Friday, April 27, 2012

St. Rose of Lima in the news.

Yesterday, the online edition of the Boston Globe featured an article on pastoral planning in the Archdiocese of Boston that includes some paragraphs on the church that I grew up in, St. Rose of Lima in Rochester, Massachusetts. First off, the Globe explains what 'pastoral planning' really means, namely, parish clustering:
While talk of closing more Catholic churches has died down, sweeping changes appear to be on the way.

Under a restructuring proposed for the Archdiocese of Boston, nearly every Catholic parish in the Massachusetts communities south of Boston would join one or more other parishes under the leadership of a single pastor.

. . .

Archdiocese officials hope that such collaborations will allow all of its current 288 parishes to survive and attract new parishioners, reversing downward trends that most churches have suffered for years.

Under terms of the draft proposal, the conjoined parishes would form "pastoral service teams" - consisting of priests, deacons, lay ministers, and members of parish and finance councils - that would operate as a united administration led by one pastor. Each parish would remain open and maintain a separate identity.

The Archdiocese of Boston sees streamlining church management as an alternative to shuttering parishes. Since 1990, the archdiocese has closed 125 parishes, and officials see the curent system as unsustainable. Religious educators are retiring and not being replaced, many parishes are struggling to pay their bills, and there is a shortage of priests. Currently, the archdiocese has 346 priests available to work in parish ministry, and in 10 years that number is projected to drop to 180.

Church attendance has also fallen significantly. According to statistics from the Archdiocese of Boston, 70 percent of baptized Catholics attended Mass regularly in 1970. Today, 15.8 percent do.
Later on, the Globe article makes note of St. Rose of Lima and its cluster partner (or, to use the Archdiocese's current term of choice, 'collaborator') Sacred Heart of Middleborough, which have shared a pastor (and, in fact, have been canonically united into a single parish) for the past several years:
One pastor who’s used to the concept of serving multiple parishes is the Rev. Richard P. Crowley, pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Middleborough. In 2005, he began serving St. Rose of Lima in the neighboring town of Rochester.

The 75-year-old pastor travels back and forth regularly between Sacred Heart and St. Rose to celebrate Mass and hear confessions. Driving a white 2010 Ford Fusion, Crowley takes about 25 minutes to make the 14-mile commute between the two churches.

"It’s pretty much all country road; you can’t go that fast," said Crowley.

Already, he has been hearing from parishioners in both towns: Why are you over there so much? Why aren’t you here more?

Under the proposed restructuring, his parish would partner with Saints Martha & Mary in Lakeville, which would essentially mean taking on a third parish. He most likely won’t have to deal with that, because he’s set to retire in June.

Crowley said that if the archdiocese moves forward with the plan, he hopes that the changes are implemented gradually.

"If they didn’t [do it gradually], it would be bedlam," he said.
Though I recognize the inevitability of all this, I'm not terribly optimistic about the likely results. On a basic level, I'm concerned that the move toward greater 'collaboration' will in fact lead to less vibrant parishes and a reduction in the variety of services offered to parishioners. To put it bluntly, I fear that a 'lowest common denominator' approach will prevail in many places, meaning that the aging and shrinking flock of active Catholics who offer the most reliable support to local parishes will be tended to while much less will be done to reach out to the inactive Catholics whose disappearance from the pews has helped make this whole sad process necessary.

To state another concern as plainly as possible, I also fear that this process will be bad for priests, both those who are currently in ministry and those who will be ordained in the future. As parish priests are more thinly spread around the Archdiocese, it will become harder for them to become personally present to their parishioners, that is, to really be pastors. I believe that something important is lost when the parish priest is reduced to a mere sacramental minister, someone who drops in to dispense one sacrament or another and then disappears to allow the laypeople who really run the parish to go on without them. The Church desperately needs priests, and I fear that even fewer young men will have the courage to answer the call as the clergy become less visible on the ground.

Despite my pessimism about the pastoral planning process - and my broader worries about the state of the Church in my home region - I do hope and pray that something good comes from all of this. Perhaps greater collaboration among different parishes will force Catholics on the ground to labor with even greater zeal and creativity to strengthen their communities. Perhaps an even more vivid awareness of the effects of the priest shortage will actually embolden previously complacent young Catholic men to give their lives in service to Christ's flock. Even as I fear for the worst, I will also try to hope for the best. AMDG.


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