Being There

Being There

Our last post addressed the need for prayer as our bishop and clergy met to determine how to move forward given the loss of priests in active ministry.

The initial meeting on this topic took a different turn, with many clergy speaking on difficulties with UiH and within the presbyterate. A follow-up meeting turned to the more specific details for handling parishes, pastorates, liturgy schedules, and so on, a work still currently underway.

As the plans take shape, we want to direct readers to some analyses we offered in the past, and add some thoughts especially for those involved in making these decisions. We are now at the point where we will see if our initial concerns with UiH will play out as feared, given the fact that mergers / “extinctive unions,” pastorate closures, closures of some parishes within a pastorate, reductions of Masses etc. were all discussed as “Potential Courses of Action.”

Parish Closure as a Strategy

First, let’s discuss how our diocese has hinted at the possibility of parish closures as a strategy.

Back in 2020, diocesan leaders were asked to read an article to better understand “the why” of Uniting in Heart. The article referenced was “Re-Imagining What a Catholic Parish Can Be: A Destination for the 21st Century” and was written through an organization called Acts XXIX, in the Archdiocese of Detroit, though similiar plans have been followed in many places. In short, the plan called for mass closure / consolidation of parishes for the sake of creating large mega-parishes, suggesting this would bring greater vibrancy and renewal.

In Detroit, this involved closing 75 percent of of the diocese’s parishes. Though we consider something that drastic unlikely for Lafayette, nonetheless this was a document which supposedly offered “the why” of UiH: a philosophy where fewer = better parishes.

Read our original post here. The crux of our commentary at the time was:

… [B]ehind all the positivity of language in such plans, one gets the sense that there is very, very little belief that the Church is likely to recover and grow. Some closures are inevitable, as we have acknowledged. Permanent closures on a massive scale, however, adopted as a new strategy, speak very little to hope, optimism or to the belief that God works even in small or poor communities. This will be transparently obvious to the world we’re hoping to evangelize.

People who point this out will likely be dismissed as being merely stodgy and fearful of change. (This may be why our clergy are spending the afternoon in conferences focused on accepting the “inevitability of change” and how to adopt “a desert spirituality” in times of change.)

Yet could we not also argue that the Church appears to be retreating from the world, despite its protestations to the contrary, when it becomes focused on creating surroundings that are more comfortable or more efficient by business standards? We retract the open arms of the Church from the places that need them the most, reducing her points of contact with mankind, leaving a trail of empty altars, while considering ourselves to be more “apostolic.”

Limited & Specific Reasons to Close a Parish

At around the same time, we looked at the Vatican’s updated guidelines for the Congregation for Clergy. This statement reiterated that the structure of a parish is a home, a community, a sanctuary of the poor, and most of all, a sign of Christ dwelling in our midst.

A Parish is a ‘house among houses’ and is a response to the logic of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, alive and active among the community. It is visibly characterised then, as a place of worship, a sign of the permanent presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of his People.

Paragraph 7

This document also laid out that when great changes occur, including “the pastoral conversion of structures,” God’s people, not only the hierarchy, should be included and involved in determining how its renewal proceeds. Renewal is not, in other words, imposed from above. As paragraphs 37-38 of the document state:

Naturally, a renewal of this sort is not the responsibility solely of the Parish Priest, nor should it be imposed from above in such a way as to exclude the People of God. The pastoral conversion of structures implies the understanding that “the faithful Holy People of God are anointed with the grace of the Holy Spirit; therefore when we reflect, think, evaluate, discern, we must be very attentive to this anointing. Whenever as a Church, as pastors, as consecrated persons, we have forgotten this certainty, we have lost our way. 

Whenever we try to supplant, silence, look down on, ignore or reduce into small elites the People of God in their totality and differences, we construct communities, pastoral plans, theological accentuations, spiritualities, structures without roots, without history, without faces, without memory, without a body, in the end, without lives.

To remove ourselves from the life of the People of God hastens us to the desolation and to a perversion of ecclesial nature”[44].

It does not pertain to the clergy alone, therefore, to carry out the transformation inspired by the Holy Spirit, since this involves the entire People of God[45]. It is necessary, however, “to consciously and lucidly seek areas of communion and participation so that the anointing of the People of God may find its concrete mediations to express itself”[46].

Consequently, the need to overcome a self-referential conception of the Parish or the “clericalisation of pastoral activity” becomes apparent. When it is acknowledged that the state of the People of God “is that of the dignity and freedom of the children of God, in whose hearts the Holy Spirit dwells as in His temple”[47], this inspires practises and models by which all the baptised, by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit and their infused charisms, become active participants of evangelisation, in the style and modality of an organic community, together with other Parish communities or at the diocesan level. In effect, the whole community, and not simply the hierarchy, is the responsible agent of mission, since the Church is identified as the entire People of God.

It should not come as a shock that those who reside within the parish and belong to it matter for any genuine spiritual thriving, and that any changes as described above require flexibility, ongoing discernment, and attentiveness to the good of those individuals. Otherwise, one risks standing above, looking down on these communities much as ant hills that can be kicked over and reconstituted if one has what he deems a plausible reason.

‘House among houses’ or ant hill?

The document further states:

“One should not act “hastily” in an attempt, as it were, to bring about immediate reforms by means of generic criteria that obey a ‘rational decision’ to the detriment of those who actually live within the territory. Every plan must be situated within the lived experience of a community and implanted in it without causing harm, with a necessary phase of prior consultation, and of progressive implementation and verification.

Paragraph 36

Paragraphs 46-51 of this document deal with parish mergers and closings. Of particular relevance is this statement:

Some causes [for parish suppression by “extinctive union” or “merger”] are not sufficient, such as, for example, the scarcity of diocesan clergy, the general financial situation of a Diocese, or other conditions within the community that are presumably reversible and of brief duration (e.g., numerical consistency, lack of financial self-sufficiency, the urban planning of the territory). As a condition for the legitimacy of this type of provision, the requisite motivations must be directly and organically connected to the interested Parish community, and not on general considerations or theories, or based solely ‘on principle’.

Again, this seems highly relevant to the discussions occuring in our diocese right now, around how parishes and pastorates are to run, given that money, demographics, and clergy scarcity are things we hear an awful lot about. This last was the specific reason Bishop Doherty gave for convening these recent meetings.

The full post with Vatican document linked is here.

The parish as a “structure with roots, with history, with faces, with memory, with bodies, with lives.”

We can acknowledge that our clergy are stretched thin. We can and must sympathize with and support in practical ways our clergy so as to lift some of their burdens. Laity must pull their weight in the parish practically and spiritually, including by opening their children’s eyes and hearts to a fully Catholic life and to the necessity of service through vocation.

At the same time, we also need to acknowledge what the Church herself has acknowledged: that parishes have their own value as “organic communities,” their own raison d’etre (to be the visible sign of Christ’s permanence among His people), and their own right to exist even when money or priests are in short supply.

Again, they are not ant hills, but structures that exist as “a response to the logic of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, alive and active among the community,” a visible sign of Himself with His people.

It would be counterproductive to consider the care of clergy without also considering the care of their people (and vice versa). It would be much like considering the good of a husband without considering the good of his wife. Who would separate what the Lord has joined?

Fortunately, genuine love and respect, expressed in sensitivity, listening, and shared burdens, often generates creative and workable solutions.

In constrast, the prevailing tendency of the leaders of some dioceses to imitate hard-nosed secular functionalism has the opposite effect. Moreover, it spends too freely from the finite stores of hope and goodwill of lay Catholics.

Those making these decisions might consider what the psychological impact would have been upon their younger selves if their parish was shaken up, re-organized, re-staffed with strangers, beloved traditions ended, new programs attempted, existing clergy (confessors & spiritual directors) sent elsewhere….and then closed entirely. What would the relationship of their families to the Church have looked like under those circumstances? Would all our present clergy have discovered their vocations in the midst of this?

To argue that this has been good for everyone, or for everyone’s good, is not to see the reality many are experiencing.

A tour of Chicago, Detroit, or other places where such strategies have been employed, where realtor’s signs and locked doors replace the once visible signs of Christ’s presence, speak not of renewal, but of desolation. In Chicago, parishioners wept in the streets and protested some of these closures, knowing that the place of their parents’ wedding, their baptism, the place they knelt to pray, or to receive their First Eucharist was to be sold by their diocese to a Florida businessman and turned into a trendy events venue or condominium. One wonders if the parishioners so displaced were indeed funnelled successfully to a new spiritual home, or whether they simply lost meaningful contact with the Church altogether, the impetus to migrate elsewhere being substantially incommensurate to the sense of loss and betrayal by their Church.

We could take a very legalistic approach (and some do) and say, “This is too bad, but not my problem; it’s not my fault people are attached to things in their faith. They just have to get over it.” But to do so would to some degree replace the maternal love the Church should have for her people with the worship of expediency. It’s been done before and many such wounds remain wide open. If we believe in the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, then in some sense we are all bleeding from them. The loss hurts us all.

Francis Cardinal Arinze once famously mused on the document Sacrosanctum Concilium and on the unfortunate manner in which theologically rich and aesthetically valuable churches were gutted by overzealous people in the name of a better Church. He offered a stern warning:

“… before the hammer or compressor machine is applied to objects that have touched the devotional sensitivity of the people for decades or even centuries, those who have to take the decision cannot avoid asking themselves whether there are reasons weighty enough to upset so many people and to ask the parish or diocese to pay for the exercise.” 

The Cardinal was speaking of the “wreckovations” of the 60s and 70s, in which many things of great value were lost in haste, in short-sightedness, in the rush to novelty, or of course for the sake of expedience … not the least of which turned out to be the faith of an enormous number of Catholics.

Today we are dealing with something even more drastic, not the destruction of a beloved crucifix or altar rail, but with the ability of a parish to exist at all as a locus of Christ’s presence in a community. To at least some of those who lose this, pointing cheerfully to the new combined mega-parish three towns over will offer but cold comfort.

One should be most wary of doing harm in this way, even in spite of all the legitimate difficulties and challenges our situation presents. Navigating these problems with coldness to God’s people defeats the purpose of navigating them at all.

We cannot say that a parish closure should never occur, but the way that some dioceses have approached this problem betrays an attitude that is both cavalier and without understanding or sympathy for the souls the Church is called to accompany.

In so doing, they risk exactly what the Church warns us about: trying to make a structure that is “without roots, without history, without faces, without memory, without a body, in the end, without lives.” Like the architectural destruction, both sacred and secular, that most today lament, we may find that it is far more difficult to rebuild something better than that which we destroy, and we may also find ourselves leaving behind at least some number of those we are called to serve.

We pray that our diocesan leaders will proceed differently than what we have seen elsewhere. We hope that in their planning they will have much care and attentiveness to these dangers, acting with reverence, with discernment, listening also to the voices of the faithful, so that our Church may continue its work for the good of all.

23 Replies to “Being There”

  1. I don’t know. Rather than closing churches and business-ifying them all, how about we actually work to act out what the Church actually teaches? What about actually reviving the Church? If you have a faithful, vibrant, engaged, and evangelizing parish, vocations are formed. But we don’t focus on this anymore. The only gifts of the Spirit that we seem to utilize as a church these days is teaching…..lots and lots and lots of talks. Talks, apologetics, and learning about your faith are important and great….but man…what happened to rest of it? Where are all the healing Masses? Where is Praise and Worship? Where are the opportunities to use and the building up of the Spiritual gifts in our people? When people use their gifts, they are lit on fire and we need people on fire. Where are the priests who are on fire lighting up the people in their parishes? They need our fire as much as we need theirs. We do need a revival and if we would actually put our effort into lighting our people on fire, we’d see an explosion of vocations and never need to close a single church. Ya know, Jesus did it with only 12 “priests” and those 12 lit the world on fire. If only the bishop could have more faith in God and the Holy Spirit….His need to control and manage and analyze is the work of the devil and cuts Jesus off at the knees. Show us some faith, shepherd. Show your priests you have faith in God, the Almighty, who can do amazing things!

  2. I’m legitimately asking this because I don’t know. No sarcasm or snarkiness is intended whatsoever.

    Lets say we’re all fed up. To show this to the bishop, all – and I mean without exception – of the parishes/pastorates of the diocese don’t make their CMA goals by more than half. Parishioners only support their parish by detailed donations with directions as to how they want their funds used. Even larger needs like campus ministry, vocations, permanent diaconate, etc. are all supported by individuals – and a slush fund for the bishop/chancery ceases to exist. There is a meal train so priests can eat. The staff of parishes is mostly volunteer run, and we try to shut out diocesan interference as much as possible. Is that what we want?

    I really do value the small parishes that are a gazillion years old. I honestly believe they shouldn’t be allowed to be closed. I’m afraid, however, that despite our efforts “turning off the tap” so to speak, and rejecting the bishop and all his evil ways might cause more difficulty for these small parishes. Further than that, voting with our money like I’m sometimes inclined to do makes us more Protestant, not more Catholic in the long run. Determining what is valued by how one spends money (and later on, determining doctrine by how one spends money) results in the iTowns, Graces, Northviews, and Trader’s Points of our communities. This issue is magnified because not any Bible-believing motivational speaker can run these Churches. You can’t buy weekend Mass coverage from your local recruitment agency. If Father Richard Doerr is egotistical as other comments have claimed (I don’t believe it, but what do I know), isn’t he the way he is because we’ve made him that way? 4800 families under his care? It takes a freight train of a personality to even attempt adequacy there.

    That’s my question: If we’re seriously Catholic about it, and we were master politicians, and we were trying to make the best choice of what the next step forward would be, what is it? I think the bishop and his circles are certainly headed in a wrong direction. So I want to know, and feel free to call me crazy and misinformed because I am both, if UiH is terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad, what IS the move forward?

    Let me address a few more of my thoughts, none of which I am married to:
    -The TLM crowd, while beautiful, isn’t going to keep a tiny Church’s lights on.
    -I don’t think just saying it will be better when there’s new bishop is a viable solution. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Bishop Higi, but boy did my mind change when we got his replacement.
    -Leaving all the parishes open because they are beautiful and historic while probably the right thing to do, will not reduce the rapidly multiplying stress in our priest’s lives.

    Solutions, people! Solutions. What is going to make this situation better? How can we prevent the mass exodus of Millennials from the Church? How do we prevent personnel from killing themselves literally or figuratively? How do we address the problems, yet not become Detroit? How do we fix this? Just asking.

    1. I think a huge dose of kindness is needed. I for one have been super critical here in the past, and what makes me an expert on running a diocese? Not a thing. If we are going to be judged on the mercy and love we have shown, then maybe that is the answer. Maybe this website should be shut down because of the angst it generates. Maybe we need to support our parishes and the diocese and let God work out the rest. Aren’t we supposed to give people the benefit of the doubt? The Bishop and the VC might be the place to start. After much Lenten soul searching and reading Scripture, that is what I intend to do. And I feel more at peace. GK Chesterton answered the question “what’s wrong with the world today?” With “Dear Sir, I am.” I think that is the answer here. My lack of humility, kindness, mercy is the problem. I want to be a force for good. Negativity is from the devil. I hope this website can have positive solutions, not hateful suggestions.

      1. LOL. If only the bishop and his VG followed your kindness, humility, and mercy suggestions…this website wouldn’t exist.

      2. Thank you, Repentant, for trying. I’ve tried here before and received a similar lol reply to my sincere comment. We’re desperate for an outlet, for an opportunity to voice concerns without an AMAZING! reply! So, where else can we go? Even the Catholic Moment eliminated the Letters to the Editor column so only one-way, controlled communication.
        Can’t help but wonder about the true nature of this site at times–rather like wondering about this diocese, the 2030 Plan, the present state of my parish/pastorate.
        Oddly enough I learned of this site when I was locked out of my parish church with a few others–as Mass was being Offered inside. One of the folks was from Lafayette, & suggested it.
        Yes, pray. Yes, I, too, am guilty–wonfering now, was my being locked out my sign that I do not belong here? After all, I was locked out, & wailing, & gritting, if not gnashing, my teeth! It is possible, very likely, that I am the Jonah, responsible for the raging waters here, who ought to be thrown overboard (I am considering going elsewhere, but “To whom shall I go? since the primary reason I have stayed is, hopefully, the Sacraments here are valid, not to forget other parishioners who come to me for reassurance that we’ll survive this storm. Just last night I asked a simple question of the director of a ministry that got “I don’t know” as an answer related to the ministry, & this morning an announcement on the radio for a celebratory event in our pastorate that I had objected to yet again as inappropriate for Holy Saturday–the most Solemn Holy Days of the year!
        “If I forget you Jerusalem”
        So, yes, Watch and pray that we not be subjected to the test.
        I am tired from grief.
        May the Lord Have Mercy on us and Bless us every one.

        1. Repentant & Weary, thank you for your thoughts. If the above post did not express kindness in its tone, then we will think upon our words further. However, it troubles me that a Catholic would find the Church closed to him or her, spiritually or physically, and sense that he did not belong. The leadership decisions that take us to these places have grave collateral damage, and are emblematic of the attitudes I have chosen to address here. How many felt as Weary did, but did not stick around to voice their thoughts? For my part, silence would be preferable but is no longer an option, nor is it what I have discerned. Do what you believe God asks of you with regard to reading/commenting here, but please do not believe that you do not belong in the Church. This is a snare to which we are especially susceptible in times of discouragement.

        2. A conformation: The Letters to the Editor in the Catholic Moment were eliminated the day Bishop Doherty arrived. I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Catholic Moment shortly after Bishop Doherty arrived and was surprised to receive a letter from the Bishop stating my letter would not be published. His reason basically was that my upholding of teachings on sexual morality might offend some. I have watched all these years and never has a letter been published since Bishop Doherty arrived. Hundreds and hundreds of opportunities to teach the Faith have been squandered due to the Bishops’ lack of confidence in upholding or correcting the contents of Letters to the Editor.

    2. Keeping old and mostly empty church buildings “because they are beautiful and historic” is absolutely the wrong thing to do. For 2000+ years we have opened and closed parishes and torn down old buildings based on where the population moves to and moves away from. Christ was about the people, not the buildings or their locations.

      1. March 17, Anonymous, 11:02am
        You say this, but might re-think it when the beautiful, Solemnly Consecrated Church, is used as a Screaming Horror House for Halloween! Or as a site for He/She/It weddings.
        Testimonies to our failure to
        be faithful to our parish families, evangelize and Worship God as we ought.

  3. We are dealing with people in diocesan leadership who really don’t have regard for people outside of their very closed, respective circles. They are terribly ill-suited for the positions they have found themselves in and too much destructive time has passed for any reasonable person to think they are capable of changing on their own.

    Pray for them all, but expect more disappointments, illogical decisions, and continued decline. They simply won’t listen.

    Our next bishop will have so much damage to repair. He can’t come soon enough.

    1. Not much for Catholics other than be ready to hand out Catholic FAQ pamphlets outside similar events.

      Coincidentally, my understanding is that “revival” has ended just in time for the opening of “Jesus Revolution” movie.

    2. All that can be learned is that souls are starving for the graces that come through the Sacraments and, sadly, the dispensers of those Sacraments (the bishops) are more worried about global warming, celebrating sodomy, and attacking trads.

      1. Spiritual renewals, rivals and transfigurations occur when we invite others – all others no exceptions – to participate, to join us and accompany them on that walk. Like the Pope said this week keeping quiet is not an option of the baptized. “Faith is a gift that must be shared with others!”

  4. I wonder if the tide is going to turn on this closing and merging? There is beginning to be some pushback from bigger names. People can say the Church is a businesslike organization and has to do what makes sense according to financial advisors, while Bishop Robert Barron said that this only works as for a short crisis basically and should NOT be accepted as “the new normal” way to run the Church …if we take Jesus’ mission seriously. A lot about this finance obsession feels worldly. A lot of the time or energy or money we spend on the worship of God is “wasted” in the world’s eyes anyway, just like Judas thought Mary “wasted” money on perfume to anoint Jesus. Nobody is too small, poor or unimportant to “waste” ourselves on, and that can include parish families that some think are small, unimportant and not worth it.

    1. Don’t hold your breath. The people who screwed everything up in this diocese are still in charge. The safe bet is that they will continue to screw everything up, take no responsibility for failure, and instead blame the critics for “not listing to the spirit” or whatever. We’re being led by blind guides!

  5. No mega parishes! No! No! No! No! No! St Maria Goretti (Westfield), an example is too large! I know a parish with average attendance of about 35. I told a diocesan priest about that and he couldn’t get his brain around it. It’s not easy but it’s possible. It’s preferable to a huge parish where you’re just collection box no. 10135.

    1. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the monster mega parish with a pastor with an ego equally mega that still is adding on. That madness needs stop.

      1. In this instance I disagree. Father Doerr, exhausted, ministered the Sacrament of the Sick to our dying daughter on the way home late from a meeting in Lafayette I believe. She was enrolled as a parishioner at OLMC but came home from Oregon with terminal cancer. We live miles north of Carmel, it was NOT on his way to Carmel and he could have easily delegated this to another priest. That parish I swear is busy 24/7/365 with an amazing army of dedicated parishioners. Also, the 12;30 mass is beautiful and reverent–perhaps the others are as well, I don’t know. It is one exception to the mega church rule I normally subscribe to. Sorry, for me that one is hands off.

    2. I will tell you as someone who has spent MANY years at SMG that this is never how I have felt. When I go to church I see people I’ve known for many years. I have never felt more at home or more apart of a family as I do at SMG. Years ago, the people of SMG stepped up when a member of my family was suffering from cancer and brought meals over and prayed for us every day. Through every up and down life has presented, our SMG community has been there for us. I fail to understand how a parish being too big could ever be a bad thing. I thought we were trying to get all the Catholics we could get? We’ve celebrated the growth of St. Maria Goretti. (If you go inside you can see the diagram of the church with each family’s name written inside). More young families that want to join us in worshipping God? All the merrier, I say!


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