s grandmother was among some of the first parishioners and her daughters, who are 22 and 28, are the fourth generation of her family who attends the church.
“I remember my grandmother would tell me they used to have French plays,” Meder said. “These were big, elaborate productions.”
The church has no debt, is located in the so-called “Catholic corridor” of Chicopee that includes Elms College and the new Holyoke Catholic High School. Its church hall has been used by many organizations, according to the parish group. Its location, in fact, apparently prompted the diocese to float a plan to have the church and its hall become part of Holyoke Catholic if it is closed as a parish church.
“People are concerned about the many French parishes that are closing,” added Meder. “We want to make sure the French heritage is maintained, and our church is a beautiful example of the French-Canadian heritage.”
While that is a legitimate goal, there are still a number of French churches in the area, including St. Rose de Lima Church, also in Chicopee, said Mark E. Dupont, spokesman for the diocese. Dupont noted that St. Rose and Immaculate Conception church in Holyoke continue to offer French masses.
Dupont also said the diocese is working to ensure the churches which do close are memorialized. Artifacts such as statues are to be incorporated into the parish which receive the new members, and some traditions may be adopted by the new church.
The Pastoral Planning Committee, which included a dozen people, including some lay people, selected the churches to close. It conducted listening sessions with parish members before making the final decision, Dupont said.
While geography was important, the group also looked at demographics, the financial health of parishes and examined the number of baptisms and deaths to see if the parish was growing, he said.
Dupont said Bonzagni has been willing to visit any parish to discuss the closings.
Church law calls for an official decree to be issued before parishioners can file an appeal. The decree is expected to be finalized this month, but the bishop, the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, is accepting the appeals early, Dupont said.
“From the time the decree is issued, the bishop has 30 days to act on an appeal,” he said. If McDonnell denies the appeal, or does not act on it, the parish members can then take their pleas to the Vatican, according to Dupont.
The diocese declined identify parishes which have filed appeals, but many have sought help from members of St. Stanislaus Church in Adams. St. Stanislaus has been fighting a decree to close since August 2008, holding a round-the-clock vigil for more than a year, said Francis J. Hajdas, a vigil organizer.
Of the six parishes which sought advice for filing appeals, Assumption, St. George’s and St. Patrick’s are located in Chicopee. Others are Immaculate Conception in Springfield, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Easthampton and St. John Cantius in Northampton, he said.
Additionally St. Mary of the Assumption in Ludlow, Mater Dolorosa in Holyoke and Sacred Heart in Northampton also filed appeals early, members or church officials told The Republican.
Members of several other parishes, including St. Joseph in Hatfield and St. Patrick in South Hadley are discussing if they will file an appeal once the decree is issued.
The bishop delivered the reprieve to Immaculate Conception at Mass on Sunday. The parish, among the most vocal to date to fight the closures, has been raising money to hire a lawyer, held a number of vigils and petitioned the city for a zone change to protect the church in the event it is ever sold.
Some churches are simply closing. Others, including Assumption Church and Immaculate Conception, are to be merged with existing parishes.
The plan calls for Assumption to join with Holy Name Church, which is located less than a mile away and was the first parish of the diocese. The two already share a priest, the Rev. David Darcy, according to Dupont.
The plan recommends the Assumption church, and hall be used by the new Holyoke Catholic which was built without a gymnasium or auditorium. But, there is no final decision if that will actually happen, Dupont said.
“That clearly will be a matter of discussion between Holy Name, Holyoke Catholic and the diocese,” Dupont said.
The following parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield have filed appeals to keep their churches open:
Chicopee: Assumption of the Blessed Mary, St. George, St. Patrick
Easthampton: Sacred Heart of Jesus
Holyoke: Mater Dolorosa
Ludlow: St. Mary of the Assumption
Northampton: St. John Cantius, Sacred Heart
Springfield: Immaculate Conception
1. Open the books.
- Church officials consistently say that no parts of the Diocese are connected to any other part – the parish closings are not connected to the abuse settlements, and neither are connected to the weekly collections, and none of that has anything to do with hospitals, cemeteries, schools, or the chancery budget. The problem is, no one believes this!
Therefore, opening the books so that parishioners can judge for themselves how things are connected would be a step forward.
- case in point: Bishop Dupre
Bishop McDonnell, I suggest you publish information about costs of any kind associated with Bishop Dupre. Come clean. This would be a win-win-win because it would start Bishop Dupre on the road to rehabilitation, assure parishioners that the Diocese has acted honorably and has nothing to hide, and demonstrate that the Diocese has the courage to follow Gospel values. Is it possible to imagine Dupre's rehabilitation? Did Christ rise?
2. Stop acting like a corporation, and start acting like a church.
- Bishop McDonnell, following in the footsteps of Bishop Dupre, your first move in Springfield was to fire Fr. Jim Scahill, an outspoken critic, from the Presbyteral Council. Then, like Dupre, you instructed our lawyers to continue protecting the assets of corporation sole at all costs.
This strategy has had some success (abuse settlements have been far less than in other dioceses). But, your strategy has also had a devastating effect on the spirit of the laity. Preserving dollar amounts in our bank accounts should never come at the expense of our most vulnerable members. Parishioners are rightly shamed by this abandonment of our core values.
- case in point: "Child Protection".
This is the Annual Report category dreamed up by corporate accountants, and approved by you, which pays settlements for child sexual abuse and the associated civil and canonical fees for our lawyers. This language is scandalous, and a good example of corporate spin. Instead, be truthful. Call the category what it is. More important, instruct our lawyers to defend Gospel values, rather than corporate ones.
3. Discover the laity.
- Find out who they are, what they want, and how they can contribute.
- case in point: Parish councils.
You mandate parish councils for each parish, and your guidelines encourage lay participation. Then, you allow your pastors to ignore you. At least half the parishes have no council, and few of the remaining have an effective one. Result: the parishes, just like the diocese, are run according to the "my way or the highway" book of unwritten rules.
Stop the hypocrisy. Insist on a real, binding parish council program that will help govern the church and allow parishioners to live up to their baptismal obligations. In the process you help to restore your own credibility.
4. Embrace free speech.
Free speech is not only a civil right – it is essential for the growth of the church. Stop the pretense that only the clergy know what is best for the church. Use the abundant avenues (newspaper, public meetings, web, mail) for openness and transparency. Apply to mail.yahoo.com for your very own free email address today – and publish your address.
- case in point: The Catholic Observer.
Stop using it to Observe the Bishop, to the exclusion of other news. In the Oct. 16 issue, there were 8 pictures of you presiding over the affairs of the Diocese in full Bishop's regalia. We get it. The Bishop is important.
But, the recent announcements of parish closings or mergers of 19 parishes are also important, and there was not one word about them in the issue of Oct. 16, nor on Oct. 30. Why?
5. Abandon the Parish Closing Program.
- The recent plan to close or merge 19 parishes was hatched in secret meetings. This is against Gospel values. The program is a mistake. Therefore, do what you tell us to do. Admit the mistake, say you're sorry, scrap the program, and start over.
- case in point: IOICC
The decision to close IOICC was a catastrophic miscalculation. Based on what I've learned about the commitment and determination of the parish to stay alive, I predict that you, Bishop McDonnell, will lose this fight.
Having said that, the other 18 parishes on the chopping block present a rather large problem. They are not likely to tolerate seeing only one parish spared. The only win-win I can see is to start the process over, and this time, ditch the secret meetings.
Bishop Timothy McDonnell: "...we are a pilgrim people ... We're asking them to move maybe across the city, maybe across city lines, maybe to another parish." (Aug. 29, Springfield Republican)
Is it rude to point out that the Bishop hasn't the faintest idea where the people of the affected parishes will go? It's notable that he says "we" are a pilgrim people - but all the pilgrims in this caravan appear to be parishioners.
This is not the way that canon law is supposed to work! The stable communities of the faithful (parishes) are supposed to have an individual identity, as well as a great deal to say about what happens to their property. Parishioners should be involved from day one of the decision-making process. They should help mold the decisions.
They would then move en masse to the appropriate welcoming parish, and it would be a disciplined choice, not the free-for-all that Bishop McDonnell suggests. Because of geography, cultural patterns, finances and neighboring parishes, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to change. Change can be managed. However, in order to succeed, it needs trust, open communication, and leadership.
Msgr. John Bonzagni: Bonzagni stressed, however, that he is not aware of any successful appeals in such matters. "Usually, all Rome is interested in is the process", Bonzagni said. "They just want to know that canon law has been followed." (Aug. 31, Springfield Republican)
One statement is untrue, the other is fudging the truth. The Congregation for the Clergy considers both procedure (de procedendo) and facts (de decernendo) when they deliberate. It is absolutely the case that the facts of each situation are considered, and not just how many i's are dotted and how many t's are crossed. It is a mystery why Msgr. Bonzagni, a canon lawyer, would suggest otherwise.
As far as the success rate of parish appeals, it may be true that no parish has yet succeeded at the Congregation for the Clergy level, but this is splitting hairs. Msgr. Bonzagni neglects to mention that there is a higher level yet, the so-called "Supreme Court" of the Vatican, the Apostolic Signatura, which could hear a new appeal, should the initial appeal fail.
Moreover, resistance to the authority of the local bishop has been far more effective than Bonzagni suggests. For example, in 2004, the Boston Archdiocese announced a reconfiguration plan to suppress 83 parishes out of 357 parishes. By the fall, over a dozen had resisted, and eight more parishes had gone into vigil to keep their parishes open.
In November 2004, the reconfiguration plan was put on hold as a direct result of the resistance. In the Spring of 2005, the decision to close 12 parishes was reversed. Bottom line, 65 parishes were closed, a far different number than the 83 that were to be extinguished. So, it is ludicrous to suggest that no resisting parish has been successful when we know that 18 suppressions were either put on hold, or are the subject of on-going appeals in Boston.
We could also note the dozens and dozens more parishes that have filed appeals, especially in Cleveland, all of which are piling up on the Vatican's doorsteps. Though not yet successful, they are being seriously considered by Rome - a point that Msgr. Bonzagni would apparently like to deny or downplay.
Msgr. John Bonzagni: quoted in an article by Bill Peters, who said:"What's more, studying for priesthood can take longer now than it once did. While that's often for the best, Bonzagni said that, given the priest shortage, the Church has no "back bench" whose talents they can spend time nurturing more fully." (interview with the Pioneer Valley Buzz, Sept. 8)
"Back bench"!? Whether this glib comment was directed at less-experienced priests, the deacons or the laity, it is disrespectful, and yet another example, along with his "tarring the driveway" comment, that he is seriously out of touch with the reality of the situation. No wonder the rationale of the parish closing program has been so flaky. Why are not the talents of the laity being "nurtured more fully" with regard to liturgy? Why do they continue to be treated like glorified altar boys and girls?
Elsewhere Bonzagni called the parish closing program "fair and transparent" and claimed that all parishioners were represented. These vague references to "fairness", "tranparency" and "representation" are apparently supposed to substitute for real participation by parishioners.
If the Monsignor would spend some time in other jurisdictions studying how the laity can be involved in the liturgy (yes, it is possible), and implement some of those programs here, he might not need to be so dismissive of the "back bench". I would suggest looking at Brazil, where 80% of all Sunday celebrations are led by the laity. As opposed to how many in Springfield?
For an excellent summary of the situation in Brazil, see this article from Notre Dame.
Mark Dupont: "He [Bishop McDonnell] will certainly consider every appeal that comes before him, but the parish selections were not made overnight. There was a four-year study with 12 committee members and parishioner listening sessions before any of these decisions were made." (Sept. 6, Springfield Republican)
Mark Dupont has more spin than Mariano Rivera's cut fastball!
OK, now I get it. It's all that hard STUDY that explains the decision to close a vibrant parish without any debt that just spent about a half-million of their own money for infrastructure with the bishop's blessing.
Thank you Mark "Mariano" Dupont for clearing that up!
Diocesan Press Release: "Msgr. Bonzagni, who was appointed director of the Office of Pastoral Planning nearly five years ago, and the committee have met with parishioners from all across the diocese through large dialogue sessions that they called “listening sessions.” These sessions began in November 2007 and incorporated every parish and mission in the diocese. The final listening session was held last May." (Aug., Diocesan web site)
Number one, the listening sessions were pathetically inadequate to their billing. They consisted of a single session where upwards of 100 and 150 people were supposed to - do what exactly? - in a gym or cafeteria over the course of a day. That's one short day to decide the fate of a parish that may have existed for 100 years.
And by the way, "every parish and mission" was not included in listening sessions, not by a long shot. Mine (St. Mary's in Lee) definitely was not. How can I be sure? Simple, I keep the weekly bulletins. Come to my house and I'll show you the blank space where there is NOT ONE MENTION of the listening sessions in my bulletins over the last several years. Completely missing in action!
Also, please note: "...the final listening session was held last May..."??? Like, it's all said and done, and they've officially stopped listening?
This is a perversion of the Catholic system, not an example of it, which is odd, coming from people who are supposed to know better.
There is a large idea lacking here and it is called: community.
How does this relate? Well, if you believe that the church is the People of God, a community which is a living reality, you would never consider - even for a minute - that a conversation needed to be scheduled, or that a conversation has ended. There would be no point at which the conversation would cease. In fact, it would resemble free speech, one of our great civil rights, except that it would be free church speech.
And why should church officials be afraid of free church speech?
5 Reasons Why The PCP Is Wrong
Church officials in the Springfield Diocese have announced that 19 parishes will close or merge in the coming months. This Parish Closing Program (PCP) is wrong. Let us count the ways.
1. The PCP does not follow church teaching.
Without question, the church is going through challenging times, and changes have to be made. The question is, how should change occur? Above all, church teachings should be followed.
The Spirit speaks to the Church through all of its members.
In the Body of Christ, no one is any more baptized than anyone else.
All believers are important, and should be heard.
The "listening sessions", supposedly enacted to give a "voice" to the people in each parish, were not worthy of church principles. A look at a leaked copy of the guidelines shows that those who are almost certainly the most knowledgeable about the parishes (those on the parish councils) were systematically excluded from these sessions. Only one parish council member per parish was allowed.
Those participating were hand-picked by the pastor. The guidelines state that no one with an "agenda" of any kind was welcome (though "agenda" was not defined). People who needed "convincing" also were excluded, although there is no hint of what they were supposed to be convinced of.
To call these guidelines tone-deaf would be a compliment! It's obvious in retrospect that a leading purpose was to provide cover for the decisions, so that "parishioner input" could be claimed later on.
The true principles are also important for parish property, which belongs to the people of each parish. The Bishop is the trustee of the property, but he is never the owner. There should be no place in the church for secret meetings, like those of the pastoral planning committee, that bypass this principle.
At the heart of Christianity is hope – hope that change for the better is possible. The PCP defeats hope by insisting that the ability to do things (power) must remain in the hands of a few, rather than the hands of the many.
2. The PCP is built on false premises.
Church officials say "fewer priests must mean fewer parishes." If this is true, then it makes sense that a 4,000 member parish must die because there is no priest to live there. But, the idea that a solvent, well-attended parish of this size cannot find any combination of lay people that are capable of running it is ridiculous. It is also manifestly untrue, since lay people already do most of the work. The laity of today are the best educated and most affluent in the history of the United States.
Church officials say, in so many words, that "equal access to the Eucharist is more important than local communities." But, the priesthood exists to serve parishioners. The power of the clergy is the power to serve.
Certainly, the Eucharist is a sacrament. But, gathering together in a community is also a sacrament. The rules of the PCP ignore community in favor of top-down decision-making which is accountable to no one - not to the parishioners, not to the civil authorities, and not even to the hard-working priests who provide the Eucharist. This ordering is a perversion of true Catholic principles.
Church officials have claimed throughout the PCP that "money has nothing to do with it." This premise is so blatantly false that they often admit, in the next breath, that money does indeed have something to do with it - thus compromising their integrity.
Church officials say that a purpose of the Mullin Report was to "examine the infrastructure of the Diocese". This premise is false. The report was exclusively about parishes. No chancery, school, cemetery, hospital, investment, insurance, or foundation data came under scrutiny. Plus, there was no new research. It was a re-hash of information about baptisms, funerals and finances that officials were well aware of. This information could have come from only one place - the chancery. This makes the presentation and conclusions of the report highly questionable.
3. The PCP causes alienation.
It is impossible to ignore the alienating effects of the PCP, even though as Christians we're committed to rise above them. At the same time, it would be cowardly to pretend that this is the best that can be done.
Parishes are groups of souls - they are not operating units of the Diocese of Springfield, Inc. Pastors are lifted up by the Spirit to lead and serve parishes - they are not imposed from above like branch managers at Subway or supervisors at IBM.
The PCP is harmful to the goal of the parish (saving souls) because souls cannot be saved if they are not in the pews. Too many have become disgusted with the process, lost faith, and left.
When we look closer at the process, we understand why. The PCP pretends that decisions about parish life must be made by the so-called "higher clergy", that they must be black and white, and that acceptance of the decisions is a matter of faith and morals, and a test of loyalty. These assertions are alienating, and they are untrue.
4. The PCP promotes a false view of the Diocese of Springfield.
We must see the Diocese as it is, and the first step toward that goal is to realize that corporation sole is not the Diocese. Corporation sole is essentially a bookkeeping arrangement with the State.
It is a convenient way of avoiding probate when property is passed down to the next generation. The corporate identity of the Springfield Diocese is entirely different than the canonical identity of the Springfield Diocese, with different rules, a different outlook and a different reason for being - yet this Bishop acts as if they are one and the same.
5. The PCP turns church officials into hypocrites.
The teaching authority of this Bishop has been compromised by his decisions about abuse victims - which mirrored those of his predecessors. The authority of the office needs to be restored, and yet, the PCP subverts this goal.
Truth is the cornerstone for the religious as well as for the secular press. But, by choosing to follow this parish closing process according to made-up rules, the Bishop has given up the moral high ground. This abandonment of the truth is made clear by official reactions to each and every criticism and legitimate question about the PCP.
The shrillness of the PR statements, the head-in-the-sand articles in the Catholic Observer, the glib attempts to avoid accountability – all are examples of reaction. They do not show genuine pastoral care, nor the fidelity to truth that parishioners deserve.
Of all the effects of the PCP, this is the most public, and very possibly the most embarrassing to rank-and-file parishioners. The display of this hypocrisy tarnishes all of the People of God.
If therefore in the Church everyone does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God. And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ. For the distinction which the Lord made between sacred ministers and the rest of the People of God bears within it a certain union, since pastors and the other faithful are bound to each other by a mutual need. Pastors of the Church, following the example of the Lord, should minister to one another and to the other faithful. These in their turn should enthusiastically lend their joint assistance to their pastors and teachers. Thus in their diversity all bear witness to the wonderful unity in the Body of Christ. This very diversity of graces, ministries and works gathers the children of God into one, because "all these things are the work of one and the same Spirit".
Therefore, from divine choice the laity have Christ for their brothers who though He is the Lord of all, came not to be served but to serve. They also have for their brothers those in the sacred ministry who by teaching, by sanctifying and by ruling with the authority of Christ feed the family of God so that the new commandment of charity may be fulfilled by all. St. Augustine puts this very beautifully when he says: "What I am for you terrifies me; what I am with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop; but with you I am a Christian. The former is a duty; the latter a grace. The former is a danger; the latter, salvation".
The laity are gathered together in the People of God and make up the Body of Christ under one head. Whoever they are they are called upon, as living members, to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church and its continuous sanctification, since this very energy is a gift of the Creator and a blessing of the Redeemer.
The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself.....
I'm putting this up and also forwarding it to Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the Diocese, post haste.
Reason: he seems not to be aware of the importance of the laity.
At least, that is the impression he left on Sept 9 when he said: "To keep the priesthood structure viable, we have to make these cuts now", in a story from the Register (Palmer area), as a way to justify the merging or closing of 14 parishes.
We need to keep the "priesthood structure" viable, above all else?
Couple things wrong with this picture.
(1) Christ went out of his way to say that he was not out to establish a priesthood. Quite the contrary. He was against the existing priesthood. Look it up. Don't get me wrong. I don't hate priests. It's just that the People of God are all the people of God, working in a true equality...not just the priests and bishops and pope. "True equality" means speaking to each other, especially about important matters such as the life and death of parishes.
(2) The "structure of the priesthood", granted that it is important, is only a part of the whole. This structure grew, went through many changes, and has been changed before. It will be changed again. It is not inviolate and all-important. It is ridiculous to say that if there are fewer priests, it must necessarily follow that there must be fewer parishes.
(3) If you reflect on this passage from Lumen Gentium, you can't miss the implication that the laity have a basic dignity and equality with the clergy. By the way, this is church doctrine we're talking about.
This lay dignity is compromised by the underhanded, secretive, dirt-eating way that the decisions were made on parish closings. Furthermore, this dignity is again insulted when the Diocese puts out misinformation and disinformation in order to justify its position.
The officials of the Diocese, including Mark Dupont, are better people than they have been showing us. I expect more.
I will do two things. 1. pray for them. 2. send them a complete fresh copy of Lumen Gentium, with notes, since it appears they lost their original copy behind the DVD player.