Cardinal approves pastoral plan

BRAINTREE -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley was to approve the final version of the proposal of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission to provide pastoral support to parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston Nov. 15.

"Though the challenge of renewing the Church will call for significant effort and a new way of staffing our parishes, we are committed to re-engaging the culture, the current generation of Catholics and providing a strong foundation for those who will follow us. Our Catholic faith is our most precious gift," the cardinal said, in prepared remarks made available to The Pilot before the press conference announcing the acceptance of the plan.

The cardinal also said that the new pastoral plan comes in response to current challenges faced by the Church in Boston, and could change if those realities improve.

"The plan to implement a new model of leadership at the collaboratives does not mean that we are leaving behind the model of a priest being assigned as the pastor of one parish. It is my fervent hope, encouraged by a significant increase in seminary enrollment during recent years, that a greater number of ordinations to the priesthood will allow us to again assign priests as pastors of individual parishes," he said.

Published in September, "Disciples in Mission" presented the cardinal with the final recommendations of the commission based on research and information gathered through consultations held from December 2011 through March 2012 throughout the archdiocese with priests, church staff and volunteers.

"Parishes are the heart of the new evangelization; they must be well staffed and financially sound so as to be effective in this mission," the cardinal said.

"Disciples in Mission" identified the key challenges to parishes as declining Mass attendance, shrinking numbers of priests and trained laity, and an increasing number of parishes unable to sustain themselves financially in recent years.

The proposal calls for the archdiocese to organize its 288 parishes into approximately 135 groups called "parish collaboratives." Led by one pastor, a group of priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers, called a "pastoral team," which would provide pastoral services to parishes in the collaborative. Under the plan, each parish in the collaborative group will maintain its separate identity and control of its own property and assets.

According to the proposal, collaboratives will be made up "usually of two or three parishes, but sometimes only one, and, in rare occasions four parishes."

Though the composition of teams would be different from collaborative to collaborative, reflecting the needs of each parish, team members would follow the pastor in serving all parishes in the collaborative.

According to the most recent version of the document, parish collaboratives are a means for fostering common pastoral action and a common vision, not a structure "above" the parish, or coming between the parish and the diocesan bishop.

The collaboratives would be phased in archdiocesan-wide in four phases over the course of five years, with some flexibility during implementation built into the proposal.

The archdiocese has not determined all collaborative groupings yet, according to Father Paul Soper, interim director of the Office of Pastoral Planning.

Father Soper said parishes will receive a letter shortly after the Nov. 15 announcement letting them know if their collaborative grouping has been determined. Parishes will be asked to respond to those letters, to help give collaboratives a chance to enter the first group phased into the plan.

"We have some groupings that are ready to be in phase one, but we want to give everybody a chance," Father Soper.

Officials said the process would begin with a first phase comprised of about a dozen collaboratives distributed throughout the archdiocese. Experiences of the early-adopting parishes will be studied to hone the process as the phase-in continues.

The proposal also calls for parish pastoral and finance councils to be consolidated to allow each to serve the collaborative as a whole, with subcommittees capable of acting on behalf of each parish.

Archdiocesan officials said a pastoral council would have to consider issues for the broad collaborative as a whole group.

The pastor will also work with a single finance council even as pastor of two, three or four parishes. Father Soper said the finance council at each collaborative should have subcommittees for each parish in the group.

"The finance council exists to advise the pastor, and there is one pastor. However, that finance council will almost certainly have to have subcommittees," Father Soper said.

The document also outlines training objectives to prepare pastoral teams and archdiocese staff in theology, practices, management and leadership skills integral to the New Evangelization.

The commission proposed that the Office of the Episcopal Vicar for the New Evangelization (EVNE), the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), and the Pastoral Planning Office (PPO) form a partnership to forward and promote training objectives in each collaborative.

Training will take place in six stages geared to each level of participation in the archdiocese, from Pastoral Center staff to the pastors and the teams supporting them in the parishes. The Theological Institute for the New Evangelization will grant certificates to participants upon completion of training.

Father Soper said a new website,, to be launched Nov. 15 will provide blogs, information and daily updates to keep laity informed on developments as the process continues.

"We are going to be inviting people to watch what is happening in phase one, to help us to learn from that and then to start making the plans in their own parishes. I think it is going to have a broad impact quickly on everybody," Father Soper said.

In January 2006, Cardinal O'Malley established committees to explore three areas of pastoral life that he considered particularly challenging for the archdiocese -- faith formation, marriage, and pastoral planning.

The Pastoral Planning Committee, headed by Father George Evans, was charged with suggesting ways for the archdiocese to effectively use its resources to continue Christ's mission in the future. The committee wrapped up its work after 18 meetings over the course of 15 months. The 15-member committee included priests, religious and lay leaders.

In its 2007 report, the committee recommended the formation of a commission to develop and implement a specific pastoral plan for Boston. The archdiocese created the Office of Pastoral Planning, currently headed by Father Soper, in 2008.

In 2010 the archdiocese began a series of consultations with priests and laity that identified essential elements of a comprehensive pastoral plan.

In 2011 the cardinal formed the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission. The 18-member board -- made up of priests, deacons, religious sisters and lay people from around the Archdiocese of Boston -- worked toward a final recommendation on a pastoral plan to account for resources available to the archdiocese.

"Over many years the archdiocese has recognized the need for some kind of structured process within which we deal with the realities of the present time and the fact that we have diminishing numbers of people in church and diminishing numbers of priests to serve them," Bishop-elect Robert P. Deeley, J.C.D., Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, said.

The commission worked to develop the proposal through a series of consultations held from December 2011 through March 2012 throughout the archdiocese with priests, church staff and volunteers.

The APPC conducted 40 meetings in all regions of the archdiocese that helped the commission develop the plan, before the APPC held their final meeting in August and submitted their final recommendations to the cardinal for his approval.

"In this instance, the great amount of consultation and hard work that went into this planning effort is an attempt to involve as many people as possible in the process so that the communication is as complete as humanly possible," the vicar general said.

The vicar general also noted the possibility to renew the Church in Boston through the plan.

"This effort is a major effort by the archdiocese to invite people of the Church in Boston to give new consideration to the value of the Gospel for living in our world today. The means by which we rearrange our parishes is only vital and important insofar as it re-presents the Gospel in a way which people will give consideration to, in the hopes that they will see in it the great joy and peace that it is intended to give," he said.