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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.