Archdiocesan pastoral planning a work in progress, says official

BRAINTREE -- Father David Couturier, Director of Pastoral Planning for the Archdiocese of Boston, responded June 8 to recent media reports about a possible reorganization of the archdiocese's parishes.

An Associated Press story, released on June 3, asserted that the archdiocese was considering "reshuffling" their 291 parishes into 80 to 120 clusters. Each group would be supported by collective resources and clergy personnel.

"But it's not the reshuffling of parishes, it's a reshuffling or a reorganization of those who serve the parishes." said Father Couturier. "Those 80-120 groups are the staffing of those parishes, not the parishes themselves."

"The article seems to indicate that the 291 parishes suddenly become 80-120 parishes, that's not what we're looking at," he added.

Msgr. William Fay, co-chair of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission, stressed that the idea is still being explored and is not in a recommendation stage. Msgr. Fay made his comments on the June 8 broadcast of The Good Catholic Life, a local radio show on 1060AM WQOM.

Confidential minutes from seven months of meetings of the archdiocese's Presbyteral Council, a group of priests that advises Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, along with an internal memo of the Archdiocese Pastoral Planning Commission, were reportedly given to the AP by Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes. The Council of Parishes is an independent organization "formed to support parishes subject to closure," according to their website.

According to the AP, Borre received the documents "unsolicited."

In February, Cardinal O'Malley formed the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission that will make a final recommendation to him on a plan for the parishes of the archdiocese. The 18 member commission consists of priests, deacons, religious sisters, and laity from around the archdiocese.

"What we're trying to do is to develop first, a mission plan. This is not primarily about reorganization, it is a plan for positioning the archdiocese to be able to live out its mission in the 21st Century," said Father Couturier.

"The cardinal has charged us with coming up with ideas about what can be and should be the mission of the archdiocese as we face incredible challenges and limited resources going forward."

Father Couturier said that they have been "working intensely" with consulting laity and that the cardinal has met with priests of the archdiocese in vicariate, or regional, meetings. Meetings have also been held with parish pastoral associates.

He also said that online surveys have been established to gather comments on strategic priorities.

"All of that material was collected and put into some working models, but they're working models" said Father Couturier.

"We're still working through the models. We have lots of challenges to face and we want to do this in the most accountable and transparent way," he said.