Reconfiguration committee prepares for cluster reports

With the cluster recommendations expected to reach the Central Committee on Reconfiguration in the coming week, its members of have begun preparing for the daunting task ahead — reading through 80 packets of cluster recommendations and then advising the archbishop on which parishes they think should close. For the past several weeks, they have heard hours of presentations on the many factors they will need to consider when making their own recommendations.

The committee, which is comprised of approximately 20 lay, clergy and religious members, began meeting in late February to familiarize themselves with the Archdiocese of Boston in areas such as the status of Catholic schools, the number of active priests, Mass attendance and parish finances. According to Kathleen Heck, Special Assistant for the Moderator of the Curia for Parish Reconfiguration, the group will conclude its orientation period March 23 and could begin receiving cluster recommendations as early as March 26.

During an almost three-hour meeting March 10, committee members listened to a presentation on Mass counts and sacramental indexes — the number of baptisms and funerals at a parish each year plus twice the number of marriages. They were told that between 1989 and 2003 there has been a 22 percent drop in Mass attendance throughout the archdiocese and they were given each parish’s individual statistics. Dwindling Mass attendance has contributed to drops in the sacramental index at some parishes.

Parish Mass counts and their sacramental indexes will be among the criteria the central committee will use when making their recommendations to the archbishop.

Committee members were also briefed on how parishes handle their finances, budgets and payrolls. The financial complexities involved in closing a parish were also highlighted, such as providing benefits to the staff of a closed parish, canceling contracts the parish may have with outside companies and closing the parish’s multiple bank accounts.

Committee members feel that these presentations are preparing them for what many of them have described as a “daunting” task. However, they know that making recommendations as to which parishes they feel should close in a cluster will not be easy.

“I don’t think it’s going to be black and white. I don’t believe that at all,” said committee member and archdiocesan Respect for Life program coordinator, Deb O’Hara Rusckowski. “There is no stand alone cookie cutter process that we are going to be able to look at,” and many factors in addition to the sacramental index will need to be considered, she said.

Committee members also spent a portion of the March 10 meeting discussing ways to respond to media reports that have portrayed parish reconfiguration as a one-step process decided in the clusters.

The recommendations of the clusters and even of the central committee are recommendations, not decisions, stressed committee member Father Brian Kiely, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Natick.

“The ultimate decision resides with the archbishop because we are a hierarchical Church,” he said. “It’s up to him to look at the whole picture — that’s what he brings to this. The clusters are only looking at their particular situation. They do not look at the entire picture — only the archbishop has access to all that information ... he’s also going to know things we [the central committee] won’t be privy to.”

Committee members also addressed the flurry of negative reactions from some parish priests who did not agree with the final recommendations of their clusters. Parish priests have an important role in “shepherding the people through this transition and making them aware just how important this process is and how positive it can be if we do it correctly,” said Father Kiely. He was assigned to St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Lowell at the time it was suppressed in 1993 and understands first hand “how difficult” reconfiguration can be.

Committee member David Hannon, who has experience working on the pastoral council and parish finance committee at his parish in Cambridge, agrees that the reconfiguration process can be positive. He and other members have been disappointed with media coverage that they feel portrays it as a strictly negative undertaking.

“I honestly think that this is part of making the Church better,” he said. “I want the communications to be realistic but on the other hand to be positive, because I think that the archbishop is correct in his assessment that this will make a stronger Church.”

“I’m conscious of the depth of feeling of people who are rooted in the tradition of their community but, on the other hand, I can think of examples in my own city in which the worshipping community has dwindled,” he continued. “The Church should be respected for this. There will be difficult decisions, but not undertaking the decisions is irresponsible.”

Laura Chan, who was a member of the archdiocesan Pastoral Council for the past four years, said that the committee will look at each packet critically before making its recommendations.

“I’m not seeing this process as an easy cakewalk and certainly I don’t envision that this dynamic committee would be a rubber stamping committee,” said Chan, who is also council chairwoman for the Chinese Catholic community in the archdiocese. She said that the committee plans to use many resources such as maps, the situation in surrounding clusters and parish documentation on finances, schools and ethnic apostolates, to verify the “merit” behind each cluster’s recommendation.

“There will have to be some accountability on how they arrived at their recommendations,” said Chan.

She feels that the diverse composition of the committee will help them make insightful recommendations.

“Everybody has something to bring to the table,” said Chan. “Everyone is coming in at a different angle and from a different background, so we have some knowledge of things.”

The committee has scheduled over 10 hours of time in April to begin reading through cluster recommendations, planning meetings on weekends and also taking time off from work and away from family to meet. Asked whether she minded the long hours the process will entail, committee member O’Hara Rusckowski said she finds it “a very worthwhile, minor sacrifice in comparison to how this is going to affect our Church for years to come for decades to come.”

CRS sells fair trade coffee, supporting Mexican farmers and land

Baltimore, Md., Sep 24, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Catholic Relief Services is now offering fair trade coffee beans that will benefit local farming communities ...

The Jesuit who survived the KGB

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 24, 2018 CNA.- When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius ...

Next step toward artificial reproduction violates human fundamentals, ethicist warns

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Artificial human reproduction appears to be on the horizon with Japanese scientists’ claim to ...

Scandals create outrage, but there is time for conversion, pope says

TALLINN, Estonia (CNS) -- In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to ...

Catholic leaders oppose administration's plan to limit green cards

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are speaking out against a Trump administration proposed rule announced Sept. 22 that would deny green cards to legal ...

Head of Georgetown Prep urges renewed commitment to being 'men for others'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a letter to the school community, the president of an all-boys Jesuit high school in suburban Washington emphasized the schools' ...

Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...