Sunday, August 30, 2009

"What people want at Mass"

[While looking for a photo of Bishop Thomas Tobin I came across a remarkable essay written by His Excellency. It appears at, a blog maintained by St. Mary's Catholic Church, Salem, SD. Apparently, they like it too.

Note the proper understanding of the ecclesial community, the need for doctrinally sound, morally challenging homilies, the understanding of the Eucharist as "the foundational element of Catholic life" and the need for some measure of silence in church before and after Mass.

Bishop Tobin is currently 61 years old. I wonder if he'd like a real challenge in another 3 years.]

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence: What People Want at Mass…

By: The Most Rev. Thomas Tobin, Bishop of Providence

Originally published on September 1, 2000, while His Excellency was Bishop of Youngstown, Ohio

During vacation this summer I followed my normal practice of attending Sunday Mass as a “private citizen,” that is, in secular attire, with the congregation, in the pews. Even though I truly cherish the privilege of leading the liturgy as I do almost every Sunday, it is also refreshing once in awhile to be on the other side of the altar. Doing so allows me to avoid the public spotlight, eliminates the pressure of having to prepare a homily, and helps me to return to the ministry relaxed and ready to go.

Whenever I join the rank-and-file, it’s amazing how quickly I assume the characteristics of what might be considered the “typical Catholic.” I planned my schedule so I wouldn’t arrive at church too early. I sat toward the back of the church to avoid special involvement. I complained, at least mentally, about the length of the sermon. I was dismayed to learn there would be a second collection —- and yes, I did pry open my wallet to contribute to both! And I was appropriately irritated by the log jam of traffic in the parking lot after Mass.

Forget my need for “full, active and conscious participation.” I was on vacation. I wanted something short, sweet and to the point, just enough to fulfill my Sunday obligation.

These bad habits aside, there were also some more beneficial lessons to be had from sitting in the pews. Doing so created a broader perspective for me and a renewed appreciation for the truly “faithful” who come to Mass Sunday after Sunday. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the nature of the Church and the function of the liturgy.

As I sat in the Florida church that warm summer evening, I was gratified by the large number of people who took time out of their vacation to attend Mass. While a few were obviously local residents, it was apparent that most of the people in church were visitors from other parts of the country, even other nations. In the congregation were young couples (I imagined them to be on their honeymoon), families with restless kids and sullen teen-agers, college students participating silently, senior citizens, and folks with disabilities for whom it was a real personal sacrifice to attend Mass. But there they were!

Reflecting on the assembly I asked myself: Why do these people come to Mass Sunday after Sunday? What are they looking for? What do they want? What do they need?

I believe, first of all, that people come to Mass on Sunday to be part of the church, part of the Christian community. Please understand that by community here I don’t mean a “hello, my name is ____, what’s yours?” experience, but understanding something far more profound, an ecclesial community. Sometimes in the practice of liturgy we confuse the two.

The last time I attended Mass on vacation, the priest began by announcing: “As we begin today, folks, let’s take a few minutes to get acquainted with the people around you. Tell your neighbor your name, where you’re from, and what you do for a living.” And so the congregation sat down for this banal banter while the priest assumed his talk-show host persona and worked the middle aisle greeting people. Please . . . that’s not community; that’s a cocktail party!

People want to belong to a Church community to be with and pray with other people who share their faith, their moral values, their liturgical practice. They want spiritual companions who will break bread with them and accompany them on their life’s journey. Ecclesial community doesn’t depend on personal, intimate knowledge of others, but on shared vision and values. As a member of the Church I am in community with people I’ll never know, never meet. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, nonetheless.

Secondly, it seems to me that people come to Mass on Sunday because they long to hear the Word of God preached with conviction and enthusiasm. They want homilies that are doctrinally sound, personally prepared and relevant to contemporary life.

It is a frequent complaint that our preaching has lost its spark, its zeal, that it has become too bland, cerebral and generic. Good preaching, on the other hand, needs to be clear, direct and simple. People seek moral guidance and want to learn the tenets of our Faith. They want to hear about the Ten Commandments, justice and peace, human life and family relationships, final judgment and eternal salvation.

In short, the faithful want preachers to preach as Jesus did, with power and conviction, challenging people, not avoiding difficult issues. People should leave Sunday Mass motivated to live the Gospel throughout the week, but confident they possess the spiritual means to do so.

Thirdly, Catholics come to Mass on Sunday because they want to receive the Eucharist. This is a foundational element of Catholic life. Although national surveys have suggested that some Catholics lack proper understanding about the manner of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, I’m convinced that most practicing Catholics have a core belief that the Eucharist is really the Body of Christ. This “holy communion” is extremely important for them. Most members of the Church, while being unable perhaps to articulate the exact theology, know that the Mass is related to the Last Supper of Holy Thursday as well as the Cross of Good Friday.

It’s true that our celebration and reception of the Eucharist is far too casual at times. It’s true that we’ve tended to neglect the wonderful presence of Christ in the tabernacles of our churches. But I don’t think our carelessness is a crisis of faith as much as a manifestation of our normal human nature. After all, we take many of our best gifts for granted all the time. Catholics believe in the Eucharist and fully realize how important it is for their spiritual lives. That’s one of the reasons they keep coming to Mass.

Finally, I believe Catholics come to Mass to find sanctuary from the turmoil of daily existence. Our lives are active, busy and noisy — but empty. We come to Mass to be refreshed, to find peace quiet and fulfillment. Catholics come to church on Sundays to pray not party, to converse with God, not chit-chat with their neighbors.

The church is, or should be, a true sanctuary. I’m convinced that some semblance of sacred silence is crucial, even when the community gathers together. I’m troubled that some of our churches have a free-for-all before Mass, with loud and distracting conversations and laughter, making it nearly impossible for people to pray, to be recollected before they enter into the presence of the holy.

The recently revised “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” makes the same point: “Even before the celebration itself, it is praiseworthy for silence to be observed in church, in the sacristy and adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves for the sacred rites which are to be enacted in a devout and fitting manner.” (#56)

People have enough, indeed, far too much, noise in their lives and the pilgrimage to church on Sundays should be peaceful, restful and refreshing. Churches should be a spiritual oasis in the midst of our secular desert.

So, authentic community, effective preaching, the Eucharist, and sanctuary — these are the things Catholics are seeking when they come to Mass on Sunday. It’s what they need for a faithful living-out of their Christian vocation. It’s what the Church should give them.

The Ecclesial 11th Commandment

During Ronald Reagan's 1966 run for the California governorship, and anxious to avoid the political infighting that had helped doom Barry Goldwater's presidential run just two years previously, the GOP established its so-called Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."

The Republicans didn't invent anything new here. Whether they knew it or not, they were merely copying a centuries old, unwritten practice among the Catholic hierarchy: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow bishop."

While it is true that Paul mentions in Galatians 2 that he once took issue with Peter for conduct unbecoming a Christian, and it also true that disagreements between bishops in the early centuries of the Church could sometimes escalate to the point of fisticuffs (or worse), it is today a rare thing for one bishop to publicly criticize a brother bishop. That is why Bishop Thomas Tobin's current column in the Rhode Island Catholic seems so refreshing.

It seems that Bishop Tobin has recently read "A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church," the memoirs of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, and he is using his weekly column in Providence's diocesan newspaper to share his reflections on that book.

His Excellency starts out with a mild caution to some of the archbishop's detractors.

It strikes me that critics of Archbishop Weakland should be at least a little restrained in their umbrage, for after all there are many redeeming qualities of the Archbishop’s life and ministry. He responded willingly to the Lord’s call to the consecrated life; he has served the Church generously in a variety of difficult leadership positions; he has shown a determined commitment to the progress of the Church and the implementation of the Second Vatican Council; and he has consistently reached-out to the poor, the weak and the disenfranchised members of the Church and society. If his service has been marred by human imperfections, so be it. So is mine, and so is yours.

That said, Bishop Tobin launches into some criticism of his own.

On the other hand, supporters of Archbishop Weakland should also be able to recognize the self-serving inconsistencies and contradictions contained in his story.

For example, although the Archbishop always took pride in his liberal theological tendencies and his public pronouncements on controversial issues, he seemed to be genuinely puzzled, even hurt, when others labeled him a dissident.

He passionately promoted the dignity of the laity and their role in the governance and ministry of the Church, but had little hesitation about quietly using their money to cover-up his egregious sexual offense.

He disparaged the secrecy of the Holy See but for twenty years hid his own indiscretions behind the walls of the chancery, indiscretions that were not just a matter of personal behavior but also profoundly affected the reputation and welfare of the Church.

He railed against what he considered the authoritarian pontificate of Pope John Paul II, but clearly used his own persona and authority to impose his vision of the Church upon his own fiefdom in Milwaukee, easily dismissing those who opposed him as conservative, right-wing nuts.

In short, like many dissidents in the Church, throughout his life Archbishop Weakland benefited generously from the support of the institutional Church, but never hesitated to criticize the Church whenever it served his own purposes to do so.

Bishop Tobin concludes with the following observation.

Without a doubt the Archbishop’s pilgrimage has been perplexing; it’s taken a lot of twists and turns along the way. Nonetheless, there’s much the rest of us pilgrims can learn from his travels including this: that whenever a pilgrim wanders off the track and away from the group, he runs the risk of getting hurt or lost, and in so doing, impedes the pilgrimage, and diminishes the peace and joy of his fellow travelers.

The many parallels to the situation in DOR are simply to obvious to mention.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Lesson for DOR

From Gabriella's Blog ...

The conventional wisdom of the critics holds that a church attracts more converts by conforming to its members than by challenging its members to conform to the church. They argue that in today’s post-Christian culture, the narrow, rugged path of orthodoxy is simply too tough to travel. Since most people have already abandoned that path, the church’s only hope for survival is to follow them down the broader, more comfortable superhighway of theological and moral relativism.

Such conclusions are dominant in public discussions of the Church’s future. They are also dead wrong. As the case of mainline Protestant churches so aptly demonstrates, the liberalization of sexual mores and the dilution of doctrine amounts to institutional suicide for those churches.

By following the siren song of cultural accommodation in the hopes of appeasing disgruntled members and attracting new ones, liberal Protestant church leaders have seen their pews emptied, their Christian witness compromised and their cultural influence diminished. Their members, meanwhile, have fled to churches that defend traditional faith and mores.

A study conducted a few years ago by the Glenmary Research Centre verified this trend. Researchers found that between 1990 and 2000, the congregations that grew fastest were socially conservative churches that demanded high commitment from their members — a category that includes the Traditional Catholic Church, as well as some evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Socially liberal churches, meanwhile, were hemorrhaging members at the fastest rate. As the centre’s director, sociologist Ken Sanchagrin, explained to The New York Times, “the more liberal the denomination, by most people’s definition, the more members they were losing.”

Gabriella's assertion that "Socially liberal churches ... were hemorrhaging members at the fastest rate,"  is perfect description of what's been going on here for years.

DOR has lost over 25% of its weekend Mass attendees in just the last 8 years.  Furthermore, there's ample anecdotal evidence that many former DOR Catholics are now Evangelical Christians of one stripe or another.

The DOR experiment with 'progressive' Catholicism has clearly been a failure.

Now if only Bishop Clark were honest enough with himself to realize this.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Spiritual conversion comes FIRST"

Last week Sarah Karp published a good summary of the state of Catholic education in this country. Ms. Karp also did a good job both in identifying the problems facing Catholic schools and in pointing out the successes out there, few as they might be.

Her article, Final Exam: Can we reinvent Catholic schools?, can be found here.

One of those success stories mentioned by Ms. Karp was the Diocese of Wichita. In summarizing the Wichita story she wrote,

The Wichita difference? Its ability to persuade Catholic families to actively tithe in support of local schools.

That statement elicited the following response from a Wichita parent:

Thanks to Ms. Karp for examining trends in Catholic education in the United States.

As a parent in the Diocese of Wichita, one where 4 of our 5 children have benefited from "tuition-free" Catholic education, I would like to respectfully submit that "Wichita difference" goes deeper than the ability to persuade Catholic families to tithe in support of Catholic schools. This "ability to persuade" is rooted in a spiritual renewal--living as a grateful steward of God's gifts. Spiritual conversion comes FIRST, the time, talent and treasure follows.

So--our Liturgies are, for the most part, orthodox and invigorating, Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration in parishes is among the highest found anywhere--even our moderately-sized parish of 550 families manages this round-the-clock devotion, and our priestly vocations are also among the highest in the country--44 are currently on the path to the priesthood.

The "Wichita difference" can be captured anywhere!

Isn't it amazing what orthodoxy can do?

DOR cancels medical, dental insurance for MCCS part-timers

From a post on ...

In January, some employees of the diocesan school system received a letter informing them that as of June, ‘09, they would no longer be eligible for health and dental benefits under the auspices of the diocese. The new policy affects all employees who work less than 35 hours a week. This diocesan action primarily impacted employees at the lower end of the economic spectrum who are least able to cope with an increase in medical costs. The employees were told that this action would save the diocese about $300,000 a year.

Full story here.

"We can hardly build fast enough"

Another video, courtesy of Fr. Kyle Schnippel.

This one documents the astounding growth of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

The community has grown from 4 sisters to 99 in less than 13 years and shows no signs of slowing down.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dr. Ray Guarendi to speak at St. Salome Church

From Ben Anderson at Fallacies and Fashions ...

May God bring this good work to fulfillment

Fr. Kyle Schnippel, the Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, has just posted this stunning video on his website.

It originates from Grassroots Films and and, if I'm not mistaken, the voice is that of New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

Is the Internet helping to destroy 'liberal Catholicism'?

During the last couple of weeks it seems that the Tablet, Britain's leading "liberal Catholic" magazine, has drawn the fire of not one but two prelates.  The first instance involved inaccuracies in a Tablet editorial about a Latin Mass Conference and a local auxiliary bishop called the authors to task for a "skewed understanding of Catholic liturgy."

The second instance involved criticism from Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput centered around a Tablet editorial on U.S. healthcare.  His Excellency wrote that the editorial contained "unhelpful and badly informed opinions" and "sounded like it had been written by President Obama's 'Acolytes.'"

All this comes from a report published today by Will Heaven at  Mr. Heaven expands his analysis as follows ...

The magazine’s present crisis seems to hint at something more profound. The concept of liberal Catholicism, it seems, is crumbling before our eyes. Of course, it was always flawed. Liberal Catholics want a Church that: moves with the times and is “progressive”; allows for the use of contraception and abortion in some instances; is more lenient towards homosexuality; allows for the laicisation of the Catholic world and freedom to experiment with liturgy.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, hasn’t budged. It is unchanging in its stance towards the sanctity of human life and remains quite clear where it stands on homosexuality. It wants the laity to remain active, but in their rightful place. In other words, if liberal Catholics want a Church that moves with the times, they’re in the wrong place.

So just what is behind this perceived decay of "liberal Catholicism"?  Well, for one thing Pope Benedict XVI strikes Mr. Heaven as more traditional than his predecessor. But he thinks there's more to it than that:

The Internet - and how Catholics are using it to communicate with each other - has played a huge part as well. Ten years ago, you would not often have a US archbishop criticizing a wayward editorial in a British Catholic magazine. Nor would the laity have access to Vatican documents which they can print out to show to their local parish priest. The Internet has changed all of this.

Sure, the Catholic Church has always been about universals. But now Catholics have formed an online community they’re becoming a more coherent force, and they won’t be sidelined or misrepresented. President Obama and his liberal Catholic friends should take note.

So should some U.S. bishops.

Wichita dispels myths about Catholic schools

"One of the reasons Catholic schools outperform public schools is that they don't have to deal with 'problem' kids. If a child is a troublemaker they just kick him out and force the public schools to deal with him."
Heard that before?
I have.
Many times.
So has Bob Weeks, out in Kansas. And so, when a Wichita, Kansas public school board member made a similar allegation, he decided to do some fact checking.
It turns out that the Wichita Catholic school system expels about 1 out of every 2,000 students each year, while the public school system expels kids at about 10 times that rate.
Read the full story here.
Other myths
The Wichita Catholic school system also serves to dispel some other myths about Catholic education.
For instance: "Catholic schools do well because they don't have to deal with minority students, who are also frequently poor students."
The facts: Among the almost 11,000 students in Wichita Catholic schools, over 1,300 are Spanish-speaking and over 2,300 are minority. Almost a quarter come from low income families. (Source here.)
Another myth: "Catholic schools do well because they don't have to deal with students with special educational needs."
Again, the facts: There are no entrance exams for Wichita Catholic schools. If a child needs an Individualized Education Program he gets it and the staff works with him to ensure that he reaches his potential.
According to Superintendent Bob Voboril,
We have a group of counselors and nurses that do everything they can to serve every kid with a disability. We do that without any federal funds. It’s not about how smart they are.
When people come to me and say, "We don’t need those low-earners," I tell them every time, "Okay, I’ll buy that, if you can show me in the Bible where it says that Jesus came to save only the top 50 percent." We have a care for every darn kid here.
The right attitude
The Wichita Catholic school system is so successful because it has adopted the right attitude towards Catholic education. According to Mr. Voboril,
This is how Catholic schools should be. They are built around faith. They are built around parish. They are built around community. And they are built around the Spirit. We don’t separate school from parish, parish from diocese, it’s all part of the same whole. And that whole is living the stewardship way of life.
When asked about moving on to other, larger dioceses Voboril responded,
I could go to other places that have more resources. But in the end, I am going to make a difference by staying in a diocese that is so committed to forming people the right way. Nobody is doing it as effectively as we are and nobody is as passionate as we are. In other places, they are just talking about holding on and surviving. Here, we are talking about new and innovative ways to spread Catholic schools even further across the diocese.
DOR is one of those places where they are just "holding on and surviving," despite all the happy talk to the contrary coming out of Buffalo Rd.
Bishop Matthew Clark, Fr. Joe Hart and MCCS Superintendent Anne Willkens Leach could learn an awful lot from Wichita.
Most likely they won't.
If history is any guide, our local triumvirate will just continue to ignore this success story.

DOR has "lost sight ... of who their stakeholders are"

On Monday the D&C ran an article on the declining enrollment woes at the Monroe County Catholic School System.

As of August 12 - with just 4 weeks left before schools reopens - the MCCS System had registered 3,371 students.  That is some 351 (or 9.4%) fewer children than last year, in spite of a new advertising campaign.

While MCCS Superintendent Anne Willkens Leach still claims that she expects the 2009-10 enrollment to match last year's, she has already taken steps that indicate she really doesn't believe her own press releases, cutting "about five positions in advance of this school year."

Also, in an attempt to help with what is sure to be a challenging budgetary situation, the diocese plans to institute "a new Sunday collection for Catholic schools."

The poor economy is almost certainly having an effect on enrollment, but other factors also seem to be playing a role.

One of these factors, in the opinion of parent Lynn Ringholz, is that "the Diocese of Rochester has completely lost sight ...of who their stakeholders are."

She was referring to the recent ousting of Mr. Joe Holleran as principal at St. Lawrence School in Greece. It seems that the MCCS System, as part of its restructuring last year that resulted in class sizes approaching 40 children, promised principals that they would receive classroom aides to help with those large classes. 

However, when the system's actual 2008-09 enrollment missed its 4,000 student target by some 7.0%, the diocese reneged on some of the promised aides.  Mr. Holleran then opted to use funds already raised by St. Lawrence students and parents to pay for the aides the diocese would no longer provide.  This apparently aroused the ire of diocesan officials and Mr. Holleran became history last June. (More details here.)

Holleran declined to speak about the specifics of his departure but did not refute Ringholz's account.

"I think the sense I have of the faculties and the principals is that they're very much wanting to trust the Catholic schools office and the bishop," said Holleran, who accepted a job teaching theology at an area school.

"These are things that we've been looking for, for many years: that visible support, that vocal support."

Note that Mr. Holleran never says that that principals and faculty members have ever felt that they could trust the Catholic schools office and the bishop. 

His omission speaks volumes.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fidelity to the Church is attracting vocations

Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate has a new report out.  Entitled "Recent Vocations to the Religious Life,"  it was prepared for last week's National Religious Vocation Conference, which took place in New Orleans.

Not too surprisingly, CARA found that vocations "are attracted to religious congregations by the example of the members, particularly by their testimony of joy, a down-to-earth attitude, commitment and zeal."

Furthermore, "the groups that are most successful in attracting and retaining new members follow a more traditional style of religious life [where] members live together in community and participate in daily Eucharist, pray the Divine Office, and engage in devotional practices together."

Finally, according to CARA, these groups "wear a religious habit, work together in common apostolates, and are explicit about their fidelity to the Church and the teachings of the Magisterium."

That last paragraph describes DOR's RSMs and SSJs back in their pre-Vatican II days, a time when both orders were flourishing. 

Dropping the habit, moving out of the convent, pursuing individual careers and tolerating just about every form of dissent among the membership has thinned the ranks of both orders substantially and attracted little in the way of new blood.

Both orders now could serve as case studies in self-destruction.

The full report is here (click on the 5th bullet point).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reverse Momentum

The first break in tonight's edition of EWTN's Life on the Rock featured this video from Spirit Juice Studios



"He waits for you."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"What I would do if I were Bishop"

Father James Farfaglia has a very thought-provoking post over at Illegitimi non carborundum outlining the changes he would make and the policies he would institute, were he to find himself named a bishop.

Father Farfaglia makes it very clear that he is quite happy as a parish priest and has no desire to be a bishop.  That said, his article shows that he has given some serious thought to the problems most likely facing his diocese - and certainly facing others - and has developed some very interesting responses.

Reducing the size (and, therefore, the cost) of the chancery, dedicating most of his time to his priests, personally leading an ongoing catechetically-based renewal of his priests, personally focusing on the recruitment and formation of seminarians, growing Catholic schools - these are all steps Father Farfaglia would take.

He would also make marriage preparation a priority, using JPII's Theology of the Body as his basis.  As to the instructors, "Any priest, deacon, religious or lay instructor that was confused about Humanae Vitae would not be tolerated."

There is much more, which may be found here.

Let us hope and pray that DOR's next shepherd is a man like Father Farfaglia.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Name those dioceses

Over the last several months I have been acquiring old editions of The Official Catholic Directory. So far I have about a dozen covering many of the years from 1977 to 2007.

These, along with online U.S. Census data, will serve as the source material for a "data mining" project that will allow me to compare the performance of the Diocese of Rochester with any other diocese in the country.

"Performance in what respect?" one might ask. Well, each edition of the OCD contains a wealth of information for each U.S. diocese. Included are such data as the numbers of ordinations, seminarians, parishes, Catholic elementary and secondary schools, students in those schools, baptisms, marriages, and deaths - and that only scratches the surface.

A typical summary entry looks like this ...

This one happens to be the 1977 statistical summary for DOR. Later summaries include additional data, such as the number of full receptions into the Church, the number of first communions and the number of confirmations.

An example - and a challenge

To give a feeling for what is possible I have used the OCD data from 3 dioceses to calculate the number of infant baptisms per 1,000 Catholics for each diocese over a number of years.

The result, in graphical format, looks like this ...

Two of these dioceses are considered to be fairly orthodox, while the third is considered fairly liberal.

Would anyone care to hazard a guess as to the identities of Dioceses A, B and C? If so, feel free to use the comment box.

In another day or two I'll post an update identifying each diocese.

Update: It's been a couple of days and so, as promised ...

Diocese A: Kansas City - St. Joseph

Diocese B: Rochester

Diocese C: Wichita

Friday, August 14, 2009

The greatest threat to the Church

Found while looking for something else ...

Maybe the greatest threat to the church is not heresy, not dissent, not secularism, not even moral relativism, but this sanitized, feel-good, boutique, therapeutic spirituality that makes no demands, calls for no sacrifice, asks for no conversion, entails no battle against sin but only soothes and affirms. -Archbishop Timothy Dolan (Source here.)

One need look no further than much of DOR to see just how squarely His Excellency has hit this particular nail.

"We bishops have to do something about this"

In a recent interview with the Catholic News Agency Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York cited four major challenges currently facing the Church. They are

the vocation to marriage, the state of Catholic parishes and schools, the great number of lapsed Catholics and finally the difficulties in a culture desperate to keep the Church and morals out of the public square.

While His Excellency had many valuable things to say about each of these challenges, I want to zoom in here on his thoughts concerning Catholics who are no longer practicing their faith, as this is a critical problem here in DOR.

According to the CNA article,

Moving on to the third challenge for the U.S. Catholic Church, Dolan simply described it as reaching out and inviting our people home.

“It scares the life out of me when I find out that second most identifiable religious grouping on the religious landscape of the United States are people who say, ‘I used to be a Catholic.’”

We bishops have to do something about this, he insisted. “We have to say, ‘no, look, there is no such thing as a former Catholic. Your Catholicism is, as a matter of fact, in your DNA. And whether you like it or not you’re born into it just like you’re born into a natural family.’”

Now, he continued, “you might say, ‘I’m ticked off at my natural family, I’m not hanging around with them anymore, I’ve got things to work out.’ But you’re still a member of that family and sooner or later you usually make your peace with it and go home.”

In comparison, “the Church is our supernatural family,” he explained, “you might be upset with it, you might not be showing up for Sunday dinner, you might be mad at it about a couple of things…but you’re still a member.”

The Church “is your supernatural family, and, darn it, we need you and want you to come back home. You’re always welcome,” Dolan offered.

DOR has lost 25% of its Mass-attending Catholics in a mere 8 years. I don't know how much louder an alarm our leaders need before they realize that we have an ongoing crisis here.

Yes, Buffalo Rd. did launch their Spirit Alive! program last year. However, I have yet to hear of that anemic effort being responsible for bringing a single lapsed Catholic back to the Church.

As the archbishop said, "We bishops have to do something about this."

Are you listening, Bishop Clark?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Vocations are tied to Church orthodoxy"

From David Hartline's 2006 book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, pages 52-53 (emphasis added) ...

The United States certainly has seen a decline in the number of priests in the last 40 years. However, in dioceses where the practice of the faith is very orthodox, most would simply say there is no priest shortage.

For example, the Dioceses of Wichita, Kansas; Lincoln, Nebraska; Arlington, Virginia; Fargo, North Dakota; and Peoria, Illinois, have been ordaining more men that archdioceses that are five to ten times their size.


To say that surging numbers in priestly vocations are tied to Church orthodoxy would be an understatement. Two examples illustrate this point. The Diocese of Rochester, which is considered to be one of the most liberal in America, has a Catholic population of 342,000. They have a total of six seminarians studying for the priesthood. The Archdiocese of Omaha has a Catholic population of 230,000 with 30 seminarians. In Nebraska, the Diocese of Lincoln (run by perhaps the most conservative ordinary in America, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz) has a population of 89,236 Catholics with 24 in their local seminary and 10 in other seminaries. Put another way, while Lincoln and Omaha do not have as many Catholics as Rochester, these two dioceses have sixty-four men studying for the priesthood while Rochester has only six men.


Denver, home to Archbishop Charles Chaput, has a Catholic population of 344,042 with 76 men in their own seminary and 2 men studying in other seminaries.

Tip: Gene Michael

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Slowing down in Irondequoit

Gene Michael has just put up a post on last night's decision by the St. Thomas the Apostle parish council not to go along with the Irondequoit Pastoral Planning Group's decision to recommend closing the parish.

Having served 7 years as chair of the Eastern Greece/Charlotte Planning Group I must note that the goings on in Irondequoit leave much to be desired.

First and foremost is the secrecy. I can imagine no reason why the IPPG would need to consider its minutes privileged information, not to be shared with anyone in the 5 parishes who asks. These planning group people represent the parishioners of the 5 parishes and those parishioners have a right to know what their representatives are saying and doing on their behalf. 

If things have been going on behind closed doors that one or more IPPG representative would be embarrassed to see made public, then those people need to step aside. Now.

There is simply too much at stake here for the IPPG to continue to keep its veil of secrecy in place any longer.

Gene's post follows in its entirety ...


Parish Council Puts on the Brakes

Last night, the St. Thomas parish council stood its ground and put the brakes on the the runaway freight train known as the IPPG. Here are some of the key events that took place during the 2 hour meeting:

  • The Diocese of Rochester is afflicted with a deep malaise that is manifested by its lack of passion for evangelization. The entire emphasis by the IPPG and diocesan planning liaison, Deb Housel, is on the closing and consolidation of parishes. There is no realistic talk of evangelization or of engaging lapsed Catholics who are no longer attending Mass. The IPPG, like the diocese, has basically surrendered without a fight. In a manner of speaking, they don’t seem to believe in their product. There is no passion for the saving of souls.
  • By the way, there is an evangelization committee for the 5 Irondequoit parishes in the planning group. One of their problems has been in trying to coordinate their activities with the various pastors in Irondequoit. Because the pastors don’t regularly attend the committee’s meetings, requests for authorization get bogged down. Some initiatives that are rooted in orthodoxy have also been turned down or modified. For example, the group wanted to run a blurb in the bulletins about the Catholics Come Home website. They were turned down. Shortly thereafter, a committee member resigned because of the negative attitudes he had encountered regarding anything from EWTN, Catholic Answers, etc.
  • It was revealed last night that the reason the IPPG is moving so quickly is because IPPG Chairperson, Betsy Stehler, is setting the deadlines for decision making. She wants the proposal to the bishop right away because of the financial situation of the Irondequoit parishes. Some committee members had expressed concern about the rapid pace of the proposal, but she overrode those concerns. One has to wonder how it is that a layperson, with no pastoral experience, somehow has the authority to put into motion such a devastating proposal. After all, there are several priests on the IPPG.
  • There was a noticeable irritation on the part of IPPG members at the questioning attitude of the parish council. This irritation was also evident on the part of some of the St. Thomas parishioners who had worked with the IPPG on subsidiary committees. One member even had the temerity to say, “I’m shocked by your attitude, you’re all supposed to be Christians”. Now this meeting was by no means disrespectful or unruly. The people on the parish council have been kept woefully uninformed about the activities of the IPPG. Not even a month ago, they had a bomb dropped on them by the IPPG. Very little background information was given to the parish council before last night’s meeting. Five members of parish council just began their terms of office several weeks ago. The council has apparently been so neglected that they do not even have a chairperson or a secretary. They have a right to ask questions about why the IPPG wants to close their parish. They would be negligent if they didn’t.
  • Diocesan planning group liaison, Deb Housel, kept cautioning members to respect and honor the work of the IPPG. That’s a nice sentiment, but the fact is the IPPG wants to close St. Thomas. Not many council members seem to consider that to be very honorable. The insensitivity of the IPPG is rather astounding. Witnessing the IPPG’s clumsiness in advancing this proposal is like watching someone perform brain surgery with a chainsaw.
  • Finances were a big part of the discussion last night. The council members finally received a detailed copy of the facilities report that the IPPG has been utilizing in its decision making. The committee now claims that St. Thomas needs about $975,000 in maintenance and repair. The committee states that the aggregate total for the other 4 parishes in the group is a little over $600,000. When the council pressed for more background, it was revealed that those numbers reflect a 10 year plan for facilities maintenance and improvements. It was also revealed that each parish designated its own facilities expert to come with up a summary of repairs and cost estimates for the IPPG. The St. Thomas facilities report expert stated that he was concerned over a possible lack of uniformity in the assessment process. It would seem that this process is very susceptible to abuse. After all, if the future of your parish hangs in the balance, wouldn’t some people be tempted to be conservative in their cost projections? I’m not saying this happened, but it remains a possibility.
  • There are still some big questions remaining about the facilities report for St, Thomas. For example, the former school building has an aggregate total of $453,500 in maintenance and repair items. One of these items is for $120,000 for new energy efficient windows. Another is $70,000 for new energy efficient lighting. A third item is $100,000 to remove and replace asbestos floor tile. The biggest component, by far, of that flooring figure is for asbestos abatement during the removal process. However, more than one parishioner has stated that it is permitted to cover over that flooring with new flooring. Also, there is nothing in the report that indicates that this is an imminent hazard. Removing these three items alone from the facilities report would reduce the aggregate amount for St. Thomas by almost $300,000. Perhaps St. Thomas’ facility has been overly scrutinized in an effort to bring the buildings completely up to date. Many of us would like to have brand new energy efficient windows and lighting. Most of us would be willing to defer those projects in order to remain financially viable.

When time allows, I will be writing a subsequent piece about last night’s meeting. The parish council did an admirable job last night of scrutinizing the proposal. They also were able to get the IPPG to slow down in order to let everyone catch their breath.

St. Thomas has been incorporated as a parish since 1922. There is no need to pronounce it DOA just to satisfy an artificially contrived timetable. The IPPG can wait. St. Thomas is too important.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A little help, please.

Today's mail brought a letter from Bishop Clark.

It seems that with 6 men in various seminaries and another 6 about to enter Becket Hall the diocese is a bit strapped for cash.

According to the bishop it costs $36,000 per year to support each seminarian and each discerner, with the annual total for the 12 in excess of $400,000.

And so he's asking me - and, no doubt, thousands of others - to help defray these costs.

While the cost of preparing priests has skyrocketed over the past few years, we've been able to absorb the cost because we were educating so few. But, now that we are educating many, we're finding ourselves severely strapped.

This is a new problem for His Excellency. At first glance I'm inclined to give him a hand.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Is religion an important part of your daily life?

The Gallup Organization has a new poll out that focuses on the importance of religion to Americans.

This poll asked just one question: "Is religion an important part of your daily life?"

The most religious state seems to be Mississippi, where 85% of the respondents answered in the affirmative.

Vermont came in as the least religious at 42%. (Does that make Vermont the most secular state?)

The nationwide average was 65%.

New York just barely managed to stay out of the bottom ten, with 56% of its respondents claiming that religion was an important part of their daily lives.

Full story, with map and charts, here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Unusually high demand"

I was doing some research tonight on the US Census site and the following screen popped up:

It's 11:07 pm EDT on a warm Saturday night in the middle of summer.

I really have to wonder where that unusually high demand is coming from.

Monday, August 3, 2009

More spin from Bishop Clark

Part 2 of Bishop Clark's recent "State of the Diocese" talk to the Rochester Rotary Club is now online.  (Part 1 is here.)

In this latest column the bishop addresses Catholic schools, vocations, the increase in the number of lay "ministers" in parish work, interfaith relations, the Creating a Safe Environment program, his efforts at getting around the diocese, and his impressions of his diocesan flock.

Let's take these topics one at a time.

Catholic Schools

The bishop writes,

I am encouraged by the resiliency of our system in Monroe County, which has rebounded very well in the past year from the sad but necessary school closings. The demographic shift that has forced closure of some parishes also has closed our schools -- but that doesn’t make the decision any easier.

In 1998-09 MCCS K-8 enrollment stood at 7,541.  By 2008-09 it had dropped to 3,700, with 2,321 (60%) of those 3,841 missing kids having disappeared during the disastrous tenure of Sr. Elizabeth Meegan and the introduction- with the bishop's blessing - of her insane tuition plan.

Furthermore, in the 10 years ending with the 2007-08 academic year DOR lost 39.4% of its Catholic school  students, the second worst showing among the 37 dioceses with comparable (+/- 25%) 1997-98 enrollments. (Data here.)

That performance, Bishop Clark, is not the result of a "demographic shift." Most people would call it "gross mismanagement."

The bishop goes on to say,

I made that decision following the recommendations of a task force of schools that studied enrollment and financial and demographic trends for many months.

A hand-picked committee of the well-off and the well-connected did meet in private and did review data that the rest of us must be too ignorant to understand, as it has never been shared beyond that august group. 

There is no indication that this committee ever visited a single school or ever interviewed a single teacher, parent or student. Instead, they looked at numbers that no outsider has been able to verify for accuracy. (Given the ongoing revelations concerning St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, verification of any DOR-supplied number would seem to be a prudent course of action.)

The committee most certainly never assessed the ability of any single parish to operate its school on its own, an ability at least two of them convincingly demonstrated in the weeks following the school closing decision.

And then the bishop adds,

And I made [the decision] with the aim of preserving the overall system.

Where have we heard that song before?  Oh, yeah, just about every time the bishop and the MCCS have closed schools in the past.  School closures have been going on for so long that the accompanying repeated claims of strengthening or preserving the system have lost any semblance of credibility.

Commenting on the transition of displaced students into new schools, Bishop Clark writes,

I credit ... the work of our pastors, pastoral administrators, school officials and staff members who saw this challenging transition through and reached out in welcome to students displaced by the closings.

What His Excellency fails to mention is any principal who expected the diocese to actually live up to its promises vis-a-vis staffing and other obligations would be forced to resign.  Being able to brag about a balanced budget seems to have been a higher MCCS priority than keeping one's word.

The bishop then moved on to the subject of registration for the 2009-10 academic year.

Registration for this coming school year is going well with several months of registration to go.

According to an article appearing today on the Catholic Courier site, registration now stands at "approximately 3,400."  With "over 4,000 students" having previously been given as the MCCS system's break-even point, it would seem that the diocese has quite a ways to go in the next 4 weeks.

Finally, the bishop moved to the topic of accreditation.

I am proud of the fact that 10 of our schools here and outside Monroe County have received the coveted accreditation of the Middle States Association. In the next few years, I believe all our schools will achieve this prestigious accreditation.

This is just about the only truly positive item in his entire 7 paragraph apologia for his handling of our Catholic schools.


Bishop Clark then turned his attention to vocations.  Citing the declining number of priests as one of the factors driving the closure of parishes, the bishop gives us this analysis:

One of the demographic shifts that has contributed to the shortage of seminarians is the dramatic out-migration of 20- to 40-year-olds from our area, since most people make vocation choices after college, after working for awhile, they sign up for diocese in which they are currently living, which, in many cases, is not Rochester.

The bishop fails to cite a source for his claim of a "dramatic out-migration" of 20- to 40-year olds from the diocese. There is, however, US Census Bureau data online which paints a somewhat different picture.  The data shows that the number of males aged 20 to 39 living in DOR has fallen from 239,483 in 1990 to 204,183 in 2000 and 203,262 in 2008.

That is a decline of 15% over 18 years.  While it is significant, it hardly qualifies as "dramatic" and certainly doesn't come anywhere near explaining the fact that our ordination rate has remained at near-zero over those entire 18 years.

Moving on to seminarians, the bishop writes,

I can report that there are real signs of hope. We now have six seminarians. We also have the possibility this coming fall of seven more men in the discernment period for a priestly vocation.

Six seminarians? Aren't there supposed to be 7 (see here). Did the bishop misspeak or has one of them dropped out already?

Next came nods to our extern priests and our deacons.

In addition, we have been helped tremendously by our visiting priests from other lands. They help us sustain our mission and bring a cultural richness and depth to every area of our diocese. I am deeply grateful to them as I am to our retired priests, who continue their generous service among us.

Meanwhile, the number of ordained deacons -- whose ministry in our hospitals, prisons, parishes and service to the poor extends exponentially the good we can accomplish -- has grown to more than 100. Our deacons, most of whom balance work and ministry for the church with active family life, have been a godsend.

Amen and amen.  Our deacons perform yeoman service and without our visiting priests we truly would be much worse off.

Lay Ministers

Bishop Clark had this to say regarding the ever increasing role of the laity in the operation of our parishes:

I would be remiss if I did not express much satisfaction with the marvelous increase in the number of lay ministers serving in our parishes.

These highly trained professionals are administering the daily operations and liturgical life of many of our parishes throughout the diocese, and serving in a variety of full- and part-time roles in many different areas of ministry. This is a national trend and one that complements in wonderful ways the work of our ordained.

I'll leave it to Pope John Paul II and the 1987 Synod of Bishops to comment on the "too-indiscriminate use of the word 'ministry'" in today's Church.

Suffice it to say that I believe the diocese would be far better off without the services of some of our "highly trained professionals." 

One has to wonder at the bishop's reasoning behind his appointment of 2 prominent members of the Women's Ordination Conference to head up parishes and his decision to give each of them her own, special installation Mass.  Just what message was he trying to send here and to whom?

Interfaith Work

His Excellency devotes 5 paragraphs to describing the Jewish-Catholic and Muslim-Catholic interfaith efforts taking place in the diocese. This is important and groundbreaking work and the diocese deserves credit for its efforts.

Creating a Safe Environment Program

This is also important work and the bishop and the diocese deserve credit for their extensive efforts.  As the bishop says,

We are committed to being ever vigilant, and we are determined to prevent abuse by any church employee by whatever means we can.

Getting Around

Bishop Clark makes a point of mentioning his efforts at

getting around our diocese as much as I can in the course of a given year. These trips take me not only to every corner of Monroe, but also to Wayne, Ontario, Livingston, Tioga, Chemung, Cayuga, Tompkins, Schuyler, Yates, Seneca and Steuben counties. Together, this area covers approximately 7,500 square miles.

What he does not mention is that certain parishes never seem to be in his travel plans, parishes where he has closed schools or parishes facing closure themselves.

One local blogger has written the following in relation to the bishop's decision to close 13 Catholic schools,

[The bishop] should be among his flock, working hand-in-hand with them to search for alternate solutions, explaining his decision pathways, and always, always listening ... [I]nstead, he hoped [and] prayed that the matter would simply disappear with time.

When his flock is hurting Bishop Clark makes it a point to be elsewhere.  Let us pray that our next shepherd comes equipped with a real backbone.

The Flock

The bishop closes out his address praising the devotion, character and generosity of the people of DOR.  While he certainly has got that right I also note that he takes no credit for instilling these traits.  I think he's got that right too.