|Date: Saturday, April 20,
2002 2:27 PM
Subject: Association of Parish Pastoral Councils of the Archdiocese of Boston -- A proposal to bring laity, parish priests and Archdiocesan leadership together
I am currently vice chair of the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) of St. Theresa Parish in Sherborn, Massachusetts. I obtained your email addresses from my own records, from Mary Jo Bane, Vice-Chair of the PPC at St. Williams Parish in Dorchester, and from other concerned Catholics in our Archdiocese. Attached is a rough draft of a plan for a group that I have called the “Association of Parish Pastoral Councils of the Archdiocese of Boston.” Professor Bane and I have discussed the attached draft; and I have talked about it and/or or shared it with some of you. At this time, I would like to share the idea with all of you. I would greatly appreciate your comments and suggestions as to whether you think this idea has merit, and if so how you would suggest that we pursue the idea. If enough people are interested, we can get together and discuss the specifics of how to proceed, and put together an organizational committee.
By way of background, I have an undergraduate degree in theology and a law degree from Boston College, and have practiced law since 1979. I am also a part-time student in the Master of Arts in Ministry Program at St. John's Seminary. Over the past months, our PPC has been involved with efforts within St. Theresa Parish to respond to the current crisis within our Archdiocese, including sponsoring two parish-wide meetings about this matter. A group of parishioners has established a group that meets on Wednesday evenings at our parish center to permit parishioners an opportunity to deal with the current situation on an ongoing basis. These events have been a source of great strength for me and many others at St. Theresa who have been affected in a profound way by what has happened within our local Church, and beyond.
I feel strongly that the current situation raises two distinct issues: First, how shall we deal with the problem of child abuse by priests and others within the Archdiocese? For me, it would be unwise – and wrong -- to conclude that the current crisis within the Church can be remedied by focusing only on the latter question. Such a view does not fully respond to what we have learned about the structure and substance of Church policy and decision making. And what we have learned has shaken us to the core.
And so we face a second problem: How -- consistent with our shared Catholic faith and tradition -- can we improve relationships between and among laity, parish priests and archdiocesan leaders so that policies and decisions that affect parishes are made openly, with all concerned voices heard, based upon full disclosure of relevant information, so that we can become a healthier Church, more responsive to the needs of all Catholics, more open to and inclusive of the views and opinions of all Church members? What has come to light in our Archdiocese is, for me, not just a problem of child abuse, but a clear picture of how broken and dysfunctional our Church is, how insular our leadership has become, and how much healing work we have to do – all of us together in community -- so that we can move forward with the work that Christ has called us to accomplish as “church.” We are not about to walk away from this situation without a solution that is as comprehensive as the problem that most Catholics believe currently exists. Any attempt to “narrow” it, and to bypass the concerns of the laity and our parish priests will, I believe, lack credibility and be flatly rejected. This is, in my view, not a time for “damage control” strategies; it is a time for broad based prayer, reflection, discussion and concrete solutions that involve all Catholics, especially the laity and our parish priests. This is not a time for the hierarchy to convene “expert” committees in private sessions. And this is certainly not the time for edicts from Rome. It is a time for all of us to come to the table together, to find genuine solutions to the very real problems that face our Church now. The decisions that our Church leaders make will be credible only to the extent that those decisions are made after lay voices have been heard and seriously considered – something the Archdiocese is not currently set up to do.
In early March, I delivered a letter to the Archdiocese which at the request of some parishioners in my parish I have made available in the following website: http://hometown.aol.com/lighttotruth/myhomepage/diary.html. This letter sets forth my own feelings about what I would like to see our Church move toward: i.e., a more consensus based form of decision and policy making, particularly with regard to issues that pertain to the life and work of our parishes. My letter touches upon my own experience at St. Theresa Parish, where we reap the benefits of a collaborative, inclusive and open style of policy and decision making that is consistent with our Catholic faith and tradition and is, I think, worthy of emulating at the archdiocesan level.
There has been a lot of attention paid recently to the issue of whether Cardinal Law should resign. Whether he resigns or not, however, the question remains: What voice will the laity have in Church policy and decision making, particularly as they relate to parish life? Sadly, we have no significant voice in such matters now. What evidence suggests that the hierarchy has not systematically tuned out lay voices, and does not view lay involvement in pastoral affairs as unimportant and irrelevant? The absence of meaningful relationships between laity and hierarchy within our Church, and the presence of what appears to be a culture of insularity and secrecy within the hierarchy, are matters that lay faithful should and must be concerned with, because they have contributed directly to the creation of the child abuse problem within our Church and, unless remedied, will continue to cause damage to the Church in the future.
An idea has come to mind that I would like to share with all of you. We need, I think, to put into place a structure to allow a dialogue between and among laity, parish priests and archdiocesan leadership to begin, and to continue, in the future. One way to do this might be to organize PPC's throughout the archdiocese into an association that could be in a position to voice concerns of lay parish members and our parish priests directly to the Archbishop of Boston and other archdiocesan leaders on an ongoing basis. Such an association would utilize the existing PPC structure that Cardinal Law himself established -- see, The Synodal Statement on Parish Pastoral Councils (November 27, 1988). This would not be a "fringe" group working "outside" the Church; indeed, I pray that at this time the archdiocese will recognize the urgent need for such a group, and embrace such an idea, even if more work is needed to set it up in a way that is acceptable to all concerned. I am hopeful that we can get support from local theologians and parish priests. And if we are thoughtful, constructive, and prayerful -- and remain faithful to our Catholic faith and tradition – I believe that we can accomplish something meaningful within our Church. Perhaps we can at least provide hope for those who want to remain faithful Catholics, but feel left out and without a voice as we face the tsunami (to borrow a reference from a colleague of mine) that has hit our local Church. My hope is that – after we have refined the structural and substantive aspects of what we want to accomplish through this entity – we can meet with a representative of the archdiocese to discuss moving forward with this in a more formal way.
If you would like, please forward this to the vice-chair of your PPC for further consideration.
Thank you for your help, and for allowing me this opportunity to share this idea with you.
[contact information redacted]
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