Doctrinal Basis for Parish Councils

We've been working toward examining the Bishop's guidelines for parish councils, and this is the post that does it.

But first.....the guidelines remind me that back when I got interested in this topic, in 2007, it was my good friend and WMC cohort Brody Hale who accompanied me on a quest to find out more about the guidelines and about how the Springfield Diocese implements them (or not). We traveled to Springfield on several occasions to take part in planning sessions put on by the chancery.

People sometimes write in to this blog and ask "what's up?" with Brody.  After graduating from Tufts with a double major in history and political science,  he's been in New Orleans for quite a while now, as a teacher in low-income areas.  The program is Teach For America.  Among other adventures, this gave him a front row seat when Archbishop Hughes decided to use police powers to throw some vigiling parishioners out of their churches. Stay tuned for more information about what Brody is up to.
update: OK, no more need to "stay tuned".  I heard from Brody in early June, and he has now joined the ranks of the laid off. He is back in the Berkshires.  Brody is a fine young man who I'm sure will land on his feet.
back to the topic: 

In his cover letter endorsing the parish council guidelines, Bishop McDonnell begins by noting the impetus for forming such groups: "More than 40 years ago, the Second Vatican Council spoke of the need for lay people to exercise more fully their Baptismal roles (Lumen Gentium, 37). One of the answers very soon adopted was the establishment of Parish Pastoral Councils throughout the world...."

" is my wish and mandate that every parish of the diocese have a viable, working and dedicated Parish Pastoral Council.  Where a Parish Pastoral Council does not exist, it must be established in accord with these new guidelines.......since the first Parish Pastoral Councils were established much has changed...they are open more than ever to encouraging the participation, support, and expertise of lay people in parish life. They are meant to help us all implement the mission of being Church at the parish level, the deanery level and the diocesan level..."

In the guidelines, part 3, he gives the canonical basis: "...Canon 208 speaks of everyone's responsibility to work together in the building up of the body of Christ. Canon 529 calls for the pastor to develop structures which incorporate the principles of collaborative responsibility within the parish.....the parishioners are challenged and called to share in the responsibility for the pastoral mission of the church. Each member of the parish is therefore invited to contribute to and support the specific mission and goals of his or her parish. In particular, all members of the parish are invited to be a part of the pastoral planning process through their active prayer, discernment, input, and action."

The Bishop's use of "pastoral planning process" here is specific to each parish.  It is not to be confused with the diocesan-wide pastoral planning process, which is a separate administrative effort launched in March 2007 with the publication of the Mullin Report.

In part 7, under membership: "Care should be taken to ensure that council membership is open to all who have the desire to serve and possess the aptitude for service to the parish..."

In part 8, selection process: "An annual request should be made to the entire parish for suggested new members to serve on the Parish Pastoral Council. The list of those selected should be reviewed...those eligible and willing to serve may be selected, elected or appointed to the council in a manner chosen by the council..."

In part 11, "All parishioners are invited to provide input in developing the parish pastoral plan. Once a plan has been developed council members should continue to seek input and advice from members of the parish at large. Parishioners may submit meeting agenda items two weeks in advance of a meeting. The agenda is to be published and meetings are open to parishioners."

Since the Bishop mentions Lumen Gentium 37 as the prime reason for councils, we include an excerpt:

Lumen Gentium, 37.
"The laity...should openly reveal to them [the clergy] their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. By reason of the knowledge, competence or pre-eminence which they have the laity are empowered--indeed sometimes obliged--to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church. When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose......Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action......A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill its mission for the life of the world."

These new doctrines, so different from the "pay, pray and obey" model which had molded the Catholic laity up to the 1960's,  are supplemented by much else in the Vatican II library.  It's not our intent to go much further with quotes (the Vatican II library is endless, as many know; in fact some well-meaning academics have disappeared into the Vatican II library, never to be seen or heard from again).

However, the following excerpts from the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity seem especially fitting - much of this dovetails with Lumen Gentium 37 and indeed the Decree is even more explicit than Lumen in showing how this collaboration is supposed to work out at the parish level:

From the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity:

Chapter 1, part 2:

"...the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate. No part of the structure of a living body is merely passive but has a share in the functions as well as life of the body: so, too, in the body of Christ, which is the Church, "the whole body . . . in keeping with the proper activity of each part, derives its increase from its own internal development" .
Indeed, the organic union in this body and the structure of the members are so compact that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself.
In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world...

part 3. The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ's Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world. The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate.
One engages in the apostolate through the faith, hope, and charity which the Holy Spirit diffuses in the hearts of all members of the Church.....
For the exercise of this apostolate, the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies the people of God through ministry and the sacraments gives the faithful special gifts also, "allotting them to everyone according as He wills" in order that individuals, administering grace to others just as they have received it, may also be "good stewards of the manifold grace of God", to build up the whole body in charity. From the acceptance of these charisms, including those which are more elementary, there arise for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church, in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who "breathes where He wills". This should be done by the laity in communion with their brothers in Christ, especially with their pastors who must make a judgment about the true nature and proper use of these gifts not to extinguish the Spirit but to test all things and hold for what is good."

here is yet more detail on what Vatican II had to say about parish councils, found in a later part of the Decree:

part 10. "The parish offers an obvious example of the apostolate on the community level inasmuch as it brings together the many human differences within its boundaries and merges them into the universality of the Church. The laity should accustom themselves to working in the parish in union with their priests, bringing to the Church community their own and the world's problems as well as questions concerning human salvation, all of which they should examine and resolve by deliberating in common. As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish.
They should develop an ever-increasing appreciation of their own diocese, of which the parish is a kind of cell, ever ready at their pastor's invitation to participate in diocesan projects. Indeed, to fulfill the needs of cities and rural areas, they should not limit their cooperation to the parochial or diocesan boundaries but strive to extend it to interparochial, interdiocesan, national, and international fields"

To sum up: much food for thought here.  Have a great week, and we will see where this leads in our next installment.

Dupre's Legacy

These missing fiscal years matter, among other reasons, because they're part of the unfulfilled promise of Bishop McDonnell's administration. It may even be accurate to say that they are the culmination of it.

After Bishop Dupre left under a cloud in Feb. of 2004, the experience was so traumatic for parishioners of the Diocese that McDonnell was positively welcomed.  McDonnell was gregarious where Dupre was guarded, New York City garrulous where Dupre was a repressed hometown-boy, plus McDonnell was an experienced public administrator at Catholic Charities in NY.  In contrast,  Dupre was a behind-the-scenes canon lawyer, grim and closeted; even McDonnell's robust size seemed a startling contrast to that of the Mr. Peepers-like Dupre, and a change for the better.

Alas, it  hasn't worked out that way.  It was McDonnell, not Dupre, who in 2004 orchestrated a hasty 7 million dollar conclusion to the 50 some odd sexual abuse cases that Dupre had been sitting on for years.  It was McDonnell who then fought the insurance lawyers tooth and nail to recover the 7 million (while continuing to hold 59 more victims hostage during the three-year trial).  And it was McDonnell who managed to reduce the victim's awards by more than half in the second round, and in the process divert a half-million dollars meant for the settlement awards into the chancery treasury. In point of fact, McDonnell has out-Dupred Dupre.

When we turn to the missing FY reports, they seem the end-game of providing gradually LESS information, not more, each year that McDonnell has been in office.  An examination of the existing financial records will bear this out. All of this leads to suspicions of how genuine McDonnell's motives were in 2004 when he offered the 7 million settlement.  Was he the savior that many thought him to be?  Or, is it possible that this seemingly generous gesture was more a case of being forced to do something - anything - to get away from the unholy spectacle of a veteran bishop being indicted for child abuse?  Was he merely cutting his losses, losses that he fully intended to make good in pursuit of 7 million in reimbursements from the insurance companies?

If so, he was disappointed.  The money recovered was, as we know, only 3.5 million.  This fact leads to legitimate questions about what the insurance companies learned during the discovery phase of the trial, and suggests why the pattern of secrecy and denial persists until now.  To this day, there has never been a jury verdict of a sexual abuse charge against the Diocese of Springfield (the closest to this was when the former Fr. Richard Lavigne copped a plea in 1992).  It was Dupre's stated goal that a case going all the way to a verdict would never happen. This is one part of the Dupre legacy that has been carried forward by McDonnell with great fidelity. Every one of the 105 abuse cases in the 2004 and 2008 settlements have strings attached – conditions which perpetuate secrecy.


Today's topic is the recent report on WAMC public radio by reporter Charlie Dietz.  A link is here.

We zero in on the comments made by Dalton pastor Fr. Chris Malatesta.

According to Malatesta, the Springfield Diocese fosters democracy:

"So, parishes have parish councils, the Deanery has a lay Deanery council,  and then the diocese has a lay pastoral council, a bishop's council, so it actually kind of gives layers in all three of those groups to communicate one to the other, so, hopefully, it gives everybody a voice in the church."

Malatesta describes the diocesean parish council plan.  The plan sounds good on paper - and then the other shoes drops: knowledgeable Catholics will confirm that the plan is not put into action.  Many parishes do not have parish councils.

It is impossible to know how many do or don't because of the general incompetence of diocesan record-keeping.  And, of parishes who do have parish councils, most are only for show. We know this from the many comments of outraged members of parish councils who were out of the loop when vital decisions about the future of their parish were made, i.e., whether they were to be merged, left alone, or made extinct.  The public record preserves these comments as they were made to the reporters of the Springfield Republican following on the heels of church mergings and closures.  The trend is particularly acute in the latest rounds from late 2009, which focused on the Springfield city area.  Note how many of the negative comments are from the members of parish councils, and ponder what this says about the way that councils actually operate in the Diocese.

In other words, the reality of the plan is something other than the description of the plan.  In one word, Malatesta is guilty of hypocrisy when he suggests that the parish council system is an example of democracy.  We will focus more on this in upcoming posts about the Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines as issued by McDonnell.  For now, let's return to the role of "denial" in understanding what makes the Diocese tick.

In following Catholic matters over the last few years I have read much about other dioceses in action.  Through their press releases, their litigation, their web sites and news articles about how they work, I can safely say that I have not found one of them that surpasses the Springfield Diocese in a backward-looking, denial-oriented approach to administration. Springfield church officials do not just dislike free speech.  They hate and fear it.  I think this is closely tied to the particular circumstances of our sexual abuse scandal.

While Dupre had successfully sat on the growing numbers of victims who came forward from around 1995 to 2000 or so, encouraged by the 17 Lavigne settlements of 1994, this strategy could not be maintained.  The victims became increasingly assertive and restless, and he was not able to keep them from emulating Boston in pressing for lawsuits (as opposed to counseling and private settlements), nor could he prevent them from pressing claims against the Diocese for negligence in hiring (as opposed to filing suit against priests for the original crimes).  There was a new focus on the culpability of those covering up the abuse, which was being seen now as a systemic problem.

This background is perhaps necessary to understand that denial - truculent, pervasive denial - was seen as early as 1996 or so as the essential strategy to minimize damage to the Diocese.  What happened next, when Dupre himself was accused by a grand jury in the fall of 2004 of both abuse and covering it up, was a sort of metastasizing of this denial mode. It became so central that it was soon not even recognized as a defense.  I suggest that for church officials it was seen as "the way we  respond" in order to cope with the sometimes overwhelming psychological pressure. The idea seemed to be: "...we have to deny that we knew about any part of it.....else we may not survive at all...".

That's my take on why denial has become so central to the Diocesan outlook. It is important to make the distinction between church officials saying "abuse never happened" and "if abuse happened, we didn't know about it".  The latter is the defense that is most important, because it relieves them of  accountability for negligence. Negligence differs from a civil charge of abuse because of its criminal nature, and because statutes of limitation may not apply. There is also the possibility that in some jurisdictions (like Maine) that negligence may not be a valid defense against parts of the charitable immunity doctrine, which has been a bulwark against claims for the Massachusetts bishops.

Returning to the quote by Malatesta, we recognize in his description of parish councils a parroting of the "official" version and we understand how his promotion of this version inevitably leaves him open to charges of hypocrisy. But why would he promote a flawed "official version" so at odds with reality, in the first place?

There is more background needed.  The Bishop, in his corporate persona, often confuses himself with other CEO's like Jack Welch or Lee Iacocca.  One of his special projects is the cultivation of a sort of hick Vatican mentality, whereby he need not answer to any authority - neither that of the Catholic laity or Presbyteral Council (priest's group) in church affairs,  nor that of civil authorities like district attorneys or historical commissions in state matters.  He is essentially above the law.

He then instructs his pastors in the same governance mode as applied to their parishes, which then operate like fiefdoms.  The pastors have their marching orders, to be sure, but assuming they avoid controversy and the front page of the newspaper, they are allowed discretion to run their parishes pretty much as the Bishop runs the Diocese - that is to say, autocratically.

If they want to have parish councils, fine.  If they don't want parish councils, that, too, is fine.  This last item flies in the face of what the Bishop has laid down on paper, which as I said will be the subject of future posts.  All I mean to point out here is that this pattern is instilled from the top down. 

Out in the field, some pastors get better results, and better reviews than others.  But all of them share this trait: they rule their parishes by an unwritten set of rules that is obscure to lay viewers but clear to their clerical counterparts.  They are part of the same team, and everyone knows the unofficial team rules.  They follow them, or suffer the consequences.

It is certainly true that Malatesta seems well-liked and successful in his post.  And many other pastors have also been able to thread the needle, i.e., get some genuine lay participation and yet retain enough control to please the Bishop.  But, it is equally true that many pastors are disliked, some almost violently so.

These, especially when they actively suppress parish councils and free church speech, certainly can't be held up as examples of what the church is all about. And, the widespread failure of the parish council system is an indictment of the governing style of the Bishop.  And yet, according to Malatesta, this parish council structure is supposed to prove that everyone in the church has a voice in governing the church.  These are outrageous statements because they are not true.

Once again, as in the denial strategy of the Diocese toward sex abuse, we see that the official version is one thing, and the unofficial version (the real one) is quite another.  Once again: the result = hypocrisy.

Editorial: Change and St. Mary's

Editorial: Change and St. Mary's
Feb. 4, 2010
Changes as difficult as those begun by the Springfield Diocese inevitably take time to play out. In Northampton, traditions born of decades of parish identity are being remade as a single new Catholic parish seeks to establish itself where until weeks ago there were five.
There is no question that Bishop Timothy McDonnell had to act to align the diocese's diminished resources with the needs and means of the Catholics it serves. The bishop, working from information prepared after more than five years of planning, revealed his vision last summer for his institution's new face in Hampshire County. Most everyone understood that the changes would disappoint the faithful in affected communities like Northampton, Easthampton and Hatfield.
We hope the transitions to new parishes, new priests, new churches and new communities of the faithful proceed smoothly. A half year after the bishop announced changes for churches in the three Hampshire County communities, much remains unsettled. And now, former parishioners of St. Mary of the Assumption in Northampton are waiting to hear whether an appeal to the Vatican can save their church.
Because of its prominence downtown, St. Mary's is more than the private setting for Catholic worship, just as First Churches to the east is more than a sanctuary for Baptists and Congregationalists. Residents of Northampton are rightly concerned about the future of St. Mary's.
The appeal to Rome gives them even more to ponder.
After learning in November the bishop would order their church to be closed - after first designating it the home of a new combined parish - members of St. Mary's former administration and finance committee set out to fact-check a key piece of the bishop's reasoning: that keeping St. Mary's in use would be expensive.
In announcing that St. Mary's would close, Mark Dupont, a diocesan spokesman, cited concerns about parking and pedestrian and handicapped access. He also said it needed work totaling $1.3 million.
While Dupont has since stressed that figure was only an estimate, it signaled, at a time of cutbacks, that maintaining St. Mary's could burden the diocese financially. In two letters to St. Mary's parishioners, the bishop affirmed that the cost of fixing the church decided the case. In one letter, he called it "the overriding reason why I changed the original decision."
Within weeks, pressing to prepare an appeal to the Vatican, St. Mary's parishioners determined that for $25,000, they could repair missing or loose slate on their church's steeples and roof. They believe that spending is all that is needed to keep their church in use.
The bishop's order to close St. Mary's postpones any real reckoning on the church's needs. We hope officials move quickly to keep this architectural treasure in shape.
The diocese should consider making the more modest repairs the parish committee says are adequate. That work should be done regardless of the building's future use.
It is important to know which of the mismatched estimates on building work - $1.3 million or $25,000 - is closest to the truth. The truth is relevant to St. Mary's future, regardless of what the Congregation of the Clergy decides in Rome. St. Mary's will long be part of Northampton's landscape, in one capacity or another.
We hope emotions or politics tied to the difficult process of realigning Northampton's parishes do not cloud the issue of work St. Mary's deserves, after standing sentry at the downtown's western edge for 125 years.