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.