Archdiocese Releases Details On Proposed Parish Groupings

BOSTON — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has quietly released its proposed list of what it calls pastoral collaborations. This plan groups two to four churches, overseen by one parish priest.

The archdiocese says grouping parishes is a way to address the challenges it faces — decreased attendance, tightening finances and a shortage of priests. But the strategy is taking many Catholics by surprise, and facing criticism among some priests.

The archdiocese wants to regroup 290 parishes into 125 collaboratives (PDFs – South, North, Central, West, Merrimack Region). You might call them super-parishes: the super-parish will have a pastoral service team, headed by a pastor with additional priests and a business manager. The cluster will also include a religious education director, a music director and other jobs that currently are filled by individual parishes.

“We made this proposal looking at the fact that this is already happening, it’s going to continue to happen,” said Monsignor William Fay, co-chair of the Archdiocesan Planning Commission. “The alternative will be that we look at the merging of parishes and closing some of them, which was not a direction we wanted to go in.”

Fay said this is a draft and he welcomes feedback. In general, each cluster will involve two to four churches. For example, the three churches in Beverly will be under one pastor. And the stand-alone churches in Hanover, Norwell and Pembroke will be put together under one group.

Trying Out The New Plan

The archdiocese has already been trying out this plan. Over the past couple of years it has combined 46 separate parishes into 23 clusters. An additional nine churches were put into three clusters.

The archdiocese says grouping parishes is a way to address the challenges it faces — decreased attendance, tightening finances and a shortage of priests.

Father Jack Ahern oversees three churches in Dorchester — Holy Family, Saint Peter and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, where I met him. He has two other priests in his group helping him, but said it can still be chaotic jumping around to say Mass.

“Sometimes you might have the 9 (a.m. service) here at Blessed Mother and still have the 10 at Holy Family. Any given week, one of the other two priests may be on vacation or away,” Ahern said.

Ahern is 58 and rarely sits still. He said when the archdiocese asked him to take on the cluster, he was ready for the challenge.

“As difficult as it is to maintain the three parishes, the fact that when I came in the cardinal said, ‘We are not closing parishes, we have given some stability to the people, they aren’t wondering when the next shoe is going to drop.’ ”

Some Priests, Parishioners Skeptical Of Plan

But this plan isn’t reassuring everyone, according to a priest who attended a meeting with the archdiocese this week, when it revealed details of the cluster plan. Many priests have been critical. The priest, who doesn’t want to be named, said they are wondering why the archdiocese needs to force this across the board when it’s already happening gradually. And they don’t understand how the archdiocese will manage these groupings.

Parishioners are worried about what happens if two failing parishes are put together.

“We saw this movie in 2004, that’s all that one can say here,” said Peter Borre, one of many Catholics who see this as the first step toward closing more churches, despite what Cardinal O’Malley says.

Borre is with the Council of Parishes, which has been fighting to keep parishes open with vigils.

“At the beginning, we’re going to do analyses, we’re going to do pastoral planning, nothing is going to be closed. That’s bananas, because by their own statement the current course of action not sustainable,” Borre said.

It’s not sustainable, the archdiocese said, because it has been challenged not only by weak finances, but also by declining Mass attendance. Fewer than 16 percent of those who call themselves Catholic in the Boston area go to church. On top of that there are fewer and fewer priests. The church said this church grouping plan will strengthen parishes and attract more church goers.

But before that happens, there will be an upheaval in personnel. It’s proposed that every priest, deacon and other religious staff person be reassigned. And lay employees, such as church secretaries and music directors, will have to reapply to be part of a parish cluster.

Many Parishioners Unaware Of Changes

So far it doesn’t appear the archdiocese has done a good job communicating the plan to parishioners. After Mass at St. Theresa’s in West Roxbury Wednesday, most parishioners said they had never heard of it.

Miriam Thorne thought it sounded like it could work if it put everybody in one church.

“I will have no problem with it,” Thorne said. “It probably will be to our advantage,” she added, because as a whole the more people that worship in one church the better it is.

But the plan doesn’t include closing any church buildings, just consolidating personnel.

Mary Akoury a parishioner at St. Albert the Great in Weymouth, has been keeping an eye on the process closely. But she said when she’s mentioned it to friends and relatives in other parishes, they knew nothing.

“They were absolutely clueless when I told them,” Akoury said. “‘They are going to be announcing the pastoral service center,’ and they looked at me with this blank stare — ‘What are you you talking about?’ So I think for a lot it has come as a surprise.”

Akoury’s parish will be grouped with St. Francis Xavier, which is also in Weymouth. It’s a much larger church that she knows little about. And Akoury said this proposal feels more like a business plan.

“When (you) look at the pastoral plan and you think of what has happened, in terms of downsizing of larger companies and the Walmarts and the mom and pop operations, it’s almost like what the archdiocese is recommending is similar to what’s going on in today’s world,” Akoury said.

Still, Akoury said she understands it may be the only way to go, given the shortage of priests. But she wishes the Catholic Church will resolve the underlying problems, for instance by allowing married men and women to join the priesthood.

But these are issues for the Vatican in Rome. In Boston, the archdiocese said grouping parishes will make the church stronger.

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  • Anonymous

    Where are the details…is there a listing of all the churches and how they will be grouped?
    I want to see what’s happening with my local church.

    • Google is your friend :)

      The lists are at http://www.planning2012.com/2012-consultation/ towards the bottom of the page.

      • Anonymous

        Is that where we get to Pay For Privacy?

    • Mcbriody

      Here is a link to what is happening by region.

      If you scroll to the bottom of the page you will see individual links for the various regions. Just click on that to find yours.

    • Morin333

      Mark, you can see all the proposed pastoral collaboratives at the RCAB Pastoral Planning website: http://www.planning2012.com/2012-consultation/

    • Cherylmp15

      there is a website  http://www.planning2012.com where you can read about it and see the parish groupings.

  • Anonymous

    The Cardinal was sent here to Mitt Romney the churches into being more profitable.

  • Richarddumughn

    Its happening all over Europe as well.

  • Larry Novello

    I love the church and am saddened to see yet another result of our becoming yet again less significant in the world. But maybe it comes from the way we lived our significance in the past and still cling to unworkable man made rules and ways of thinking that reduces us to where we are now. I wonder how clusters will do anything but meet the decline as a stop-gap. We need a world-wide re-thinking, a re-relating in order to deserve a re-birth.

  • Cynthia Costello

    How long must our paternal leadership hold off welcoming talented, highly educated women and already ordained married priests and religious?   Only when Rome wakes up and decides to center on the problem….not enough qualified men to serve.  The answer should not be to shut down our parish churches but to bring in a new source of disciples.  After all, Christ leaned heavily on the women of his time, especially Mary Magdalene.  God made us in HIs image, male and female.
    It’s no wonder so many Catholics do not answer the call  “Come home.”   Home is where we are all loved unconditionally and respected for our willingness to serve and share our talents.  How demeaning that only a male can be a deacon (many not as qualified except for gender)when so many excellent women and religious are so qualified to give to a church that spurns them . Time to open up the doors and have another Vatican Council.

    • Fred

      A feminine and/or married ministry hasn’t resolved the financial/attendance problem in mainstream non-Catholic/Orthodox Christian churches.  Their attendance and financial security is, in many cases, worse. 

      Are  “talent” and “qualified” the right descriptions or negative descriptors  in describing a group of people?  I, for one, am quite happy that Jesus looked not for talent and not even for moral perfections… the likes of Peter and Paul and the woman at the well come to mind.  Check out the first chapter of Galatians (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+1%3A1-10&version=NIV)Be careful what you ask when you call for a council, the Spirit works in unknown ways  - and may the council as her own and have the Church change in a way different from what you expect. +Peace! 

  • Iquit

    “Collaboratives” is a business plan for a service industry—the Church—that does not include a role for those served =  the laity. My conclusion? this diocese (like the rest on America) is shit scared of losing power and control to the “people of god”………..please note that all of this has absolutely nothing to do with faith and morals, and everything to do with governance and administration of a decaying business that is so out of touch with its constituents that it continues to rule by fiat =  “we say, you do” = as if it were still 1512 instead of 2012 in democratic America, where we the people like to have some involvement in who governs us and how they govern us.
    Please, my fellow Catholics, vote with your feet and your wallets, and come to a vigil parish near you, where we have been practicing our faith as lay catholics for more than 7 years now, ever since SOM tried to close our parishes. We lead a catholic life that is for the people, by the people, and of the people, and the only “cluster”we have is the one round the altar when we join hands for our communion service. Simple, faith-filled, and authentic catholic worship, where women play a major role in planning and carrying out our liturgies. Please come home again.

  • jmk

    this is just a way for the arch diasis to destabilize the Catholic communities and to ensure they can close churches before parishoners know what is happening. Eliminating positions will make overworked staff unable to serve their parishoners well and make it easier for the diasis to indicate that churches are not running well and to justify closing more of them. If we were not so old-fashoned about restrictions on who can become priests, there would be no shortage of them either.      

  • MGNL825


    It is time for the Vatican in Rome to get with the current times.  Jesus had both men and women as His disciples.  To expect one priest to be a pastor of  two or three churches is weighing an extreme burden on an already overburdened clerical order.  To oust dedicated religious priests and staff  in order to consolidate due to shortages or financial restraints fragments a unified infrastructure.  A Church is a House of God.  If one dismantles the foundation, the rest will soon fall to rubble. 

    I have been a parishioner in a failing church; one that was anything but Christian.  I have come to a church now that is solvent and run as a Christian community should be run.  Why do parishioners always have to pay the price?  From the Vatican on down there should be a review and an evaluation.  Solvent churches should not have to be the crutches for others.  Councils should be formed to assist weaker parish communities with religious personnel to oversee the handling of all parish activities.  Lay personnel should have a widening role including certain religious duties much as a deacon does.   The Archdiocese should  form a study of the finances of the poorer parishes and provide financial assistance to those in need.  Jesus tended not just to one lamb but to a whole flock.  There needs to be more thoughfulness and care in these proposed plans.  The powers that be should take more time in meditative prayer.     

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbobduke Bob Dugas

    I’m not sold on Collaboratives. It’s like “circling the wagons.” However, Lynn has three other churches not indicated in the list released in the media today. (ie) St. Pius V, St. Joseph, and Holy Family. What is the plan for these three parishes? Or is there a plan? Clearly those churches count and the first two have a large attendance. So what is happening with them? Maybe no plan exists.

    Bob Dugas

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