Why is reconfiguration necessary?
There are four main reasons for our work to reallocate parish resources:
- The changes in demographics: From 1860 until 1960, the Archdiocese of Boston built churches and opened parishes to accommodate the growing number of Catholics moving here from overseas, and the large families they established upon their arrival. But since 1960, families have gotten smaller and moved out to suburbs. For that reason we have some churches that are not the bustling places they once were, and other churches that are growing. A few examples: In just over 15 years, the number of Baptisms that were celebrated in all parishes of the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston has fallen by a drop of over 400. During the same time span, the number of Baptisms in the parishes of the city of Quincy decreased by over 200. Meanwhile we have large parishes like St. Michaels’s in North Andover that jumped from 163 Baptisms to over 300 Baptisms and Most Holy Redeemer in East Boston that increased from 100 Baptisms to 436 Baptisms. Clearly, church resources have to be reallocated to meet the decrease in needs in some places, and the increase in others. In some older neighborhoods, a one-mile walk can take you past four or five Catholic churches, built in an era when parishioners often walked to Mass. We cannot sustain that kind of reduplication. Under the best circumstances it is impractical, in our present situation it would be impossible.
- Another factor is the decline in the number of clergy. In 1970, it was not uncommon to have more than 20 priests ordained in a single year in our Archdiocese. The number of those being ordained has decreased considerably over the following decades. In Boston, since 1988, there has been a loss of 341 diocesan priests, a decline of over 37%. Clearly this trend must be reversed. We need more than the forty (40) Boston seminarians we have right now. The median age of priests in the Archdiocese is 59 and the number of active priests over seventy is 132. In the next 10 years the number of active priests will be drastically reduced by death and retirement.
- Many parishes have been struggling for years, if not decades, with overwhelming money problems, including their inability to meet all their financial obligations. Salaries and benefits, while not in competition with the private sector, must offer a living wage and decent healthcare and retirement benefits. Those costs have gone up astronomically in the past ten years. The cost of insurance and of heating and repairing buildings, the cost of maintaining the services a parish must provide and the cost of something as everyday as clearing snow, have all gone up. Many parishes and schools simply cannot pay their normal operating costs. At the beginning of the Jubilee Year 2000, the Archdiocese of Boston wrote off $26.6 million dollars in debt owed by parishes and schools to the Archdiocese. Since that time three years ago, parishes and schools that are not able to pay their bills have accrued additional operating debt of $7.4 million dollars. Clearly, this cannot go on.
- A recent review of all parish property just in the City of Boston, comprising roughly 1/7 of all the buildings in the Archdiocese, determined that to bring these buildings within Boston proper up to an acceptable standard of usability would cost approximately $104 million. That does not mean making unnecessary repairs or renovations or even bringing them up to code, that means making them safe and suitable for use by the parishes and schools.
These are not the only reasons for the process of reallocation, but they are the main ones.
What is the timetable for reconfiguration?
The process began on January 9, with the call to pastors to gather in cluster meetings with the lay leadership of their parishes. Cluster reports were due to the Vicars Forane March 8. The Vicars’ comments are due to the Regional Bishop March 15. The complete cluster packets are due in Bishop Lennon’s office March 26. The Central Committee will require several meetings to consider the packets. The date they will complete their work is not yet known. The next step is to send the cluster packets to the Archbishop for his review. He will then draft his decision and with his reasons present it to the Presbyteral Council for their consultation. The Archbishop will then make his final recommendation and parishes will be notified of their status. This should occur some time in May.
Why not take longer to go through the process?
Ours is a sacramental church, and some of our sacraments entail a certain amount of planning. Weddings and Confirmations are planned months in advance. Baptisms are planned weeks in advance. These sacraments require a period of formation, or education, for the participants. Parishes need to be able to resume planning. Brides need to know if a church will be available, Confirmation classes need to have a date set, and Baptisms. Another part of parish life that requires advance planning is education. Religious education programs and schools need to plan for the coming school year. Pastors and lay people have expressed a strong desire to “get settled” by the time school opens in September.
Of the seven steps in the reconfiguration decision process, the one with the longest time span was the cluster process. The parishes had eight weeks to meet to do their work. Vicars were given one week to review the cluster recommendations and write their comments because Vicars have the advantage of a local knowledge of the parishes involved and an important view of the vicariate as a whole. Regional Bishops were given almost two weeks because they need to review about a dozen clusters each in the context of the whole region. The Central Committee will likely take several weeks to review all the cluster recommendations in the context of the Archdiocese as a whole. The Archbishop will need some time with the packets, and he will want to have one or more meetings with the Presbyteral Council to discuss his recommendations.
In order to complete the decision process and still leave a sufficient span of time for the transition process, it is necessary to have a final decision before summer so that parishes can go forward with their planning.
What is a cluster?
A cluster is a group of parishes brought together for collaborative planning purposes. Cluster planning began in 1995, and has enabled groups of parishes to work together on a variety of levels since that time.
Who were the people in the reconfiguration cluster meetings?
Cluster meetings included representatives from each parish: the Pastor, a member of the Parish Pastoral Planning Council, a member of the Parish Finance Council, and a member of the parish staff. The number of representatives from a parish may have varied since many parishes sent a few more than the required number of both staff and lay people. About 1,800 lay people attended cluster meetings and about 340 priests.
What is the Sacramental Index?
The Sacramental Index for a parish is found by adding the total number of Baptisms, funerals, and twice the number of weddings. The Sacramental Index has most often been used in the past to determine the number of priests assigned to a parish.
What was the role of the cluster group in reconfiguration?
The cluster group should have analyzed all available information for the cluster’s mission and outreach. These items include Mass attendance and the sacramental index of each parish, as well as a careful review of all activities accomplished in the cluster: presence of an ethnic apostolate, number and population of parish schools, outreach to the hungry and homeless, programs for the elderly and homebound, nursing home coverage, youth groups, number of children in religious education, adult education programs, RCIA, meetings hosted by parishes, and a number of other activities sponsored by parishes.
The cluster group should then have looked at the facilities available among the existing parishes in the cluster including parking, disabled access and public transportation, and the financial condition of the parishes and the ability of the cluster to support the work of parishes.
The last step in the cluster process was to answer the Archbishop’s two questions:
If the Archbishop found it necessary to close one parish in your cluster, which one would you recommend and why?
If the Archbishop found it necessary to close more than one parish in your cluster, which ones would they be and why?
The recommendation is then submitted to the Vicar Forane, a pastor who coordinates a group of priests in a Vicariate.
What are the Vicariates and the Vicars Forane?
Vicariates are geographic subunits of the regions of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese has 22 Vicariates, each with about 15 parishes. Vicars Forane are priests who coordinate the work and communications of the priests within a Vicariate. The Vicars Forane report to their Regional Bishops.
What is the Central Committee?
In order to consult with a broad cross section of lay people and pastors during the reconfiguration process, a Central Committee was empaneled to review the recommendations of every cluster. The Committee includes members from all five regions of the Archdiocese. Eleven lay men and women, two women religious and five pastors make up the Central Committee. The convener of the group is Bishop Richard Lennon. They were nominated by their Regional Bishops based on their history of involvement at the parish level. The Central Committee, like the cluster groups, is a predominantly lay group.
The Central Committee will need a number of long meetings for their part of the process because they will review the recommendations and comments in great detail. They will have resources available for clarification – among them maps, various statistics and other background information. They will look at information from abutting clusters when reviewing a recommendation. They anticipate working in long sessions in order to finish their work so that parishes do not need to wait too long to know their future.
Based on their review of a cluster recommendation plus the attached comments from the Vicare Forane and Regional Bishop, and their own research of the particular cluster, the Central Committee has the standing to do one of three things: Endorse the cluster recommendation, endorse the recommendation with suggestions for slight changes, or, if they feel that either the process in the cluster or the outcome was seriously flawed, to take a new look at the cluster and recommend an alternative solution.
What are the next steps after the cluster process?
The Vicar Forane reviews the cluster recommendations and attaches his comments. The packets are then sent to the Regional Bishop, who also will attach his comments. The next stop for the packets is the Central Committee, who will carefully review all materials and refer to supporting information before attaching their comments. The packets then go to the Archbishop for his review, and his decision. He will consult with the Presbyteral Council, and having consulted them he will be ready to come to a final decision on which parishes will close and which will remain open.
How many parishes will be affected?
357 Parishes will be affected by this process. A certain number will close. A certain number will be designated as welcoming parishes for the parishes that have closed. That said, every parish that remains open will find itself welcoming some new parishioners. This is an opportunity for every parish in the Archdiocese of Boston to experience the renewal that comes with an influx of new parishioners.