The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


When a parish closes: “In the end, it is about the numbers of the faithful”

posted by jmcgee

2010-02-13-jc-holytrinity1jpg-ef0c08636a2af9ce_large.jpgLeave it to Msgr. Charles Pope, in the Archdiocese of Washington, to frame the ongoing story of parish closings in a way we rarely consider it:

One of my own frustrations with the closing of large numbers of parishes is that we do not do a better job of using these situations as a teaching moment. The usual approach is for media, secular and Catholic is to interview grief-stricken members of a closing parish and to ask them how they feel. Well, of course, they feel awful. Some are also angry at the diocese in question, and the bishop. The usual goal of these sorts of interviews is for us to feel bad with them. And there is much to regret. Some very old parishes with wonderful histories and beautiful buildings are being lost in large numbers.

But where is the assertive teaching about the need for evangelization, summoning fallen away catholics back to the sacraments, increased family size, and so forth? The “ain’t it awful” attitude doesn’t get us very far. We have some serious repenting to do as Catholics. It is so easy to blame “mean” bishops, arrogant chancery offices and so forth. Surely there is some blame to be had in these areas. But in the end this is about the numbers of the faithful. It is simple to say the priests should do something, but it is also a fact that shepherds don’t have sheep; sheep have sheep. And it is a simple fact that the sheep are not in the fold. Every survey agrees, only 27 – 30% of Catholics even bother to go to mass any more, much less support their parishes financially. We simply cannot continue to maintain our parishes and other entities with this decline of people in the pews. The faith has largely been set aside by most Catholics who still expect their parish to “be there” at important moments like wedding and funerals, baptisms and crises.

Read on.



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Not as good as YOU, apparently

posted November 9, 2010 at 10:14 am


Maybe the “sheep” are leaving the fold because of the message (and behaviors) of the “shepherds” (and the ‘shepherd-in-chief’).
“We have some serious repenting to do as Catholics. It is so easy to blame “mean” bishops, arrogant chancery offices and so forth. Surely there is some blame to be had in these areas.”
Exactly! Too bad there are so many apologists running around avoiding and/or deflecting this much-deserved ‘blame’. There should be oodles more of it. The “sheep” see no contrition, no change, only empty homilies and evasion of hard truths.



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romancrusader

posted November 9, 2010 at 10:18 am


How can we possibly recognize Jesus Christ if we don’t admit that we are sinners.



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Fran Rossi Szypylczyn

posted November 9, 2010 at 10:27 am


I am reminded that the approach he describes and the handwringing and sadness is that of spectators. We must be part of the actual body…



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romancrusader

posted November 9, 2010 at 10:35 am


We need to do away with these watered down and flowery homilies about love. How much of that can one take? Wicked pastors telling parishioners that “contraception is ok”, “abortion is ok”, and “if it doesn’t bother your conscience go ahead and do it”. After Vatican II the communists took over and hijacked it.
Don’t believe me? Glen Beck said that one the communist goals was “infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with ‘social’ religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity, which does not need a ‘religious crutch.'”
No wonder so many of our clergy told our parishioners to go get a conscience! I’m not blaming Vatican II for what happened.
Just think. What ever happened to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament? What ever happened to those ancient Catholic practices we held so dear? It’s like our faith is dead! But of course these things were did away with because they were seen as “hinderances to Christian Unity.” And when we promoted those things, we were told that we were “not in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.” Eventually God’s going to say “enough!” and give us a good spanking like a mother who disciplines her children when they’re bad. Many of our clergy are playing fiddle dee dee while Rome’s burning.
Come on Catholics wake up!



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JIM

posted November 9, 2010 at 12:08 pm


The RCC flatly denies that SCRIPTURE is the supreme authority in all matters of faith, conduct and doctrine.
VATICAN 11 : ” The RCC does not draw her certainty about all revealed truth from holy scriptures alone, but both scripture and tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence .”
Bottom line : if you deny what scripture says you twist and pervert and then you invent another religion based upon tradition.
The whole system is wrong !
The harvest is ripe ! So many catholics to evangelize !!



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Mary

posted November 9, 2010 at 12:51 pm


The RCC does not deny scripture as supreme authority. The Church is living the Scripture and is doing so with tradition. This piece of understanding about the Church is central and core. That is why women who want ordination will always be disappointed. It is not ours to invent. We are living it. or, as Msgr. Pope is pointing out – we should be living it and aren’t. The power of the laity is faith and we do blame. Let’s reclaim our power.



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Fran Rossi Szypylczyn

posted November 9, 2010 at 12:52 pm


Is it time to repost the comment policy again?



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wineinthewater

posted November 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm


Not as good as YOU, apparently,
I really think that the only way you can say that is if you are looking in from the outside and/or not paying much attention.
– While head of the DCF, then-Cardinal Ratzinger streamlined the procedure for removing suspected abusive priest from ministry to such an extent that there were actually complaints that the rights of priests to due-process were being threatened.
– The current Pope has repeatedly expressed sorrow and apologized for what has been done.
– The Church has changed her policies surrounding children, safety and abuse such that they are the most comprehensive of just about any organization on the planet.
This is a far cry from “no contrition, no change, only empty homilies and evasion of hard truths.” The only way to see no contrition and no change is to close your eyes.



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RomCath

posted November 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm


“So many catholics to evangelize !!”
Jim, perhaps you need to evangelize yourself about the “Sola Scriptura” nonsense. Even the Gospel of John tells us that not everything Jesus said or did is recorded there. Is everything in your family history written down? Haven’t some family traditions been handed down orally from one generation to the next? Stop wasting our time with this drivel and open up your mind.



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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted November 9, 2010 at 6:25 pm


Maybe there is something we can learn from some Protestants. Not doctrine. But how to keep small worshipping communities alive ready to spark a turnaround. It is truly amazing what tiny Protestant congregations support a minister and his family and a church facility (although usually more modest than many Catholic cathedral wanna-bes.) The solution that seems to be preferred in Catholic circles is to not only close down a financially unsustainable parish structure but to also close down the parish community that uses that structure. The drop off in number of priests creates a scheduling and travel problem for providing Masses and confessions. But all other ministerial duties can be handled in a parish community by deacons or consecrated religious or laypersons. Sometimes I think some of our church organization problems are the result of a lack of creative imagination.



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Pam

posted November 9, 2010 at 8:51 pm


People can not evangelize when they have not been taught their Faith properly. Therefore they rely on secular society for some of their beliefs.
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” should be used by all Diocese Parishes for everyone over age 15 who can read.
This all gets back to Seminaries, Convents, most Catholic Universities, and 11th and 12th grades in Catholic High Schools – NOT using the “CCC 2nd Ed” due to the Bishops not insisting on it.
In addition, when people do not know their Faith, they can not Love it. So they leave.



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Your Name

posted November 9, 2010 at 11:40 pm


“But all other ministerial duties can be handled in a parish community by deacons or consecrated religious or laypersons. Sometimes I think some of our church organization problems are the result of a lack of creative imagination.”
Why, maybe they could even start harvesting the talents of WOMEN. Now THAT would be creative imagination in using all the spiritual gifts of half the population. (And certainly more than half of the congregations.)
What a concept!



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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 10, 2010 at 6:14 am


Why, maybe they could even start harvesting the talents of WOMEN.
The Church is already doing that. Some members of the Roman curia are women. In Miami, the COO of the Archdiocese — responsible for a wide range of operational and management issues — is a woman. In virtually every parish in America, most lay ministries and administrative positions are held by women. Women occupy leadership and management positions at Catholic universities, hospitals, schools and institutions of all kinds.
And, in Catholic theology, the most important position ever given to mere mortal is also occupied by a woman — Mary, the mother of God.
Dcn. G.



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dymphna

posted November 10, 2010 at 12:24 pm


Let’s see. You don’t have any kids or you never taught your kids the Faith in the first place. You walk past your new neighbors in silence or greet the newcomers who do come to Mass with stone faced stares. You turn your parish into a private club and ignore anybody who who you arent’ already friends with and then you wonder why your dwindling parish has to be closed.



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JIM

posted November 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm


ROMCATH,
I guess the biggest issue is AUTHORITY.
On your side it’s ” once rome speaks, it is settled .”
Reason and scripture are not your final authority.
As you have done, you have retreated to your
” safe zone ” of rcc authority.
May i leave you with this : All scripture is given by inspiration
of GOD , and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of GOD , may be perfect unto all good works.



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RomCath

posted November 10, 2010 at 3:02 pm


Jim
Have you ever read the Catholic Cathechism or a Papal Encyclical or official church document? At the end of each there are hundreds if not thousands of footnotes. At least 90 per cent of those footnotes are references to Scripture, the Fathers of the church and ancient documents–most are from Scripture. The Church doesn’t teach something officially unless it has a basis to do so.
And yes, just where do you think the Bible came from? Do some reading.



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Steve

posted November 17, 2010 at 11:41 pm


Deacon Greg,
I love your blog, and I’m offering this comment in a spirit of respect and civil discourse, not anger. I hope my remarks won’t cause offense.
You’ve asserted that women already do hold a number of important positions in the church. No doubt women HAVE stepped up to the plate (said yes to the church, said yes to God) in many different roles in the church. And yes, of course, it was Mary who said yes to God in a most profound way. (And a different Mary who was the first to say of the changed figure at the empty tomb, “It is the Lord!”)
Nonetheless, one can’t ignore the church’s refusal to allow women to serve as priests or bishops. (Nor, for that matter, the church’s refusal to allow devout married Catholic men to serve as priests, unless, that is, they were once Anglican ministers.) We have parishes that are effectively “stranded” not only because those individual parishes have lost numbers, but also because most dioceses do not have enough priests. Unfortunately, the church refuses to even consider opening itself to the possibility of women priests or married (married cradle-Catholic) priests. That’s a big disappointment for Catholics who desire a vibrant church and frequent access to the sacraments, not to mention a seeming injustice in the eyes of many Catholics.



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Klaire

posted November 18, 2010 at 8:00 am


Steve if the Church were to allow “married men (with living wives) or women to be priests”, it would no longer be the “Catholic Church instituted by Christ.” It’s not Romes to change, they are just following the institution of Jesus Christ, which is what for the most part, Catholicism is.
I fail to understand why people like you pound away for theological change that would do nothing more than to make the CC one more Protestant Demonination.
Does it ever occur to you to study the Catholic theology behind it? Better yet, pray thru the intercession of Mother Mary, the greatest teacher of Christ who ever lived. Not only will she show you the way, but you can rest assured that if Jesus wanted women priests, he would have allowed his own mother to be one.
In simple terms, think about it. The Catholic Church is the bride of Christ. Having women priests would be on par with spirtual lesbianism, just one of many reasons why it’s not “theological possible.”
It might also help if you understand that the priesthood is a vocation, a CALLING, not a job with PC quotas. Perhaps the better thing is to pray for those called to have the courage and grace to hear and answer their vocations.
As for the church getting smaller, that’s not a bad thing really (Pope Benedidict even encourages it). It’s more about fidelity than “volume”, and the church is at its best when it is strong, small, and devout, probably what we need most right now to grow back to a strong well catechized faithful Catholic America.



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Steve

posted November 18, 2010 at 9:56 am


Klaire, thanks, but I do understand that priesthood is a vocation, not just a job. I have a friend who is a priest in the Episcopal church, and she does a wonderful job of living out her vocation. The priests who, over the years, have served the Catholic parishes to which I belong also have done great jobs of living out their vocations. (For what it’s worth, when I was in eighth through tenth grade, I studied priestly vocations rather intently because I was considering the priesthood. Years later, now that I’m married, I’m still intrigued by the theology, as well as the lived experience, of the priesthood. I’ve read a fair amount on the subject, thanks.)
Some of the early apostles and disciples (Peter in particular) had a spouse. No scandal there. The RC church had married priests for centuries, up until about a thousand years ago. (Celibacy is defined by the church as a discipline, not doctrine.)
As for the RC ban on women priests, the church has, argubably, defined that as doctrine; JPII was explicit in saying no more discussion, this topic is finished. Well, many Catholics in the pews–the people in whom vocations spring up, thanks to the Holy Spirit–have a different view of this subject. I realize that response is likely to result in some chiding along the lines of, “You can’t disagree with JPII or any pope on issues of what MAY be a doctrine, and you are not truly Catholic if you do.” Believe that if you wish, but I assure you, I am Catholic. I take my faith seriously, and my relationship with Jesus seriously (sinner though I am). But, like many Catholics, I disagree with the church on some important issues, including excluding the gifts of women from the priesthood.
As for your remark about “spiritual lesbianism” — no, on second thought, I’m not going to even comment on that one, other than to say it’s a great example of convoluted thinking.



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RCIAD

posted November 18, 2010 at 10:03 am


Oh…I’ll go there…
“Spiritual lesbianism”…? So…doesn’t that make male priests spiritual gays as much as it would make female priests spiritual lesbians?
That goes beyond convoluted thinking. That’s just…bizarre.



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Klaire

posted November 18, 2010 at 10:20 am


Steve and RCIAD do you even realize that the RC Priest is Persona Christi and the BRIDEGROOM! If so, imagine going to mass, “in Persona Christi”, when a women priestess holds up the body and blood of Christ and “in persona Christi” says, “This is my body.”
There is nothing convuluted about this thinking at all. Steve you especially appear open, so perhaps and hopefully Dr. Peter Kreef or CS Lewis can help you understand what you seem unable to grasp. You will also find TOB very helpful as well.
Here’s the link to the entire article:
http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/sexual-symbolism.htm
Here’s an excerpt from CS Lewis, included in Kreeft’s article.
Hope it helps!
Why should a woman not in this [priestly] sense represent God?… Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to ‘Our Mother which art in Heaven’ as to ‘Our Father’. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does…. …Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say… that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin… And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity…. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery…. …One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church.



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RCIAD

posted November 18, 2010 at 10:28 am


What does that have to do with lesbianism, though — spiritual or otherwise?
At best, you might go for a transgendered analogy, but why Catholics always have to put some really creepy sexual twist on everything is beyond me.
Still makes no sense, anyway. If Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride, and the Church is roughly 50% female, the priest’s physical sex makes no difference.
The Bride/Groom analogy is just that — an analogy. It’s not an explanation of the actual physical state of each party.
God is neither male or female, anyway. And at some point you have to move beyond a middle-school level of sexual maturity.



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Klaire

posted November 18, 2010 at 11:07 am


Did it ever occur to you RCIAD that our sex obcessed culture has taken the very beautiful age old sexual imagery of God, thus the male/female complemtarity, and “twisted it into a self pleasuring entitlement at all costs? FYI, the bible, from beginning to end, is about “marriage”, e.g., Genesis (Adam and Eve), the book of Revelation at the end (final wedding banquet/Heaven), with last but not least, the Song of Songs (God seducing us to be his lovers), smack in the middle.
Even more interesting is that you suggest a “transgendered” analogy, and “creepy sexual twist”; very telling and interesting, as projection often is. I doubt you even have a clue that it’s the sex obcessed culture that has it wrong, the same one that just can’t, for some “unknown”, reason, seem to get sexually satisfied. But then, that would take an understanding that sex was instituted by God as a prelude to the ultimate union of man and God, the pleasure attached to it, dare I say, another “earthly symbol” of heaven.



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RomCath

posted November 18, 2010 at 11:11 am


“God is neither male or female, anyway. And at some point you have to move beyond a middle-school level of sexual maturity.”
True. However Jesus Christ became a MALE. If a priest acts in “persona Christi” then it makes sense that the priest be a male. Along with all the other reasons–the 12 Apostles, Jesus didn’t include Mary as a priest and on and on and on. John Paul closed the discussion but people will be weeping and gnashing their teeth on this issue forever. Move on. There are far more important issues.



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RCIAD

posted November 18, 2010 at 11:17 am


@Klaire
You made the original comment about spiritual lesbianism — you began this, so you might want to be careful when you bring up projection issues.
What exacatly are you responding to? Your comments make no sense in the context of this discussion.
Who’s sex-obsessed? I thought we were talking about the priesthood, married priests, female priests, God, and the early Church?
What’s that all about?



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Steve

posted November 18, 2010 at 11:17 am


Very strong agreement with what RCIAD just said.
And yes, I’ve read Lewis, and I like a lot of Lewis. Yet on some points his reasoning doesn’t hold up so well. In Mere Christianity, in his chapter on Christian marriage, for instance, he simply assumes that is is natural for the man to be in a position of authority over the woman in marriage, with only minimal effort to reason the issue out. Begging the question, in other words. (You could cite St. Paul on that issue, I know, but St. Paul also says that women must wear veils and slaves should obey their masters and not resist their enslavement. Even putting aside the fact that slavery wasn’t race-based at that point in history, I’m not willing to accept Paul’s reasoning there, and I wouldn’t accept Lewis’s reasoing if he came to a similar conclusion in the 20th century.)
There is much good to be found in Lewis’s writings (apologetics as well as fiction), but I’m not going to buy into sexism simply because Lewis, and some other well-meaning folks, have found it acceptable over the centuries.
As for JPII, the theology of the body, etc.: JPII championed women’s equality in secular life, yet he undermined that argument every time he declared that women had no place in the priesthood, in the leadership of the church, or in papal conclaves. The secular world pays attention not just to what the church SAYS about women’s equality, but even more so to what it DOES in those areas where it could actually demonstrate that equality within the church. “The church just can’t do it” is an easy way of saying, “The church is not at all interested in doing it.” Once there was an argument (between Peter and Paul) about whether new Christians must be conformed to the Judaic/christological physical example…e.g. whether new male Christians must be circumcised. The decision was obviously that they need not be. Yet Christ, we are told in the Gospels, was indeed presented for circumcision. Would you argue that all priests, in order to resemble Christ’s body physically, must be circumcised? That seems to be where the christological/”in persona Christi” reasoning would take one when one is willing to take it to an extreme. (“That type of physical resemblance to Christ would be irrelevant and unnecesarry,” I can hear defenders of the male-only priesthood saying. Indeed. Genitalia and body shape are not relevant to whether or not the Holy Spirit can call one to a vocation in the priesthood.)



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