BRAINTREE -- As part of a three-phase consultation process, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission (APPC) began releasing lists of proposed groupings for parish collaboration on their website last month following meetings with priests in each of the five regions of the archdiocese.
As meetings to discuss groupings completed, the APPC posted the proposed Pastoral Service Team (PST) groupings online.
Facing declining Mass attendance and a shrinking number of priests, in December the APPC proposed a new structure for meeting the needs of parishes called a Pastoral Service Team (PST). Led by one pastor, a group of priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers the PST would provide pastoral services to multiple parishes. Under the plan, each parish in the collaborative group will maintain its separate identity and control of its own assets.
The APCC posted the proposed groupings for the South Region on Jan. 18, the North Region on Jan. 19, the Central Region on Jan. 20, the West Region on Jan. 23, and the Merrimack Region on Jan. 24, according to their office.
In an interview, Msgr. William Fay, APPC co-chair and pastor of St. Columbkille Parish in Brighton, stressed the importance that the plan will unfold in three consultative phases with a major focus on the APPC receiving feedback on each proposal.
"The key point of all of this is what we are looking at is really managing the life of the parishes in very constructive ways to be able to strengthen evangelization in the diocese and to build up the Church mightily, and strongly for the future," Msgr. Fay said.
Pointing to the importance of feedback in building strength, Msgr. Fay said the first phase was for the APCC to present the plans for the archdiocese to consider after they were presented as a proposal in December.
"The first phase was to lay out a proposal -- and that is all it is -- from the APCC," Msgr. Fay said.
He said the second phase took place in January as the APCC presented more detailed proposals on pastoral collaborative groupings at regional meetings throughout the archdiocese.
"The purpose of phase two was to say, 'Now that you understand the proposal, here is what we suggest the collaboratives might look like,'" Msgr. Fay said.
Msgr. Fay said the third phase will begin Feb. 2, as the commission moves into the "20 vicariates to hear from the people who represent pastoral councils, parishes, and finance councils, and give them an opportunity to be able to just tell us what they think about the proposal."
Msgr. Fay said the APCC also expects to learn from the meetings what these constituents are hearing on the parish level in regard to the proposals.
"That's what the consultation is all about. It is to listen to people. It is to put an idea in front of them, and then to sit back and to listen -- and listen carefully -- and to give them every opportunity they need to respond to it," Msgr. Fay said.
Msgr. Fay stressed that the archdiocese is not proposing mergers, and said some language used in some local media coverage could skew public perception of the proposals.
"When we talked about bringing parishes together into a pastoral collaborative, they are talking about that as a merger. It is not a merger. In fact, if you look at the proposal line 36 says very clearly that what we are proposing is not something that is merging or closing of parishes," he said.
"The media is using that language. And I think because of it, they are likely to get people misunderstanding what the reality is," Msgr. Fay said.
"I hope the media, as they report, read the documents that we put out to, go to www.planning2012.com, and make sure that what they are reporting is in sync with what we are doing," he said.
The APCC's website www.planning2012.com has material from each phase of the plan under the 2012 Consultation tab.