5 Reasons

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.

Some teachings:

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.