Editorial: What in Heaven are these people thinking?

from the Springfield Republican, Dec. 27, 2011:

Instead of turning to lawyers and courtrooms, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and parishioners of Mater Dolorosa Church in Holyoke should consult the one authority that can settle their dispute over the church’s status – the Gospel. 

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court,” Jesus exhorts his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. 

“Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.” 

Those words have always been good advice, but we wonder if anyone is listening in this case. Both sides are expected to appear in Hampden Superior Court on Wednesday in the dispute over the church’s future. 

The diocese eliminated Mater Dolorosa and Holy Cross parishes June 30 due to declining enrollment and other issues and merged the two into Our Lady of the Cross parish, which worships at the former Holy Cross church. Since then, parishioners have appealed the decision to the Vatican and are maintaining a 24-hour vigil at Mater Dolorosa. 

The dispute grew worse last week when parishioners at Mater Dolorosa say the diocese “kidnapped” the infant Jesus and other creche figurines. Diocesan officials say the statuettes now belong to Our Lady of the Cross Parish and would be used for the enjoyment of former Mater Dolorosa parishioners who worship there. 

“Kidnapped” is an overstatement of what occurred, but regardless of the legal rights or wrongs, moving the statuettes was not wise. 

Simply put, it’s beneath the diocese’s dignity to engage in an activity that to many minds resembles a neigborhood spat. The Catholic Church is far, far bigger than this. 

Before more money and goodwill is expended in this dispute, we urge both sides to settle their differences. 

The closing and merger of churches is the proper business of the bishop and his advisers. These officials are not lying when they say they lack the staff and resources to keep every church in the diocese open. 

Meanwhile, the diocese should refrain from actions that reasonable people find vindictive. 

Will wisdom prevail? We can’t say, but as one Republican colleague quipped, it seems that the only wise men in this case are about four feet tall and made of plaster. The star they followed did not point to a courthouse.
My commentary:

The editorial urges that "both sides settle their differences". Perhaps the writers are not familiar with the mindset of the people living at the Elliot St. chancery. For them, the very idea of "sides" and "differences" within the church are anathema. In their reading of Catholicism, no differences are allowed. It simply does not matter that differences of opinion (the dialectic method, if you will) might lead to sharing ideas, re-thinking, creative dialog, and positive change.
I may be stretching a point, but that is essentially how the diocese appears to operate, in defiance of Vatican II, the wisdom of the larger church (which the editorialist rightly celebrates) and common sense.
However, I disagree that the closing and merger of churches is the proper business of the bishop and his advisors. Bishop McDonnell got himself into this pickle in the first place by relying on a closed loop within the corporation. And, it is not simply a question of "staff and resources", i.e., management.
On the contrary, the equality of laity and clergy demands that collaboration and deliberation take place before major structural changes—which parish closings certainly are—take place. The bishop cannot, under canon law, arbitrarily decide to open and shut parishes like so many ATM branches, even if those decisions are shared with trusted and long-time advisors. The reason is simple: parishes are owned by parishioners.
What is different about MD is that the usual stringing along, fog-machining and snow-jobbing that church officials employ failed. The MD parish council refused to roll over.
A side-benefit of Cr√®chegate is that, as night follows day, the usual unwise reaction immediately spilled forth from house dupa Mark Dupont. This provides sorely-needed insight into how the chancery operates.
 In the Republican article of Dec. 23 about the kidnapping of the baby Jesus, Jeff Kinney reports that Dupont defended the deed by stating that:
 “I think it would be an enormous mistake to discount the many more former Mater Dolorosa parishioners who, despite their own sadness at leaving their beloved church this year, have joined in the new parish, working with their fellow parishioners to create a successful Catholic community for future generations,” Dupont said. “Why shouldn’t those folks, who can make the very same claims as the occupiers as to past membership and support, be allowed to enjoy this manger for their Christmas celebration as one reminder of their former parish and church, and past Christmases there?” 
I think people underestimate the value that Mark Dupont provides. He is a faithful mirror of diocesan intentions. His words, if you take the time to read them carefully, expose how Bishop McDonnell thinks and what the stakes are in this seemingly petty dispute about 4-feet high plaster figurines. 
It doesn't matter to Mr. Dupont that Advent started on Dec. 1 and that Fr. Alex waited until Dec. 21, a few days before Christmas, to decide that the new parish needed the creche, and to yank the creche out. It doesn't matter that Fr. Alex did not try to talk to the parishioners before the yanking. It doesn't matter that another creche could have easily been found. And especially, it doesn't matter that the creche was ALREADY IN USE. 

The messages are: 1.) the parishioners within the church are not to be compared to the parishioners who have moved on to Holy Cross. 2.) the parishioners within the church are dirt, because they don't hang on every word of Bishop McDonnell, and 3.) the parishioners who have moved on to Holy Cross should therefore be celebrated, and elevated, because they do hang on every word of Bishop McDonnell. It could not be clearer. 

This good/bad dichotomy, this up/down thinking, this fear/love extremism is at the heart of how the chancery operates. They show no mercy for those on the "other side" of what they want. It is all about power. And, bear in mind, this treatment is dished out to those who are fellow Catholics, and undeniably part of the People of God. Is it any wonder that many Americans continue to accuse the officials of the Roman Catholic Church of intolerance, and suspect their motives? 

If this were the Middle East, those responsible for this despicable point of view within Elliot St. would be called the Taliban. We have not yet found a word to describe them here in the Springfield Diocese...but I'm working on it.