We've been talking about the parish council as envisioned by Bishop McDonnell: "...it is my wish that every parish of the diocese have a viable, working and dedicated Parish Pastoral Council..." These are collaborative and deliberative bodies which are supposed to play a key role in helping the laity live out their baptismal responsibilities.
Now we get to the reality of what we actually have.
The widespread closings that have affected some 25% of the parishes in the diocese provide an opportunity to see how the collaboration and deliberations of the councils have played out in a real-world environment.
Let's ponder the experience of Richard Brittain, a parishioner in South Lee. When he learned in Sept. 2005, that his local church, St. Francis, was to temporarily close with no explanation, he sought a meeting to discuss this with his pastor. Alternative plans, including suggestions and questions, were drawn up by Brittain and others. Nothing happened, because the pastor avoided Brittain. The pastor did not return phone calls, letters or anything else. Brittain fared no better with Bishop McDonnell. Eventually, St. Francis's closed, and has not reopened since.
By the time William Euliano, a parishioner of All Saints in Agawam, had been through several years of wrestling with his pastor and Bishop McDonnell over the changes and closings in his area, he had this to say in Jan. 2009: "...When the Bishop announced closures were due to a potential shortage of priests in August that argument was bogus. When Monsignor Bonzagni pled the case, that argument was bogus. And now in retrospect that argument is still bogus. It's very hard to get the Catholic Church to tell you the real truth about anything..."
When parishioners Caroline Bobala and Phyllis Grondalski heard the news that Immaculate Conception of Indian Orchard was slated to close, they were shocked. Wasn't it just a year ago that the parish had put in, at their own expense, a $400,000 elevator upgrade, one that was approved by the Bishop? They were quick to register their disappointment and to push for IOICC to stay open.
In Pittsfield, St. Therese's Church was an unexpected addition to the massive closings of about half of the city's churches. Or so said Walter Doerle, who was one of the St. Therese representatives at the listening sessions to discuss alternatives. At least, he thought they were discussing alternatives. He said later that no consensus was reached at the planning meetings, and that diocesan representatives were careful to take names and numbers of those present for the purpose of getting back to them. That "getting back to" never happened, and the next thing that Doerle knew, the church was closed.
The ongoing saga about the roof and other repairs for St. Mary's in Northampton gives another glimpse at parish/diocesan communication, or lack thereof. Prominently featured in stories about the issue is parishioner Thomas McGee, one of a group that had commissioned a structural report from an engineer. McGee has stated on more than one occasion that "...there's a great discrepancy between the information provided to the citizens of Northampton and the faithful of St. Mary's Church regarding the repairs...".
Now, what is so important about Richard Brittain, William Euliano, Caroline Bobala, Phyllis Grondalski, Walter Doerle, and Thomas McGee?
The important thing about all of these parishioners is that they are not just parishioners. They are the parishioners who stepped forward and tried to help the bishop with his mandate. They are all current or former members of the parish council, or members of a committee of the parish councils.