While checking out America magazine’s blog site “In All Things,” I came across a posting on an Associated Press story, reporting on discussions concerning the consolidation of parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston. The Council of Parishes, a local group that opposes the closing of parishes, had obtained a copy of a memo that outlines a possible approach, and they forwarded it to the AP.
The reporting states that there have been suggestions that several parishes in a local area be clustered under one pastor, supported by a combined staff, one financial council and pastoral council. It in turn would look at needs, and ministries versus assets, and recommend to the Archdiocese on the closing or preserving of any the cluster’s facilities. The word has already been out on the ecclesial street, that this might be an approach the Archdiocese might take to address the reduction in active clergy, and the drop in active church membership and donations. It is already being tried in Dorchester, MA, where a former classmate of mine, Father Jack Ahern, is the pastor of three combined parishes.
The idea of creating church clusters is not written in stone, but is still being thought through. Nobody wants a repeat of the last reconfiguration, which was a confused, ill-thought process. Whatever savings it might have had for the Archdiocese, it was not worth the pain, the suspicions, and the strains on the relationships between the laity and the Archbishop. Whatever decisions is made, is must be carefully explained, with clear standards for preserving a parish, and the process must be transparent.
The thing is that the Archdiocese must do something concerning the Catholic communities it is responsible for. The problem is not just financial; it is the number of priests that are available to fully staff all of the parishes. Where there is no Eucharist, there is an ecclesial community in danger of dying. To answer this danger may require thinking outside of the box. A local Catholic community can take many forms, as long as it celebrates a common Eucharist, it remains united with its bishop, and through it’s bishop, is united with the world wide Church.