Monday, November 15, 2004

Archbishop O'Malley on parish closings.

Here's a letter from Archbishop Sean O'Malley on the reconfiguration process in Boston and here's what the Globe and the Herald had to say about it. Though I've always understood that closing parishes is as painful for the Archbishop as it is for impacted parishioners, O'Malley's admission that "[a]t times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job" touched me profoundly. I appreciate that kind of vulnerability in leaders of the Church, but some other things in the letter give me pause. I wish O'Malley had not put as much emphasis on the declining number of priests as a reason for the closings. As I wrote in an earlier post on the suppression of my own home parish, I think the Archdiocese should have considered allowing laypeople or religious to serve as parish administrators where priests are not available - a model already adopted in many American dioceses where the priest shortage is particularly acute.

While I appreciate the Archbishop's frankness in laying out more fully than before the reasons behind the reconfiguration process, I struggle a bit with some of what he writes. "We should all be consoled to know that the sacrifices we make allow the mission of the Church to continue," O'Malley writes. "If your 'viable' parish was closed it was so some other 'not viable' parish or ministry could continue." On an intellectual level, I appreciate O'Malley's point, but emotionally - and, more crucially, pastorally - his language on this point leaves me cold. Few parishioners, I daresay, would enjoy being told that the Archdiocese is closing their ostensibly healthy and vibrant parish to prop up another parish which appears to be tottering. Parishioners understandably identify strongly with their parish - for most, the parish is the primary and perhaps sole point of contact with the larger church, and for many Catholics the parish is also the center of one's social and cultural life and a part of their family's experience over many generations. I cannot bring myself to believe that it's pastorally sensitive to tell parishioners that their parishes are being closed to serve the greater good, even if it's true. Nor am I consoled by the Archbishop's call "to all Catholics to be Catholics first." Somehow those words seem to suggest that by identifying with one's own parish - again, the key point of contact and identification for most Catholics - one is being less than loyal to the institutional Church. Though some parishioners may in fact take comfort from the Archbishop's words, my fear is that many others - particularly those whose faith has already been shaken by the turmoil of the last few years - will be alienated by them and give up on the Church altogether.

As I wrote above, intellectually I understand and accept the points put forward in Archbishop O'Malley's letter. My concern, however, is that the language he uses does not seem to effectively address the hurt that I and many others feel in connection with the reconfiguration process. I don't presume to know the most pastorally effective way to handle situations like this - that's something I have to struggle with. As the Archbishop's letter poignantly suggests, it's something Sean O'Malley struggles with too. I hope you'll join me in praying for him and for all who are struggling to find consolation and healing in these difficult times for the Church in Eastern Massachusetts. AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home