Group Pushes Archdiocese for Meeting

By Maureen Call
Brockton Enterprise [Brockton MA]
Downloaded March 24, 2004

BROCKTON Two leaders of the Voice of the Faithful say the Archdiocese of Boston has not allowed the group a role in deciding which churches should close in the parish consolidations happening this year.

"The fact is, the archdiocese has chosen to ignore us," said John J. Hynes of Canton, chairman of the steering committee for Boston Voice of the Faithful.

"If someone in industry did something like this they would be fired," he said. "When making this kind of decision, it makes sense that you should consult with experts in the field."

Hynes also said Archbishop Sean O'Malley's directive requiring geographic parish "clusters" to recommend one or two churches from among them for closing was akin to the television show "Survivor."

"Cluster meetings pit one parish against another," Hynes said. "The game you get into in a cluster meeting is who are you going to vote off the island."

While Hynes himself served on the committee for the cluster of churches in Stoughton, Canton and Sharon, the Voice of the Faithful organization has not been included in the process, he said.

And the way the process was structured, any church could have ended up on the list no matter how healthy its sacramental index is, just because a cluster votes them down, Hynes said. The sacramental index is a figure derived from Mass attendance and the numbers of baptisms, marriages and funerals in a parish.

"There is no uniformity," said Luise Cahill Dittrich of Wellesley, communication director and founding member of the local Voice of the Faithful. "It's employing the parishes to largely do the dirty work of the archdiocese."

A committee from each cluster met last month and submitted recommendations for church closings to the archdiocese by March 8. The recommendations are now being reviewed by a central committee that includes representatives from the archdiocese, parish priests and lay people. O'Malley is expected to announce his final decisions on closings sometime in May.

Established in January 2002 in response to the clergy sex-abuse crisis in the church, the Voice of the Faithful has evolved as a way through which Catholics can more actively participate in the church, the leaders said Tuesday.

The group, which has more than 10,000 members in the Boston archdiocese, has made repeated attempts to meet with the archdiocese to be involved in the parish reconfiguration process and has been ignored or turned down, Hynes said.

Letters sent to the archdiocese, including the most recent one on Feb. 3, have gotten no response, he said.

The spokesman for the archdiocese said there has been "ample opportunity" for lay people to become involved in the process.

"Why should we give Voice of the Faithful any more place at the table than any other Catholic? That wouldn't be fair to other Catholics," the Rev. Christopher Coyne, the spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

Coyne said more than 1,800 lay men and women have been involved in the decision-making process for recommendations for church closings.

Mary Petrie of West Bridgewater, a member of the Greater Brockton Voice of the Faithful, agreed the archdiocese should listen more to the organization.

"I think we have some reasonable suggestions that would be helpful to the archbishop," Petrie said in a telephone interview. "Our members are active church-goers and have a lot to offer."

On April 12, Voice of the Faithful will discuss ways it can support parishes after closings. The meeting will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at St. John Chrysostom Church, 4750 Washington St., West Roxbury. The group is also planning to send another letter to the archdiocese next week.

The group's leaders said they realize some parishes may need to be shut down, but suggested the number of closings could be limited if the archdiocese tried to fill those churches.

In New York and New Jersey, where parishes are going through a similar crisis, parishes are being told what they need to do to stay open and have been given a chance to stay open if they can reach minimum numbers and financial health, Hynes said.

"I'm baffled that Boston didn't try this course first," said Hynes. "It would be a way to bring Catholics back to the church instead of turning them away."

In general, the whole issue of reconfiguration could have been handled better, he said.

"The process of reconfiguring parishes could provide an opportunity to promote healing so desperately needed from the devastation of the last two years," Hynes said, referring to the sex-abuse scandal.

"This could be a collaborative lay-clergy effort designed to address the fundamental issues and lead to an end that everyone could embrace," he said. "Instead, it's pitting parish against parish."


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