Archdiocese begins consultation on pastoral planning

RANDOLPH -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission (APPC) met with priests of the Archdiocese of Boston and those serving in archdiocesan parishes at the Lantana on Dec. 5, to begin a consultation process regarding the next phase of pastoral planning in the archdiocese.

The APPC presented the priests with the plan, outlining principles and preliminary recommendations for strengthening the archdiocese's parish-based ministries, evangelization efforts, and parish staffing.

After presenting the plan for consideration, the APPC and the cardinal focused on the message of discussion.

"First, today begins a months-long consultation on a proposal to strengthen our parishes for generations to come," Cardinal O'Malley said. "I need to hear what you, our priests and pastors, have to say about this proposal."

Ten months ago, the cardinal appointed as co-chairs of the commission Msgr. William Fay, pastor of St. Columbkille Parish in Brighton and Deacon Charles Clough of Holy Family Parish in Concord. The meeting brought the plan of the commission to 392 priests who attended the convocation as well as seminarians, APPC members, and staff from the archdiocese for discussion.

"What you are being presented with is a proposal, a plan that has been developed to respond to the needs of our faith community," Cardinal O'Malley said. "Central to all of this is our own vocation to be pastors, to be spiritual fathers to God's people."

The document, "Disciples in Mission," proposes a vision for the archdiocese to move toward an evangelizing mission within and through parishes.

The APPC proposed a new structure for archdiocese parishes called a Pastoral Service Team (PST). Led by one pastor, a group of priests, deacons, pastoral associates, and lay ecclesial ministers would provide pastoral services to multiple parishes.

The APPC presented aspects of the plan to the priests, gathered their opinions using an electronic voting system, and presented the results in real-time back to the group.

Msgr. Fay spoke on The Good Catholic Life radio program on Dec. 6 about the meeting and the changes the faithful can expect as the Church moves from maintenance to mission.

"The feedback we got from the priests was enormously positive," Msgr. Fay said. "It took me quite by surprise how positive the response was."

Questions at the convocation focused on the proposed Pastoral Service Team model. The commission asked about changes, including living arrangements, responsibility levels, and overall direction of the plan.

The multiple-choice survey question asked the priests if they agree with the direction the proposal of the PST model would take the archdiocese.

"Amazingly, the priests answered either 'the right direction,' or 'close to the right direction' by an overwhelming two thirds," Msgr. Fay said.

"I think the key point for us to get a hold of is that this is all about reinvigorating ourselves for evangelization in the Archdiocese of Boston," Msgr. Fay said.

"We're recognizing -- and recognizing pretty clearly -- that our attendance, active life of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston, is now under 16 percent, and that's really not acceptable," he added.

Msgr. Fay committed the commission to an open discussion with the public by his participation in the show and the message he brought to the audience of 1060 AM that day.

"This is going to be a fully transparent process," Msgr. Fay said. "We are looking at the good of the archdiocese. We all have a stake in this. The cardinal has a responsibility as shepherd."

Further rounds of consultations with archdiocesan, parish leadership and laity will be conducted over the next several months. The APPC will then prepare a final recommendation to Cardinal O'Malley for his decision.

Msgr. Fay expressed the APPC's position regarding the importance of laity, religious and clergy to see any proposals put forward, and he invited all these groups to advise the archbishop in the decision process. "Every single baptized person in the life of the Church shares in the mission of the Church."

He encouraged people to visit to see the cardinal's speech, portions of the meeting, and review materials from the meeting.