Five myths, five realities

Disciples in Mission, the Pastoral Plan of the Archdiocese of Boston, is now in its second year of implementation. Although much has been written about the plan, some misunderstandings exist. Here are five points that seem to need clarification.

-- Myth: Pastors in the parishes of the collaborative must resign and cannot apply to be pastor of the collaborative.

Reality: Yes and no. Because of certain canons regarding the role of the pastor, when the parish asks to move forward as a collaborative, and the request is approved, yes, the pastor must submit his resignation. Ordinarily, he will remain in place in the parish until his resignation becomes effective, that is, on the date that the collaborative is inaugurated. During this interim period between submitting his resignation and the start of the collaborative, he may request to be appointed pastor of that collaborative. This request goes to the Clergy Personnel Board and then to Cardinal O'Malley, who makes the final decision based on his determination as to what is best for the new collaborative. Six of the 12 pastors in Phase I were pastoring a parish in their collaborative. Of the 20 pastors appointed to Phase II Collaboratives, 10 were pastors of a parish in their collaborative.

-- Myth: When a parish becomes part of a collaborative, the individual parish will lose its unique identity and exist only as a part of the collaborative.

Reality: The purpose of collaboratives is to make each parish stronger so that the parish will continue not only to exist but also to thrive. Each parish in the collaborative will serve parishioners on the local level, and, joined in mission with other parishes in the collaborative, will serve the wider Catholic community. Becoming part of a collaborative will not mean a loss of identity but rather, it renews awareness of who we are as this parish of Saint ----- .

The first recommendation in Disciples in Mission is clear:

"The parish collaboratives support the unity and identity of each parish, while at the same time encouraging the parish communities to work together for the common good and the mission of the new evangelization." (Disciples in Mission Part I, Recommendation I)

-- Myth: Financial concerns -- My parish will have to pay THEIR bills.

Reality: Again, quoting from the Pastoral Plan, Part I, Recommendation I: "Each parish retains its identity and integrity as a distinct canonical entity, with its own name, church building, and responsibility for its own income, assets, resources, facilities, and financial obligations. The collaboratives do not result in combining the assets and/or liabilities of parishes."

-- Myth: This Pastoral Plan is really just a veiled plan to close parishes.

Reality: If the real goal of Disciples in Mission were to close parishes, it would be a poor plan indeed. Time, talent, and treasure have been devoted to developing and implementing this pastoral plan. Disciples in Mission strives to make every parish a center of the new evangelization that is strong, stable, intentional in its outreach, and effective. One reason for insisting that parishes within a collaborative retain their identity and assets is the founded hope that if we are effective in evangelization and promoting vocations then, within the next decades, there will be sufficient priestly vocations to once again have a pastor assigned to every parish.

-- Myth: Cardinal Seán O'Malley is not actively involved in selecting parishes for each phase, or pastors for collaboratives.

Reality: The Director of Pastoral Planning and the Cabinet Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership meet regularly with the cardinal. The cardinal's approval of suggested parish pairings and appointments is definitely not a mere formality. In preparation for Phases I and II of Disciples in Mission, Cardinal O'Malley has made significant changes to proposals presented to him.

We are faced with real deficits: shortage of priests, shortage of certified staff, shrinking numbers of people in the pews, and decreased financial support. Some have suggested that just closing parishes would be the simplest solution. Just do it. The presumption is that quickly closing parishes is like ripping off a bandage; it will only hurt for a while. This may sound attractive, until it's your parish or my parish. We've been through this; the pain and mistrust lingers and is debilitating. There has to be a better way. There has to be a way that, with God's grace, harnesses the gifts and talents we have, and is positive and hopeful in its intent.

Disciples in Mission is not a lengthy document. It can be found at Read it, think about it, pray about it.