Posts Tagged ‘Making All Things New’

The Best is Yet to Come

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Thanks for your patience, understanding, and support this week after the tough announcements of parish mergers a week ago.

Thanks, too, for the good questions, and even the criticisms, at least those thoughtfully and civilly expressed.

The major question I receive, understandably, from our people, and the media, is, why?

Why do we have to reduce our numbers of parishes from 368 to about 305?  Why are these mergers necessary?  Fair enough questions…

Most people then offer a reply to that question:  because of shortages.  They observe that a looming shortage in the number of priests and in the financial resources of the archdiocese – we’ve given $362 million to parishes and schools in need over the past ten years alone – are the main reasons for the decision.

And, yes, they have a point.  Shortages in the number of priests and in the available money to support struggling parishes are, indeed, a part of the answer to the question; Why?

However, a perceptive journalist laser-beamed the real shortage:  “Seems like you have a shortage of people!”  Bingo!

She was right!  Simply put, our people aren’t coming anymore.  True, some of the shortage in older parishes is due to the fact that our folks have moved.  The people that do come are as committed as ever.  But, we still have to admit our numbers of committed, consistent churchgoers are down.

It hurts me to say that, and I’d rather deny it and offer less troublesome reasons, especially since I also must admit that part of the reason our people aren’t showing up anymore in their parishes is because they’ve lost confidence in some of us bishops and priests.

I’m quick to point out that, unlike a lot of other dioceses, the Catholic population of the archdiocese of New York continues to rise, and has not sunk below its 2.8 million membership, mostly due to the ongoing gift of immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.

Still, though, we have to admit, our people aren’t coming anymore.  On any given Sunday, the stats tell us that only somewhere between 15 and 28% of our folks show up!

One parish slated to merge reported in the study phase of our planning process that, on a given Sunday, maybe 500 people are at the Masses.  Yet, 3,000 signed a petition to reverse the decision!  Where have they been!  If even half of them had been part of normal, expected parish life, the decision would not have been foreseen.

We Catholics are not alone.  My Jewish and non-Catholic Christian colleagues and neighbors tell me they are experiencing the same shortage.

The experts at the Pew Research Center document the decline, not in believers, but in belongers.

(The same is true, by the way with our beloved schools.  When we made the painful decision two years ago to merge our 220 schools into 160 stronger, more robust ones, a lot of reasons were given:  high cost of education, competition from other schools, for instance.

The main reason?  Our Catholic parents – – 70% of them, to be exact, – – choose not to send their children to our excellent schools.)

So, now our sacred responsibility is to win our people back!  That’s what Pope Saint John Paul II called the new evangelization!  That means asking why they no longer come, how we can attract them back, and what we’ve done wrong, a strategy Pope Francis is encouraging.

As one savvy priest remarked, “Let’s stop closing parishes and start filling them up!”

With, yes, fewer, but now stronger, fuller, more vibrant parishes, better served by more available priests, in new communities no longer straitjacketed by demands of maintenance of huge, half-empty, in-need-of-repairs buildings, we can unleash a new evangelization!  The best is yet to come!

Let’s go from shortages – – of priests, resources, and people – – to a surplus!

Making All Things New Update

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

+ Feast of Blessed Junipero Serra

I was actually dreading the meetings of yesterday and today…

Attending these all-day sessions were the priest council members, the vicars, and the working group for Making All Things New, our strategic pastoral planning process.  The only steps left after this would be, as required by Church law, the views of the College of Consultors, and then my decision.  So, these were very important gatherings.

Over a year of consultation, meetings, conversations, criticism, and intense process, involving all our parishes, had preceded these two days.

The agenda for the ten hours of meetings was a vote of approval, or disapproval, of the list of recommendations from the cluster groups and the advisory committee about the future of our 365 parishes.

Why was I dreading these sessions?  For one, this was the first time I ever saw “the list” of recommendations about which parishes should close, merge, or cooperate more closely.  Of course, the cynics claim I’ve had “the list” of parishes I wanted to close for over a year, and that all this exhaustive “process” was a sham.  All I can do is assure you again that the first time I ever saw “the list” of parishes proposed for closure or merging was yesterday morning.

The second and more ominous reason I had heartburn anticipating these meetings was fear of fierce controversy.  I could envision arguing, lobbying, and protests.

I should have listened to Jesus tell me, “Fear is useless…what is needed is trust!”  The gathering was uplifting, uniting, and enlightening.

I left with some clear observations:

For one, the process has worked!  The data gathered was most comprehensive, the pastoral needs of God’s People was convincingly presented, and the participants in the meeting were seen frequently to be nodding in assent as the recommendations were reviewed.

Two, the priests on the council, and the vicars, were wonderfully invested in the conversation, asking insightful questions about where the people would go if their parishwere closed, or if a merging were logical and do-able.  In a few cases, the recommendations of the clusters and the advisory committee about parish mergers were not accepted.  However, 90% of them made eminent sense, and got the council’s support.

Third, the reasons given for approving (or, on occasions, turning down) a recommendation were all pastoral: conserve and better-use our priests; utilize the churches and parish properties that are better maintained and in much better shape; sensitivity to our elders, and our poorer people who depend on walking or public transportation to get to Sunday Mass and parish activities; changing demographics of parishes, with either the flight or influx of Catholic people into the area; and, in many cases, special considerations for unique groups.  For instance, one parish suggested to close was also serving the deaf community, another welcoming people who desire the Latin Mass, another the Vietnamese Catholics, all of whom, while not living within the parish neighborhood, were still in need of pastoral care and a spiritual home.   The priests wanted to make sure they were not forgotten.

After the meeting; I did not even need the Alka Seltzer I had brought along!

Now, to decide, and I must do so by the end of September.

At that time, I’ll show you the entire list of recommendations, and, more importantly, will let you know of my decisions.

All I know is that I am very grateful to Bishop-elect John O’Hara, the clusters, advisory committee, and staff.

All I know is that the process is working.

All I know is that it’s going to be neuralgic to see some parishes close.  But, as we’ve often all observed, while the closing of a parish is always painful, it’s less painful if there has been extensive, patient, consultation.  And these last two days assured me that’s the case.

Stay tuned…please pray!

Before we break for summer…

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

As we approach the summer vacation season, I wanted to catch you up on several things that have been on my mind!

1.  Congratulations to John Woods and the entire staff of Catholic New York (CNY)!  At last week’s Catholic Press Association convention, CNY once again walked off with an armful of awards, including the coveted General Excellence Award for the second year in a row, plus first-place honors for stories that they did on last year’s papal transition, and the Year of Faith!  I am honored that my own column was given a first place award as well.  All of which reminds me of the importance of CNY as part of our communications ministry in this archdiocese.  Over the summer, we will be hard at work getting a new online version and App for CNY ready for distribution.  Using technology creatively as a way of staying in touch is vitally important these days, — as our kids tell us! — so we are also going to be rolling out a brand-new archdiocesan website, plus Flocknotes for our parishes, which we hope will enable pastors to be more in touch with their parishioners about parish activities, as well as allow me to communicate more directly and immediately with Catholics throughout the entire archdiocese. We are also implementing a new video conference system, with nine sites throughout the archdiocese (in Catholic high schools), each able to accommodate over 200 people, so that, among many other uses, we might have archdiocesan-wide “town hall” style meetings while people are able to stay in their own communities.  Much more to come on all of this, but I’m excited and enthusiastic about the changes that are coming!

2.  Our school year has come to an end.  A huge “Thank you!” to our parents, students, teachers, pastors, school administrators, and board members, for all of your efforts this past year; part of the genius of Catholic schools is that everyone has to be involved in order for our schools to succeed, and that was never more evident than it was this past school year. Dr. Timothy McNiff and his staff deserve a huge round of applause as well, as our regionalization plan, developed through the Pathways to Excellence planning process, is working!  Yes, there are still some unresolved questions and snags which we continue to tackle.  But, every parish in the archdiocese can now say that it has a parish school, even if that school is not situated on the parish grounds.  And, for the first time in recent memory, none of our archdiocesan schools are closing this June. (Mother Cabrini High School is sadly closing, but that decision was made by the religious order that ran the school, not by the archdiocese. We have worked with the parents and students of the school to try and help find them places in other Catholic high schools.)  Now, even some of the schools that opted-out of the regionalization plan are asking to be included as a regional school, proving how successful our new school plan has been.   Dr. McNiff tells me to expect an increase in students enrolled in our schools next fall, especially in the early childhood and elementary school level.  Hallelujah!

On a more somber note, we remain hugely disappointed in the failure of our elected leaders in Albany, including Governor Cuomo and Senator Skelos, to pass the Education Investment Tax Credit, which they all said they supported, and which would have been a great benefit to Catholic and other religious and private schools, as well as to the public schools as well.  I hate to bring this up, but I sense our politicians know that our Catholic people are not as organized or vocal as other groups, so they can overlook us, knowing that there is no political cost. Still, we’re not giving up.  Our schools, and the kids they serve, are too important.

3.  The pastoral planning process, Making All Things New, is nearing another milestone. I will soon receive the recommendations of the Archdiocesan Advisory Group, which has been studying the suggestions and feedback from the 368 parishes and 75 parish clusters that have been hard at work since last September, all so that archdiocese can better prepare for its future.  Up until now, I have deliberately kept a “hands-off” approach to the process, wanting the people of the archdiocese to be able to share their ideas, insights, and wisdom about the best way we can serve the people of God now and into the future.  I look forward to receiving their recommendations, and will spend the summer consulting with the Priest Council, archdiocesan staff, and other advisory groups, with an eye towards making an announcement this Fall.  Would you do me a favor, and please keep this very important pastoral planning process in your prayers this Summer, that the Holy Spirit might guide my decision-making?

4.  In my thirteen years as a bishop, I’ve been asked to give depositions on many different topics such as religious freedom, Catholic schools, Church finances, and, sadly, on the difficult issue of the sexual abuse of minors. This week I will be giving another deposition on this latter topic, this time in a lawsuit involving the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, about a priest who was laicized 14 years ago, in 2002, while I was a bishop there.

Saint Louis is my home archdiocese, and for eleven months in 2001-2002, I served there as an auxiliary bishop and Vicar for Clergy.  One of my responsibilities during that time period was to meet with victims of sexual abuse, work with law enforcement about allegations of abuse, and deal with those priests accused of wrong doing, seeing that those with credible allegations against them were immediately removed from ministry.  While it was an unusually intense, challenging and sad period for me personally, as it was for the victims of sexual abuse and the entire Church, I believe the Archdiocese of Saint Louis responded to these allegations with integrity, transparency, and sensitivity for all concerned.

I cooperate willingly in the deposition, and while I am not supposed to discuss any details about my deposition, I wanted to let you know it was occurring this week, because the last time I participated in such a deposition, and despite a judge’s order that the process remain confidential, a newspaper here called, tipped off by the other side,  asking about the “late breaking news” that I was being deposed, just as the deposition was beginning   So, I’d prefer you hear about this civil deposition first from me.

5.  I always relish my visits to Fordham University in the Bronx, and recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with two outstanding Fordham students, Michael Menconi and Ken Ochs, for a stimulating interview on ethics and society.  They’ve published the full interview here, if you’d like to give it a look!

You’ll continue to hear from me over the coming weeks, but I pray you have a restful, reinvigorating Summer!

Sunday Mass: the Most Significant Event in the Life of a Parish

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Yesterday’s beautiful feast of Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ) allows us to renew our commitment to making Sunday Mass the priority of our Catholic life, of every parish family.

One of the valuable lessons we’re learning from Making All Things New, our strategic pastoral planning initiative, is that people want a reverent, uplifting, joyful, welcoming, meaningful Sunday Mass.  They crave good lectors, inspirational (not overdone) music and singing, and a solid, succinct (i.e., short) sermon.  They want to participate – – ushers, offertory procession, lectors, choir, servers, trained Extraordinary Eucharistic ministers (where called for and allowed by liturgical law), and some fellowship afterwards.  They love seeing and greeting their priests and deacons.  Our people tell us they appreciate sensitivity to ethnic needs (Masses available in languages needed by parishioners).  They also tell us they don’t like “long” Masses (over an hour) cluttered by extraneous stuff (too much added verbiage from priests, deacons, lectors, and in the announcements, or too many “gimmicks”).

Although the outcome of our planning is far from over, it’s already clear that, if a parish is alive and stable, we know it makes Sunday Mass, as described above, the priority.

Over the next weeks, many of our priests will be “on the move,” to new assignments.  Most of them know from experience that they have to make Sunday Mass the priority in their new parish, as they did in their old one.

Studies are showing us that parishes with a reverent, quality, participative Sunday Mass, with a solid (short) sermon, report large numbers, good stewardship, (high collections!), many new members and converts for the RCIA, effective programs of service and community outreach, vocations, keeping the youth involved, and engendering parish loyalty.  Not bad!

Savvy pastors – – I’m trying to be one, like most of my priests and deacons – – know that the parish is the front line of the Church.  And the most significant event in the life of any parish is Sunday Mass.

Let’s do it!

Making All Things New: Discipleship, Evangelization, Witness, and Ministry

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013


In this week’s Catholic New York column, I wrote a special letter on the pastoral planning process, Making All Things New I thought you might want to see it.

Here is an excerpt:

As I am confident you have heard, since we have been preparing for this the last five years, the Archdiocese of New York is now formally embarking on our pastoral planning process, Making All Things New, and we approach this process in a spirit of faithhope, and love. I have great faith in God, and in all God’s people throughout the 10 counties and 368 parishes of this archdiocese. I have deep hopein what we can accomplish together with God’s grace as we confidently plan our future as a Catholic family. And, I love Jesus, His Church, and you, the splendid people of this historic archdiocese.

As we begin this process, I am reminded that “without a vision the people will perish” (Proverbs 29:18). When I visit parishes and talk with priests, deacons, religious women and men, and our dedicated lay people, one challenging question keeps emerging—how can we strengthen our parish life, and help more Catholic people grow in their faith? I believe that Making All Things New will help us respond to this question in many important ways.

You can read my whole column by clicking here.

“A Culture of Planning”

Friday, June 14th, 2013

This week’s Catholic New York column is a (slightly shortened!) copy of the remarks I made at Saint Joseph’s Seminary last Thursday on the Making All Things New pastoral planning process.  I thought you might want to see it.

Here is an excerpt:

We’ve talked about pastoral planning so long and so often that I’m afraid there has set in a “planning fatigue,” and a skepticism about its seriousness. We’ve been through waves of “planning fever” over the past quarter-century, and, some observe, nothing much has changed.

So, what is pastoral planning? It’s really our assessment of the call of Jesus, and the needs of His Church, and His people right now, “how we are meeting them,” and how we best ought to shepherd our resources to further His Person, message, and invitation to salvation.

In a way, then, we have been doing pastoral planning since Pentecost, as His first disciples prayed and considered His imperative to “Go, teach all nations!”

You can read my whole column here.

Continuing to Move Forward with Making All Things New

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Today is a promising day, because about 300 of our priests, deacons, religious, and our pastoral planning women and men, will be joining me at Saint Joseph’s Seminary to begin the next phase of our pastoral planning process, Making All Things New.

Many of you have already been a part of the beginning stages of our pastoral planning, which began under Bishop Dennis Sullivan – then our Vicar General, now the Bishop of Camden, New Jersey – and very ably carried on now by Father John O’Hara.  The parish surveys that were completed by parishioners in nearly all of our parishes yielded thousand of responses, Bishop Sullivan and his team met with thousands of our people at sites all over the archdiocese, and these responses have been very carefully studied as an initial indicator of the pastoral needs of the Catholic faithful in this archdiocese.

At today’s meeting, we will be introducing The Reid Group, a company that specializes in assisting dioceses in their pastoral planning process.  The Reid Group will be working with the Archdiocese of New York, and, more specifically, with our parishioners, parishes, and regions, as we seek your input and ideas about what should be done in pastoral planning.  Every parish will be involved in this process, and we can only succeed if we are all committed to working together to share our ideas in order that we might renew and strengthen our parishes and parish life.

As we continue with our pastoral planning, I can assure you of two things.  The first is that no decisions have already been reached about what changes will be made at the end of our process.  Those decisions will only be reached after much consultation with our laity, our religious, and our clergy.  We need you and your wisdom to help guide this process. The second thing I can promise is that we will always proceed patiently, prudently, and prayerfully.  And, The Reid Group will help us to do just that.

For now, I ask for your continued prayers that the Holy Spirit will guide Making All Things New, and I invite and look forward to your active participation in your parish as our pastoral planning gets underway in earnest this fall!