Pastoral Planning Commission submits final proposal to cardinal

BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission this week announced that they submitted the final version of their proposal to Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of a renewed method to provide pastoral support to parishes for the New Evangelization.

"After receiving input from all the consultative bodies, Cardinal Seán will determine whether to accept all or some of the APPC's recommendations and also, if accepted, when the archdiocese should begin the implementation," said Vicar General Msgr. Robert P. Deeley in a letter announcing the proposal's release.

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 document published this week, "Disciples in Mission," presents the final recommendations of the commission to the cardinal based on the research and information gathered through the consultations. According to the vicar general's letter announcing the document, the cardinal, with the archdiocesan finance council and the archdiocesan pastoral council, will consider the recommendations in the proposal and decide by the end of November.

The final document closely resembles the most recent version of the proposal discussed at a gathering of priests in June, with changes reflecting results of commission consultations in which the APPC conducted 40 meetings in all regions of the archdiocese. The commission presented its initial results in three rounds of consultations, first to the priests of the archdiocese last December, then to pastoral staffs and parish councils and finally to the parish communities.

The proposal presents organizational and training initiatives focused on strengthening the structures of parishes and preparing the personnel of parishes for the call to the New Evangelization.

"'Disciples in Mission' is all about evangelization. It is an effort to focus the resources of the Archdiocese of Boston on an effort to the New Evangelization," Father Paul Soper, interim director of Pastoral Planning, said.

Father Soper said the recommendations aim to accomplish priorities established by the cardinal early in the process. The proposal seeks to realize the five priorities by welcoming Catholics to a deeper conversion to Christ, strengthening parishes, growing the Church through evangelization, strengthening and bringing to excellence faith formation for Catholics of all ages, and reenergizing pastoral leadership.

The document identified declining Mass attendance, shrinking numbers of priests and trained laity, and an increasing number of parishes that are unable to sustain themselves financially in recent years.

"We are not giving up. We are going to embrace the possibilities here. We are going to. We have something precious, something that has been handed on to us through the centuries and that precious thing is our faith in Jesus Christ," Father Soper said.

The document focuses on strengthening parishes and the entire archdiocese in the process under the emphasis of the New Evangelization.

"We believe that that faith is relevant for the modern world, just as relevant as it was for the ancient world or for the world of 50 years ago. We are going to engage people with that faith," Father Soper said.

The first of the document's two parts is dedicated to organizing archdiocesan parishes to share resources.

The proposal calls for the archdiocese to organize its 288 parishes into 135 groups called "parish collaboratives." Led by one pastor, a group of priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers, called a "pastoral team," 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 assets.

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.

The parish collaboratives are a means for "fostering common pastoral action and a common vision. They are not a kind of superstructure 'above' the parish, nor do they come between the parish and the diocesan bishop," the proposal states.

The archdiocese has not finalized groupings, but 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."

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.

Father Soper said the process would begin with a voluntary first phase establishing between 10 and 15 collaboratives distributed throughout the archdiocese. He said the experiences of the early-adopting parishes will be studied to hone the process as the phase-in continues.

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

"Many of the sorts of things that a pastoral council would have to consider are issues that are for the broad collaborative and should be appropriately considered together as a whole group. But it is not necessarily the case that every issue would be an issue for the whole collaborative," Father Soper said.

If the archdiocese finds it possible under Canon Law, the pastor would also work with a single finance council even as pastor of two, three or four parishes.

In the second part of the document the commission outlines training objectives to prepare pastoral teams and archdiocese staff in theology, practices, management and leadership skills integral to the New Evangelization.

The commission proposes 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 training objectives.

In the model, EVNE will focus on theology training and implementing best practices in new evangelization efforts.

CLI will run leadership and management trainings and train pastoral collaboratives on creating their own pastoral plans for their collaboratives covering the theological, pastoral and practical and training needs of each collaborative.

"Those plans will have to be submitted to the archbishop early on in the process, so that we can all be somewhat on the same page," Father Soper said.

PPO will coordinate communication and active lines of support between pastoral collaboratives and the central ministries of the archdiocese.

Once the partnership between these three groups is established after the first phase, the commission recommends that the archdiocese hire four new staff members to be what is to be called the Pastoral Planning Training Team. CLI will train this group to continue the training after that.

The training will extend not just to the pastoral collaboratives and their supporting staff, but to personnel throughout the archdiocese as a shift focusing on the New Evangelization.

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.

EVNE and PPO will also conduct extensive consultation in the archdiocese to discover best practices in New Evangelization. The Catholic Media Group will provide technology support for this initiative and outreach to Catholics of the archdiocese.

The proposal is available for the entire Catholic community to read on the APPC website at

"We are confident that the proposal being reviewed by the cardinal and archdiocesan councils achieves the vision set forth when this work began. It has the New Evangelization as its central thrust. Please know of Cardinal Seán's deep appreciation for the collaborative work that has resulted in a thoughtful, prayerful and attainable plan for the good of the Church," the vicar general said in his letter.

"Please join us in giving thanks to God for the work completed and His blessings for the effort ahead as we seek to build a community strong in faith and connected by Christ's love for all," he concluded.

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