The Elliot St. Spin Machine Updated

Point/Counterpoint: This week the WMC news team examines:


I was betting that the bishop's Spin Machine would go into overdrive after the recent appeals of 9 parishes (out of 14) went public. Hoo, boy, was I right.

By the way, there is a debate why the number of parishes affected by the changes varies from 14 (as reported by the Republican for the last few weeks) and 19 (as reported in this chancery article). I just found out the reason - according to the Diocese, 5 of the affected parishes were given extensions until next year. Still, 9 out of 19 is nearly 50% - an ungodly percentage of opposition, especially since the Diocese likes to claim that the process was "fair and transparent". Like, everybody is on board with this, and everything has been up front? Don't think so.

Also, by the way, I attended a meeting at Indian Orchard Immaculate Conception Church on Mon. night. I was most impressed. This is a parish family. They appear to be well on their way to saving their parish from an arbitrary and inept death sentence imposed by church officials. Their pastor is a priest of integrity. His pastoral care for his people does not allow him to desert them in their time of need. May God bless him and keep him. It's a good sign that the number of publicly visible priests of integrity in the Diocese has doubled in the last few weeks!

For those not paying attention, the other one is Fr. Jim Scahill.

Two documents were read. One was from Bishop McDonnell acknowledging receipt of their appeal. He stated that the appeal was premature as he has not issued the official decree yet, and advised re-sending the appeal after he has issued the decree.

This is a little puzzling because in many other situations the bishop has issued closing notices as announcements from the pulpit and not even bothered to publish a decree (the announcement from the pulpit serving as the public "notification"). The big problem with the pulpit notifications is that they are like dropping a bomb on the congregation - there is no time to group together and respond in 10 days if you don't see it coming! Plus, using the pulpit reinforces that all chancery decisions are for "the good of the Church", and these governance decisions are more likely to be perceived as connected to faith and morals. In recent years as appeals have become more common, the decrees have been published in diocesan newspapers or on the web, which is certainly an improvement.

The other announcement was that Msgr. Bonzagni is inviting all pastors to form a committee from their parishioners and attend a workshop. The purpose of the workshop is to help parishes, including appealing parishes, better grapple with changes due to the recent announcements about closings, mergers and so on. His fax states explicitly that participants must be hand-picked by the pastors and that it is not a "gripe" session and that there will be no discussion allowed on the topics of changing any of the decisions and that all of the decisions will be made as planned.

I could be wrong, but I believe that the title of the workshop is something like "Moving On". This seems almost like a fake headline (the only thing missing is the exclamation point [Moving On!] at the end) but the depth of diocesan incompetence is so deep that they might just have convinced themselves that this is a good way to cheer people up and win their cooperation. I couldn't help but notice that the fax included "...I apologize for faxing this but it's necessary due to the urgency of the situation...". Does that sound frantic to anyone else?

At any rate, the audience at IOICC did not think much of the idea.

After debate it was decided not to attend the meeting, since the attendance of parish representatives would send the message that the parish accepted the decision that they will be closed. End of story on that one.

Below are excerpts from an article on IObserve, the web site of chancery world headquarters. I highly recommend that those interested in the appeals read the article. My comments are in brackets [like this].

This article is great news for the appealing parishes. On the surface all is well, but look closer and you can see the beads of sweat. And believe me, I can see the sweat stains from here. The hypocrisy and incoherence between the lines proves that the chancery is on the run. There can be no other explanation.

To start, here's the making-lemonade-out-of-lemons headline for the fact that 65% of the parishioners in the soon-to-be-altered parishes in the Springfield area refuse to fall on the sword:


By Terence Hegarty

SPRINGFIELD – Since late last month, many parishioners in Hampden and Hampshire counties have been dealing with pain, sorrow and questions......As of press time, nine parishes had each filed an appeal with Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell regarding the decisions concerning their parishes..........“Appeals are a normal part of the process,” said Msgr. John J. Bonzagni, director of the diocese’s Pastoral Planning Office. “Often, parishioners need to feel that they’ve done everything they can. That’s perfectly understandable.”....................

[my comment: Unbelievable! Number one, appeals in the Springfield Diocese are almost unheard of! 9 out of 14 is a huge number, no matter how you spin it! But wait, maybe the Monsignor has a point. Maybe I'm too harsh. Maybe he's right that this is "normal" and that the Bishop actually enjoys having parishioners marching on his front lawn on Sunday morning with signs saying "DON'T DESTROY OUR HOME"?????

AS IF!!!!

No, Monsignor, this is not group therapy, parishioners are not kids with scraped knees, and appeals are NOT a normal part of the process! And by the way, saying that "...parishioners need to feel that they’ve done everything they can..." is patronizing and insults the dignity of the laity, thank you very much.

Appeals are a rejection of the process! I can give first-hand experience because my parish, St. Francis in So. Lee, was closed abruptly in 2006. It wasn't easy, but we learned how to appeal on our own. Guess who our priest was? Bonzagni! Guess who never lifted a finger to help us appeal? Bonzagni! He vanished!!! Throughout the entire appeal process, which took about two years, no local cleric lifted a finger to help us, and every other parish which appealed will tell you the exact same thing! Believe!

On the other hand, we were treated with courtesy and efficiency by the Papal Nuncio in Washington, and received several important documents from Rome explaining (in broken English) why they were supporting the local bishop. We got the full treatment, formal Latin documents, several times, with lovely embossed Papal Seals on them.

At least we were heard! Guess what we got from Bishop McDonnell? The sum total of his involvement was two short paragraphs basically telling us to get lost! In two years! And, he sent those only when he had to. Otherwise, we were totally ignored, especially in the first 30 days, when he "responded by not responding"! So much for pastoral concern! So, to say that "...this is a normal part of the process..." is nothing but spin-o-matic, pure and simple.

The reality is that Bonzagni and the Bishop are PRAYING that the parishioners fold up like a cheap suitcase, the sooner the better! Believe it! Mark my words, everything the Elliot St. Spin Machine will say and do about this subject in the next month or so will be designed to knock down the appeals by getting parishioners to change their minds! ]

....Two other parishes that have decided not to wait to work together are St. Mary of the Assumption and St. John the Baptist parishes in Ludlow. ...............Father John E. Connors, pastor at St. Mary Parish, said he and his parishioners responded to the news of the merger with a variety of emotions. “People had many feelings that included shock and surprise, sadness and grief,” he said. “Continued feelings of anxiety and shock still linger.”
But, he said the parishioners and he began to work together with St. John parishioners and their pastor, Msgr. Homer P. Gosselin.
“There has been a long history of sharing and caring for one another,” Father Connors wrote in a letter to St. Mary parishioners that he sent out earlier this month. “And that should not stop now.”......

[my comment: again, appeals are not about negative emotions and group therapy! the laity are capable of more than sorrow, pain, anxiety and shock! How about questions that deserve an answer? how about justifiable anger!! how about disgust with the process??!! Is there any one left who thinks that SECRET MEETINGS are a good way to govern?

in case anyone is missing the point, the "cooperating" and "sharing and caring" parishioners are the ones portrayed as wearing the white hats! The other ones (that would be the appealing parishioners, of course) are the ones with the black hats! Does everybody get that? There can be no other explanation for why the editing of the article implies that "sharing and caring" is ONLY possible by working together and accepting the changes! Like, it's not possible to "share and care" if you're appealing? or, if you're not gung-ho for the changes? Apparently not!

Does anyone else notice that the article on Iobserve (which is supposedly "journalism") quotes NO ARGUMENTS from the other points of view, or from the appealing parishes? Hey, all of a sudden, it's like they don't exist!! Gee, I wonder why??!! Are they suddenly not Catholic???

Okay, here's WHY they say this. The Diocese sees the situation in black and white. There are no shades of gray, and there is no reasonable doubt. And especially, there is NO REASON TO THINK that the Bishop will change his mind! There are only parishioners who "work together" and.....................the other kind!]

.....Father Connors told Iobserve that members of each parish council have begun working together and that a merger steering committee has already met................. According to Msgr. Gosselin, five suggestions as to a new parish name to be used when the parishes are merged are being proposed. He said they plan to put the five suggestions on ballots in the pews and have parishioners vote for their preferences.

[my comment: once again, unbelievable spin from the Elliot St. Spin Machine, this time from Monsignor Gosslein, who, like Monsignor Bonzagni and Pomerleau, is a honcho on Elliot St. The message is clear.

"beginning to work together" between parish councils means having a steering committee meeting AFTER the grown-up decision has been made by Elliot St., not BEFORE the decision. If a committee of parishioners met BEFORE the decision, and if it wasn't a secret meeting, maybe the Diocese would have a decision influenced by rank and file parishioners...and, frankly, WHO WANTS THAT???

So, if you live on Elliot St., this makes perfect sense...having parish councils working out the details AFTER the decision has been made. Now here's a question for Elliot St......if the parish councils are as important as you say they are, then why do less than half of the parishes in the diocese have one? Also, if parish councils are so important AFTER the decision, then why are they not important enough to give advice BEFORE the decision, or even to KNOW ABOUT the decision? Ask that question and I guarantee you will get (((radio silence))). Again, the Elliot St. Spin Machine is working overtime.

As for the idea of a "vote" for a name, once again, spin me like around again, Corky, I'm lovin' it! The only reason voting is being publicized now is because parishes elsewhere in the Diocese were outraged (and rightfully so) when they had a new, made-up-on-Elliot-Street name imposed on them after a merger without a shred of input.

By the way, voting has always been allowed by canon law. Is there any doubt why the chancery is thinking of using it now? Exactly, because now they feel like they need to! They're on the run! The Elliot St. Spin Machine is working overtime to convince the appealing parishioners that the chancery has just discovered Democracy! I love this one!!!]

...................In the city of Northampton, a unique model has been proposed, that of team ministry. The pastoral planning recommendation is that the city’s Catholics be served by one parish with a mission church. The team ministry approach is still in the very early stages, according to Msgr.Bonzagni. But, he said the approach, which would utilize two diocesan priests and a “team” of others, including pastoral ministers and possibly deacons, is exciting. “The unique part of this approach would be that this would be a team beyond just the priests,” Msgr. Bonzagni said.
The current Northampton clergy members have all said they would be willing to be reassigned outside of Northampton to allow this new approach to ministry for Catholics in the city to move forward. “It’s very generous and selfless of them to be willing to leave in favor of something new,” Msgr. Bonzagni said.
“The pastors feel that this would be a unique approach and one that had a chance to be successful in Northampton,” Msgr. Bonzagni said. “We’re trying to build on the strength of the Catholic Community of Northampton.”........................

[my comment: Here's why these statements smell bad:

# 1 there is no such thing in canon law as a "Catholic Community of (fill in the blank)". Bonzagni is making this one up! Believe! What we do have in the Catholic church are communities of people. They are called "parishes" and they have a right to exist!
# 2: To reach "beyond the priests" into the ranks of deacons and pastoral ministers is no stretch! how about reaching into the laity? but, there's a reason for where they are "reaching" to. Elliot St. controls every move that the deacons and pastoral assistants make just as much as they control the priests! This labored writing says "oh, ouch, my arm hurts, what a stretch!".

The reality is that the clerics have always been able to include the laity in governing the church. In fact, the laity DO govern most of the day-to-day work of the church, especially the women, and especially in parishes, but they have no recognition for this, and the hierarchy gives them no authority in decision-making. But, the gifts of parishioners are supposed to be recognized and promoted by the hierarchy, and in fact, (and believe me, they really don't want you to know this) THAT'S THEIR MAIN JOB! But when was the last time you saw a press release about that??!!

And this "team ministry" that's being peddled here is not it, either! This is supposedly "exciting", "unique" and a "team approach" to "move forward" and it is a nothing!!! Re-read this section of this press release posing as journalism and tell me where the coherence is! What the Sam Hill are they saying and how will it differ from what we already have????
"...the team ministry approach is still in the very early stages..."
This is a solution in search of a problem!

Bonzagni and the Bishop are trying to pass off this smoke 'n mirrors as progress and "new and improved!".

As if!!!

# 3, the final insult is to pretend that the priests of Northampton have a choice about their assignment! Come on! like suddenly, they have a union? Suddenly, the chancery wants to treat the priests as an integral part of the diocese, instead of being treated like grunts and utility players? EVERYONE KNOWS how the diocese operates, firing and hiring as they please, and punishing those who disagree with them! Let's be real! Like I said before, massive, massive, massive spin! whew! I'm really all spun out now!]

end Point/Counterpoint (ok, rant)