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Church faces clergy crunch: Committee: Archdiocese must make
“If no proactive archdiocesan-wide approach to future staffing, guided by the archbishop, is undertaken, the archdiocese faces hard results: a series of parish closings due to staff limitations and financial problems, and the accompanying hurt and anger,” warns the Pastoral Planning Report, prepared by a committee of 15 lay members and clergy this spring after 15 months of study.
The report paints a grim picture of priest staffing. There are 500 active priests in the archdiocese today. Of those, 108 are age 65 years or older. The report projects the church will lose 25 priests annually, while a mere five candidates each year will be ordained to replace them.
By 2015, the number of clergy is expected to dwindle to 292 active priests for 295 parishes, the report said.
The figures demonstrate a staggering drop in the number of clergy in the Boston Archdiocese, which was staffed with 1,189 priests in 1976 and 859 priests as recently as 2004, according to FutureChurch, a national coalition.
“We’re not immune to what the rest of the Catholic church is going through. There is an enormous shift in the number of priests out there,” said archdiocesan spokesman Terrence C. Donilon.
Donilon emphatically dismissed the prospect of another sweeping round of parish closures or a dramatic reassigment of priests.
However, the report makes clear that every aspect of parish life - from Mass schedules to priest workloads and the role deacons and trained lay ministers may play at funeral services - should be scrutinized.
The committee recommends the parishes or archbishop consider:
· Adjustments to daily Mass schedules in coordination with neighboring parishes to ensure daily liturgy is available “albeit at different local parishes.”
· Whether parishes have the authority to a designate a particular day for celebrating funerals.
· Whether a parish communion service is ever an “allowed option.”
· Establishing criteria to regulate the number of Masses priests or parishes should celebrate daily and on Sunday.
“Parish life will have to look very different from the present as parishes strive to use more limited resources for mission,” the report said in a recommendations section. “Many aspects of the present parish structures will not be sustainable in even the immediate future.”
Under the committee’s proposal, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley would head a three-year planning process and aim to implement changes within seven years.
Donilon described the report as a “strong document,” but said O’Malley has not decided whether to act upon any of its recommendations.
“We’ve done reconfiguration. I don’t think we’re interested in the playing the same playbook,” he said. “The cardinal has said, ‘I have to provide for the pastoral care of these parishes. I have to provide for the support and well-being of our priests.’ I think it’s exciting.”
The report suggests a “diocesan-wide” approach to the staffing crisis, with supervision by regional bishops and vicars, rather than a case-by-case “parish model” driven by individual priest pastors.
The Council of Parishes, an advocacy group for closed churches, blasted the proposal to employ a “top-down” approach to pastoral planning.
“The archdiocese has failed to learn from the fiasco of Reconfiguration I that a secretive, command-and-control process will not work,” said Peter Borre, the council’s co-chairman.
“The archdiocese is hell-bent (literally) on destroying dozens of more parishes,” said Borre. “Where does it all end?”