Vatican instructions give parishioners more hope in face of closings

Aug 6, 2020 by Mark Nacinovich/ NCRonline.org

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A woman prays in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 2017. (CNS/Reuters/Brian Snyder) A woman prays in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 2017. Parishes in the Boston Archdiocese in 2004 underwent a “reconfiguration” that closed 65 parishes. Some seven years later, the archdiocese began a restructuring process under an 11-year plan that includes having one pastor for multiple parishes. (CNS/Reuters/Brian Snyder)

Arthur McCaffrey fought for about a decade to keep his parish in suburban Boston open.

But in 2015, St. James the Great Parish in Wellesley was demolished. The site is now home to the Boston Sports Performance Center, a large recreational center complete with a hockey rink, swimming pool and indoor field.

St. James was one of nine Boston-area churches that kept a continuous vigil to prevent their parishes from being shuttered by the Boston Archdiocese in the wake of the sex abuse crisis that was brought to light in 2002 by The Boston Globe. Parishioners occupied the churches for years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate was the last of the vigil holdouts. It closed in 2016, after parishioners spent almost 12 years in vigil and exhausted their legal appeals to the Vatican and in civil courts. Their civil case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, letting stand a lower-court ruling that stated that the archdiocese owned the church’s property and the parishioners who were keeping vigil were trespassing.

Now, four years later, the Vatican’s new document on pastoral care raises the question of whether parishioners have more legal recourse within the church to keep their parishes open. The answer appears to be yes.

The 22-page document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, released July 20, is titled “The pastoral conversion of the parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the church.” It discusses the role and structure of parishes in today’s digital age, where the concept of a fixed parish that covers a certain area may be outdated. One topic the document addresses is the closing of parishes.

“It is an instruction, and instructions are by definition not law,” said Robert Flummerfelt, a canon lawyer in Las Vegas. “But what they are is information on how to apply the law.”

Flummerfelt says he is encouraged by the document because it spells out reasons a bishop cannot close a parish — namely, “the lack of clergy, demographic decline or the grave financial state of the diocese.”

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Former parishioners at the now-closed St. Frances Cabrini Church in Scituate, Massachusetts, are seen holding a vigil in May 2015. (CNS/The Pilot/Christopher S. Pineo) Former parishioners at the now-closed St. Frances Cabrini Church in Scituate, Massachusetts, are seen holding a vigil in May 2015. (CNS/The Pilot/Christopher S. Pineo)

Those were all reasons Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, gave in 2004 when he announced the archdiocese’s “reconfiguration” plan, which called for 65 of the archdiocese’s 357 parishes to be closed.

The new Vatican document states that a diocese’s financial distress, lack of priests and declining parish enrollment may be “conditions within the community that are presumably reversible and of brief duration.”

“A lot of time, it is about the money,” Flummerfelt said. “The financial viability of the parish on a practical level is the concern.”

He said the lack of money was the central issue in the last four parish closing cases he has handled.

But now with the instructions, parishioners have additional protection that may prevent their parish from being closed or even being considered for closure, he said.

The document also states the bishop must issue a separate “decree” for each parish he decides to close. One decree cannot cover multiple parish closings. Furthermore, the instructions stipulate that a bishop must be clear and specific about the reasons for closing a parish.

A bishop will have to be more “circumspect,” Flummerfelt said.

Fr. Jeffrey Fleming, moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Helena, Montana, said with the instructions, bishops must come up with “long-term” reasons to justify why a parish isn’t viable and should be closed.

Still, financial problems can present existential crises, and Fleming realizes that his diocese may face a situation that is more common in the Northeast and the Midwest: declining church enrollment and finances that prompt a bishop to close a parish.

Fleming points to the example of Butte, Montana, which was once a bustling mining town with many Irish immigrants. Now the mining industry has declined and the Catholic population is older and falling in number. The town of about 33,000, big by Montana standards, has four parishes.

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In the Boston Archdiocese, McCaffrey said parishioners offered O’Malley a solution to keep parishes open — let parishioners run the parishes and have fewer priests serve more parishes, much in the same way a firehouse may serve multiple neighborhoods. He said O’Malley has since adopted that model, but rejected it at the time St. James parishioners and others presented it.

Fr. Paul Soper, secretary for evangelization and discipleship as well as director of pastoral planning for the Boston Archdiocese, said that in 2004 the archdiocese didn’t have enough personnel to staff all of its parishes. He noted, “There’s nothing in the [new Vatican] document that said it is retroactive.”

He added that the archdiocese in 2011 embarked on an 11-year plan that included having one pastor for multiple parishes. That plan wouldn’t have been possible, he said, if the restructuring hadn’t taken place, because without the parish closures, the archdiocese would have faced an “emergency” situation and wouldn’t have been able to take the gradual approach of the 11-year plan.

The new Vatican document encourages parishes to find ways to keep churches open such as having a “grouping of parishes” in an area and outlines situations where one priest may be responsible for such a grouping.

The scenario of covering multiple parishes with one priest is a familiar one in the Helena Diocese, which covers the western third of Montana, an area of 52,000 square miles, which is almost the size of the entire state of New York.

The diocese has 57 parishes and 38 mission churches and 79 priests, including retired priests, Fleming said. Priests often travel great distances to ensure that Mass is celebrated at every parish or mission at least once every weekend, he noted.

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The Cathedral of St. Helena in the Diocese of Helena, Montana (Wikimedia Commons/Lee Zurligen)

The Cathedral of St. Helena in the Diocese of Helena, Montana (Wikimedia Commons/Lee Zurligen)

Fleming himself is based in Helena, the seat of the diocese, and every Sunday, he travels 120 miles roundtrip to offer two Masses — one at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in rural Helmville, 60 miles west of Helena, and another at St. Thomas the Apostle’s mission church, St. Jude the Apostle in Lincoln. Fleming is the administrator of the parish, and he said laypeople take care of the churches during the week.

Previously, Fleming served at four parishes concurrently in Missoula, an assignment that included serving as the Catholic chaplain for the University of Montana.

Without being onsite himself, Fleming relies on laypeople to take care of the day-to-day operations of a parish and to be the “eyes and ears of the parish,” so that he knows what is happening.

That is, he said, what the new Vatican instructions encourage — the broad participation in parish life by all, not just a priest.

For some, though, the new Vatican instructions don’t go far enough in handing the reins of a parish to the laity.

The document says a pastor may be responsible for more than one parish only when that is necessary. Alternatively, a group of priests may be responsible for more than one parish.

When a diocese faces a shortage of priests, it may appoint a priest to be an administrator of a parish, but that should be a temporary state, the instructions say.

A layperson can be appointed administrator only in “extraordinary” circumstances, the document says, adding that in such cases a deacon would be “preferable” to a layperson or consecrated man or woman.

“I read it as just pretty more of the same,” McCaffrey said of the instructions. “They’re handing out what I could call an HR policy of a large corporation, saying, ‘Hey, the priest is the boss, don’t forget it. …

“This simply is the Vatican reiterating an established policy that has been on the books for a while, but in a response to more frequent requests to understand why parishes are being closed, they are reissuing this policy document,” he added.

“At the end of the day, it’s a rejection of more lay participation in parish running, in parish planning, in parish administration. The basic message is, ‘The priest is the boss, and you guys aren’t going to be able to take over some of his roles.’ “

But Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, told Vatican Insider that the document shows that every Catholic should feel he or she has a role and responsibility in the church’s mission to evangelize.

Fleming said that the document stresses that every member of a parish is called to be a “witness of Christ, a light to the world.”

“Pope Francis is calling us to be a church that looks outwardly, not just inside the church itself,” Fleming said. “To bring more people to the table, especially the poor and marginalized.”

Against Integralism: A Thomist’s Case for Limited Government

This past March, The Atlantic published an essay by Adrian Vermeule, a Catholic professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, introducing the idea of “common-good constitutionalism” to an audience that I’m sure had never read anything quite like it. At its most basic, Professor Vermeule’s argument unfolded something like this: Human flourishing, or the “good …

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Ambiguous times, not time for ambiguous leadership

With so many employees working remotely, leaders must take extra care to ensure their communications leave no room for misinterpretation.

by Adam Bryant / strategy+business

Illustration by Malte Mueller

In a previous job, I worked for a manager who was terrific in almost all the ways you’d want a leader to be terrific — she was smart, straightforward, consistent, ambitious for great work. But she did have a small email tic that would occasionally give me pause. If I had to be out of the office, I would send her a note the night before. Her response was always the same: “Fine.”

That simple word, so clear in conversation, becomes more complicated in an email, in which there is no context or signal of tone. Did she mean fine as in, “Sure, no problem”? Or was it more of a, “Well (sigh), okay”? I’m fairly confident it was the former, but I was never 100 percent certain.

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I’ve been thinking about those small moments of uncertain communication lately, as the COVID-19 crisis has prompted countless companies to shut their office doors and rethink whether staff need to be in those offices as much as before the pandemic, or even at all.

The nearly overnight rush to remote working has had clear benefits. It reduces the wear and tear of commuting for both people and the planet. It can also give employees more of a feeling of control over their lives, and, when geography is no longer a consideration, companies can find new opportunities for hiring talent.

But if remote working is going to work, leaders have to communicate more and be extra vigilant about removing as much ambiguity as they can from their exchanges with staff, particularly in email, in which the recipients don’t have the benefit of hearing the sender’s tone. Leaders have to ensure that what is clear to them is also clear to others, in language that doesn’t leave people scratching their heads. The same is true for video meetings, conducted in small squares on your computer screen that can make it hard to read nuances of body language.

There are some basic rules of human nature at play here. One of them is that with less face-to-face contact with bosses, employees are more likely to feel free-floating anxiety and wonder, “What do they think of me?” They may study email as if they were amateur archaeologists, searching for hidden meaning, often when none exists. And that self-generated feeling of being under a microscope can be intensified for employees whose work is also being monitored by their bosses through surveillance apps.

With less face-to-face contact with bosses, employees are more likely to feel free-floating anxiety and wonder, ‘What do they think of me?’

Second, whenever there is uncertainty, people’s thoughts can go to dark places and start spinning worrisome scenarios. Two CEOs I’ve interviewed brought this insight to life by sharing their own memorable stories.

Christy Wyatt, a Silicon Valley veteran who is now the CEO of cybersecurity firm Absolute Software, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, recounted an experience of communication gone awry when I spoke to her years ago. “People will make up stories in the white space,” she said. “We have a very full kitchen [in the office]. I hired a new head of business operations, and she decided we were going to switch out the vendors. There was a week when the supply went very low. Because we hadn’t said anything about it, people started saying, ‘There are layoffs coming; bad things are going to happen.’”

Wyatt had to tell everyone that the change in vendors was the reason for the dwindling snack supplies, adding in an all-hands meeting: “Guys, it’s just the nuts in the kitchen. That’s it.” The lesson for her? “People look for symbols, and they look for meaning where maybe there isn’t any,” she said.

Tom Lawson, the chair and CEO of FM Global, a property insurance company headquartered in Johnston, R.I., shared a similar story. “As I was moving up through the different management positions, I learned the hard way about how people can interpret a message,” he told me. “I was running our research group, where we have a lot of science Ph.D.s. One morning, it was rainy and horrible as I drove to work. I got to the parking lot, which was full, so I had to park far from the building and walk through the pouring rain without an umbrella. I was drenched and running late for a conference call.

“So, I walked right past the receptionist, didn’t talk to anybody, went into my office, and shut the door. I did my conference call and then forgot to open my door when it was over. About three hours later, our head of research knocks on the door. He said, ‘Can I talk to you? We’ve got a problem. Everyone’s saying that the company’s in financial trouble and that our research is going to get outsourced.’ I said, ‘What?’ Then he said, ‘You walked right into the building on the day we released our financials, and you didn’t talk to anybody. You shut your door and you locked yourself in.’”

Lawson added: “In fact, our financials were fine, and I told him the story of what happened, and he started laughing. I spent the rest of the day walking around, telling people that everything was fine. But it was a great example of how your actions can be misinterpreted. If you don’t communicate, people will make up narratives themselves, and those narratives may be negative.”

The opportunities for people to worry about hidden meaning have gone up exponentially, because many of us no longer see our managers every day, and because we are all living in a time of great uncertainty. In this environment, the absence of action or comments on key events may provide grist for the anxiety mill, too. Because of this, leaders need to make sure that their communications are as free of ambiguity as possible, so that all employees who are working remotely can focus on the work itself, rather than worrying about what the boss is thinking.

Palestinians: We Support China’s Muslim Concentration Camps

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas… is saying that he fully supports China’s right to hold more than one million Muslims in re-education camps and crack down on human rights activists and journalists in Hong Kong. Yet Abbas, a Muslim, sees

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Minneapolis Tells Citizens to Unconditionally Surrender to Criminals After Slashing Police Budget

Patriot For America

/ editor

Now that the Democrats are getting their way, citizens are getting a new crash course in dealing with the police. This is what our lives are like now. The Minneapolis Police Department is offering up all kinds of insane tips and pointers that are designed to make sure that everything goes according to plan. There’s been a massive spike in carjackings and robberies as of late (shocking).

If you are pressed by the robbers, the MPD does not want you to call them. Instead, they are asking you to give up your phone, wallet, car keys, whatever the robbers are asking for. On one level, this is good advice. Why should someone risk their life for items that are easily replaceable and/or insured? That’s not a wise choice under any circumstance.

However, that does not mean that citizens should be encouraged to surrender unconditionally. In addition to handing over the goods, Minneapolis residents are also being asked not to put up a fight. These residents are also being urged not to walk alone on the streets. This is the shameful world that they are being forced to live in, all because a few liberals are looking to abolish the police.

Pay attention to your surroundings at all times as well. Minneapolis residents are even being told to stop carrying any cash. As you approach your car, you are even being warned about having your keys in hand. The tips are making us feel like we live in a dystopian underworld. It’s not the America that we grew up in, that is for sure.

The police department even said that robberies would continue to happen, “despite all of our efforts”. To top it all off, the citizens who are experiencing the robberies are even being given instructions on how to properly snitch. Those who call 911 are asked to have a wide range of information at the ready as soon as they pick up the phone.

They will need to identify the number of suspects, what they look like and any identifying characteristics about the robbers. It’s an awful lot to ask from people who are being told that they do not have any protection. The police clearly aren’t going to offer any assistance when the tattletales are targeted because of their snitching.

These folks won’t even be assisted when the crime is actually taking place, so why would they trust the police to help them once they have told on the criminals? It’s a wonderful system that these leftists have established. This is what has unfolded ever since Minneapolis elected to move away from traditional policing and installed a “community-led public safety system”.

The month of July was a particularly trying one for the 3rd precinct police. 100 robberies and 20 carjackings have been reported to these officers in the month of July alone. Local residents should be able to receive help when they are being attacked by dangerous criminals. Instead, the authorities are basically teaching them how to engage in the most peaceful form of surrender possible.

This should show everyone what would happen if the rest of the country is dumb enough to go along with this initiative. It’s not the type if plan that anyone should be willing to normalize. The removal of the police is one of those things that sounds great on paper but in reality, it does not work out nearly as well as it should.

Minneapolis wants to be a standard-bearer for the rest of the nation but for the most part, they are showing everyone what shouldn’t be done. Ask their residents if they feel safe. The virtue-signaling types are not going to be there for them when a crowd of criminals surrounds them in a dark parking garage late at night. These people will be safe and sound in their suburban homes, not losing one wink of sleep over their plight