We've been mulling over the ideals and the reality of the parish councils in the Diocese of Springfield and have found a large gap. Though councils are mandated by the Bishop, not all parishes have them, my own included. This contradiction raises a simple question — why?
The last post showed that even if a parish has a council, that is no guarantee that deliberation and collaboration will take place. Nor is it a sure thing that the group will fulfill the ".. priestly, prophesied and governance roles that belong to each of us by baptism..." to quote Bishop McDonnell.
Examples were cited of how the efforts and good will of parish councilors Richard Brittain, William Euliano, Caroline Bobala, Phyllis Grondalski, Walter Doerle, and Thomas McGee were wasted. The views of these important people were ignored when an all-important decision was made — whether a parish should be left alone, merged with another, or be extinguished for all time.
The recent closings of about 25% of the parishes (from 125 or so down to around 93) demonstrate that when the Bishop wants to get things done he does not collaborate by using the already-existing parish councils. On the contrary, he created a new level of administration, the diocesan-wide Pastoral Planning Committee (PPC), which was not answerable to the local parishes.All substantial debate and decisions were routed through the PPC.
When the creation and conduct of the PPC is examined, it seems like church officials have almost gone out of their way to show as much disregard as possible for the people in the trenches who volunteered for the parish councils. For example, a significant feature of the "listening session" guidelines , a part of the PPC apparatus, was that only one member of each parish council (the ones who know the parish best) were allowed to attend the listening sessions. In any event, as we learned from testimony by Walter Doerle and members of the St. Stan's group, the listening sessions were fraudulent. They were advertised as "input" sessions, and yet no substantial input from the parish level was allowed, thus shredding the principle of subsidiarity, which is supposed to govern relations between levels of church administration within the diocese.
Another feature of the PPC is that its members used secret meetings and so-called "unanimous" decisions to get to their results, both features long associated with the priest's council (Presbyteral Council). One might observe here that far from the clergy becoming better attuned to the needs of the laity, the reverse appears to be happening - the laity is encouraged to become more and more like the clergy. This results in an ever-growing emphasis on secrecy, fidelity and propriety as the highest values within the church. The PPC seemed from the start to be more concerned with details, results and solutions (curing) than with open-ended person-to-person communication (caring).
By the way, the examples given in the last post of the disrespect to parish council members are merely the most recent and easy to access. We could very easily find another dozen or so by going back a few years. The efforts of parish councilors Rose Bunnell, Peter Andrew and Angela Giorgi of St. Ann's in West Springfield (now extinct) comes to mind. Another group that comes to mind are the stalwart parishioners of St. Stan's in Adams, who still have a widely-admired parish — even though the Bishop tried to extinguish it around Christmas time in 2008. That parish council, too, was ignored by church officials.
It is especially ironic that the critical comments of Euliano, Doerle and other council members, when they hit the press, are routinely dismissed by church officials. These are the good Catholics! The very ones who went out of their way to help the church! Is it any wonder that average Catholics, seeing how these volunteers are treated, are less and less inspired to take part in church activities?
In our next posts we turn to these three bodies just mentioned, and explore them a bit more. I refer to:
1. parish councils
2. the Presbyteral Council (priest's council)
3. the Pastoral Planning Committee