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Parish Closings Fast Facts

January 14, 2004 statement on Parish Closings

February 3, 2004 letter from Jim Post and John Hynes to Archbishop O’Malley

March 8, 2004 VOTF statement calling for moratorium

March 9, 2004 letter from Steve Krueger to Chris Coyne

March 31, 2004 letter from John Hynes to O’Malley

March 31, 2004 Letter from Mark Maloney, Boston Redevelopment Authority, to Bishop Richard Lennon

May 7, 2004 statement by John Hynes

Flyer for May 23, 2004 event

Financial Implications information


    February 3, 2004

    Most Reverend Sean Patrick O’Malley, OFM Cap
    Archbishop of Boston
    2121 Commonwealth Avenue
    Boston, MA 02135-3193

    Dear Archbishop O’Malley,

    We are writing to you in response to the efforts currently underway to close parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston. We understand that among the reasons for parish closings recently given to the priests of the Archdiocese were: finances, shortages of priests and declining church attendance.

    Our response to hearing that churches are being closed because of declining church attendance is to ask the question “Why?” Why has attendance declined? What, if anything, can be done to either halt or reverse it? Declining church attendance is by no means a phenomenon experienced uniformly across all parishes in this archdiocese. To say that begs the question “What is happening in those parishes where attendance has either held steady or has actually increased? It seems to us that answers to those question should be sought before the process of closing parishes begins. Archdiocesan spokespersons have said that one goal of the parish closing process is the revitalization of parishes. If we don’t address the reasons for attendance decline, how can we even talk about revitalizing parishes?

    One of the positive effects of the current crisis is the recognition among lay Catholics of the critical need in our lives for adult faith formation. Indeed, another positive effect is the significant increase in adult faith formation activities actually taking place in our church today. It’s as though we are experiencing a belated response to Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, the USCCB’s November 1999 call for a renewed commitment to adult faith formation in America. An outcome of this increase is that the laity is beginning to see this activity as both an obligation and a right. What’s more, some laity now recognize the ultimate goal of such adult faith formation is the advancement of the Church’s mission. We think they would happily embrace the re-evangelization of former parishioners, especially teenagers and young adults, as a way of working toward that goal.

    Although our first recommendation would be to re-fill our churches, rather than close them, we understand that inevitably some few will be need to close. Given that likelihood, we have undertaken a review of the proposed Archdiocesan schedule to address church closings. That plan provides for only the minimum of lay involvement and only during the first phase at the parish/cluster level. The first phase is scheduled to be completed by March 8, 2004.

    The process of reconfiguring parishes could provide an opportunity to promote the healing so desperately needed from the devastation of the last two years. Instead of the task of recommending closings in an onerous process that pits one parish against another, there could be a highly collaborative lay/clergy effort designed to address the fundamental issues and leading to an end state we can all embrace. Your approach could provide a mechanism to demonstrate the many talents and skills of the dedicated and committed Catholic laity. Previous involvement by the laity with organizations experiencing downsizing and out-sourcing of work could be of great value.

    The conclusions drawn by the experts that have studied this phenomenon are most instructive. In a recent article, Thomas A Hickok observes the effect that downsizing has on organizational culture. “It clearly appears that power has shifted away from rank-and-file … in the direction of top management. Accompanying this change is a shift in emphasis away from the well-being of individuals in the direction of the pre-eminence and predominance of the organization….”

    The author poses five questions for the “many leaders who wish to acknowledge a certain responsibility for the ‘moral’ or ‘spiritual’ fabric of the life of their organizations.” Those questions are along the following lines:

    • Are we respecting our constituents?
    • Have our constituents been able to provide meaningful input?
    • Have we carefully thought through the consequences for those for whom the bell tolls?
    • Are we prepared to explain our decisions to multiple constituents?
    • Are we offering a realistic opportunity for a better future?

    We feel that the effort is of tremendous importance in the future of the Boston Archdiocese. In most cases, parish closings have a negative impact on our collective Boston Catholic psyche. The presentation and result of such a study by creditable lay people and the clergy would go far in the acceptance of the associated closings by the Archdiocesan community. This subject should, therefore, be very carefully and comprehensibly addressed.

    With the above said, the following modifications on your effort are suggested:

    • Greater lay involvement during each phase of effort

      • Each parish should provide an opportunity for all parish members to discuss this issue. The members of the finance and parish advisory boards may not reflect the views of the congregation, or the board members may have little interest in church closings beyond their immediate parish. Parish Advisory Boards may not exist or may be nothing more than a rubber stamp for the pastor.

      • Lay members should be represented and participate in the decision making phase up to and including decisions to close individual parishes.

    • The need for a review of all church assets (property, bank accounts, etc.)

    • An adequate database in which to make these decisions.

      • The updated Archdiocesan database on sacramental participation for each parish that appeared in the The Boston Globe and in The Pilot is a very good start. This database would have to be augmented to include financial viability, any Archdiocesan subsidies, building condition, demographics, school viability, proximity of church in adjacent parish, charitable outreach programs that a closing might impact, and value of church assets, if the church is closed.

    • Outreach program of people and priests impacted by any closing. Probably ensure continuation of current activities within the new church. Some sort of grief counseling should also be provided.

    • Explore ways to obtain financial assistance. Wealthy Catholics and donors could be encouraged to provide assistance, particularly when they understand the crisis and a change in the lay/clergy dynamics.

    • Efforts to increase the number of priests and deacons. This could include ways to optimize the utilization of these men. What are the other dioceses doing? What has been effective?

    • Their must be an open and transparent process if we are to regain the trust of the Catholic community. A job well done could be used as a national model.

    The more comprehensive study envisioned in the aforementioned comments will likely require additional time to complete. Nevertheless, the potential benefits of a broader approach should justify the delay. We stand ready to assist in this process.

    We see opportunities that may develop through the closing of a small number of churches at the end of a thoughtful, collaborative process. Establishing a mechanism for inclusive resource sharing among all Archdiocesan parishes is one such opportunity -- one that is both highly desirable and long overdue. We want to support you in advancing the vision of a truly united Boston Archdiocese -- one that acts and feels like a single caring community. This should be the goal of all Boston Catholics going forward.

    Voice of the Faithful is about rebuilding our Church. We pray that you will recognize that our objectives are aligned with yours. We are in agreement that rebuilding our Church needs to involve a serious, committed effort throughout the Archdiocese. We, too, are eager to realize a Church that is equipped to both fulfill its mission and respond to the needs of the faithful. From the beginning, Voice of the Faithful has been an advocate for collaboration and cooperation and for an approach to governance that is truly the work of the whole Church. We fully endorse the concept that “reconfiguration will only work if everyone involved is committed to serve the whole Catholic family of the Archdiocese of Boston.” We are committed to serve our Catholic family and pray for the opportunity to be engaged in a meaningful way in the reconfiguration process.

    Because we love our own family members, we put them first in our decision-making. Similarly, we must manifest our love for all members of our Archdiocesan family, but in particular for the poor. Following the guidance of Pope John Paul II (as well as the U.S. Catholic Bishops) we Boston Catholics need to give “preferential attention to the poor, seeking to share time and resources in order to alleviate (their) suffering.”

    Throughout the current crisis, we have been sustained by our faith. We have learned anew that the language of our faith is prayer. As you said in your Installation homily “It is a window that allows light into our life.” We plan to inaugurate the new VOTF Boston Council with a Day of Prayer -- a Day of Prayer for a very successful and inclusive reconfiguration process in the Archdiocese of Boston.

    Very truly yours,

    James Post, President,
    Voice of the Faithful (VOTF)

    John Hynes, Chair
    Boston VOTF Affiliates Task Force