Presbyteral Council advises archbishop on closings

The final decision on parish reconfiguration is now in the hands of Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley. After three days of animated discussions and careful consideration, the Presbyteral Council has offered its advice to the archbishop on which parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston should remain open and which should close.

Moderator of the Curia Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the archdiocesan official leading the reconfiguration process, told The Pilot in an interview that, after having consulted the Presbyteral Council as required by Canon Law, “the archbishop will take his own counsel ... to help him arrive at the final decisions.”

The final announcement of parish closures will be made public May 25.

The Presbyteral Council is a body of priests that aids the bishop in the governance of a diocese. Though its role is strictly consultative, according to Canon 515 the bishop “is not to establish, suppress or notably alter [parishes] unless he has consulted the council of priests.”

The council met May 7, 10 and 11 to voice their opinion on parish reconfiguration.

The reconfiguration process began in January 2004 with meetings of clusters — a group of neighboring parishes — in which parish representatives offered their views on which parishes could close in their area. Those recommendations were submitted to the area’s vicar and subsequently to the regional bishop, both of whom added their own opinions. That information was then sent to a central committee composed of 20 members representing the five regions in the archdiocese who added their own findings.

When considering the fate of a cluster, each of the 47 members of the Presbyteral Council was presented with a one page summary of the all the recommendations made at the previous stages of the process as well as the archbishop’s initial decision, according to Bishop Lennon.

Members of the council could see “in a snapshot everything that has gone on since March 8,” the date clusters submitted their recommendations to their vicars, said Bishop Lennon.

The amount of time spent by the council members advising the archbishop on a particular cluster varied according to the complexity of its circumstances, according to Bishop Lennon. In many cases all the previous recommendations and the archbishop’s initial decision were “all identical.” In other cases, recommendations varied widely.

"The interaction among the priests [of the council] has been very positive, even though some have very different views, which is healthy. The archbishop is hearing from a real cross-section of the clergy," Bishop Lennon said.

"The priests are very committed to this. They realize the seriousness of what is happening in the Archdiocese of Boston. They are aware that the archbishop is really listening to them, that they have an important role to play in this. Their involvement has been nothing short of what one would expect from dedicated priests," he continued.

Bishop Lennon would not speculate about the number of parishes that would ultimately close because “there has been no decision.”

"Since this [process] has begun, there was the suspicion by some that there was already a list and we were going through this just for appearance's sake," he said.

He stressed that the archbishop was giving consideration to all the recommendations he has received, saying “this is not just a pro forma exercise.”

The archdiocese has released the names of all parishes that have been recommended for closure at any stage of the reconfiguration process. Some have expressed concern that financially viable parishes and those that serve the needs of immigrant communities in the inner cities have appeared on the list.

"There is, understandably, a natural tendency to want to look at this exercise from the point of view of one's own parish or the parishes in the neighborhood," Bishop Lennon said. "Yet the archbishop has asked for a bigger view; what is best for the archdiocese, with the resources that we have, to be able to provide the presence of the Church and its ministry and pastoral care and fulfilling the mission of evangelization in an equitable manner."

Bishop Lennon said that even a “viable” parish could be closed, “because the care of the Catholic faith of [an] area may not need three or four parishes. They may only need two or three ... The archdiocese needs a better allocation of those resources.”

Similarly, the bishop said that the archdiocese will continue serving ethnic communities, even if some parishes need to be subsidized.

"New peoples, in their expression of their faith, so often need the language that they are familiar with. The work of the Office of Ethnic Apostolates and the work of the Hispanic Apostolate will continue," Bishop Lennon explained.

"All the present [groups of] new peoples will have ministries provided for them -- it may not be in the same parish but it's not going to be far away," he said.

Asked about the impact that the closures will have on parishioners, Bishop Lennon said that previous experiences parish closings are encouraging. “Many of the people were very upset and sad about the parish closing, but today the vast majority are in new parishes and they are members of new communities and they are going forward on their journey to God. There is a sadness, but there is also new life.”

"One of the images of the Second Vatican Council is that we are the pilgrim people, we are on the move to God. Yes, this is a difficult move and many people are going to be asked for a big sacrifice, but there is something deeper that awaits them and that will nourish them and support them," Bishop Lennon added.