Planning for tomorrow's Church

This past spring, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Committee delivered its report on the state of the Church of Boston to Cardinal O'Malley. The Committee worked on this study for 15 months. A file is attached or may you go to the Archdiocesan web site where you can find the report here and then clicking on the second item.

Althought it offers recommendations, the report is not a planning document but rather a study upon which a plan is to be built. Much consultation and work needs to be done before a plan is in place. In addition to recommendations, the paper offers sobering statistics:
The Archdiocese of Boston is currently served by a total of 500 active priests. Of these, 38 are on health leave or unassigned, 97 in special ministry and 365 in parish ministry. Of those in parish ministry, 108 are 65 years of age or older. At a projected average net-loss rate of 25 active priests per year and a projected average of 5 newly ordained priests per year, by 2015 there will be only 292 active priests, i.e., priests who are not retired or permanently disabled; only an estimated 212 will be available for parish ministry. This will leave approximately 10-12 priests in each of the 20 vicariates in full time parish work. Not all active priests will be capable or willing to serve as pastors. It is likely that more religious communities -- as have the Marists, Oblates and Franciscans -- will be turning their leadership of parishes back to the archdiocese, owing to insufficient numbers of priests; a few new communities will likely take responsibility for some parishes. The current dependence on many senior priests to assist with liturgical life will surely continue but their numbers will begin to decrease.
Our Parish Pastoral Council will be studying this report and will discuss it at our November meeting. I have distributed it also to our Parish Finance Council, Parish Development Commission, Parish Buildings and Grounds Commission and the Parish Staff. Soon, copies will be available at the church doors for those who are not online.

I urge you to read the study. Your comments and responses will be much appreciated.


  1. I have read the RCAB Pastoral Planning Report and have a couple of questions and a couple of comments. On p. 3 Permanent Deacons - what are "externs"? On p. 10 - what is the defunct AIM program? On p. 8 the thought is sometime in the future to have a parish business manager for every parish or one for several parishes. Yet, I only found the parish finance council mentioned once and that was that they, along with the parish pastoral councils, used to meet annually with the Archbishop. Seems to me (and I think it is required) that every parish should have a functioning finance council, as well as a functioning parish pastoral council. To me that should be the first step in this process and that could happen immediately. I may be incorrect, but I don't think all parishes have both. While I applaud the efforts of the committee and their suggestions for trying to solve the problem of our priest shortage, the elephant in the room is that there are other ways to solve the priest shortage and the powers-that-be do not wish to discuss them. (1)Invite back priests who left to get married. Many of them would love to return to parish work. This would fill the problem of the delivery of sacraments in a very short timeframe. (2)Allow priests the choice of optional celibacy. Many men are called to be priests, but not necessarily to mandated celibacy. (3) Begin an open discussion of allowing women to become deacons. Perhaps, the discussion could even include allowing women to become priests! As we know there are women who have become priests; they just don't have the Church's blessing.
    You could have pastoral administrators at every parish in the archdiocese, but that won't solve the problem of delivery of the sacraments. They cannot say Mass, they cannot hear confessions, etc. These proposed solutions are only a stopgap. If we are to remain a sacramental church, we need priests! Nothing I have said is new, but I think the looming DIRE priest shortage calls for additional measures that were not in the RCAB Planning Proposal. In parts of our country, the priest shortage is far worse than it is in our archdiocese. In parts of the world, Catholics may not see a priest for months. It is time to do something. The priest shortage problem is not being solved by Rome. I think the American church needs to speak out. Well, I have had my rant.

  2. In response to daisy’s questions:

    “Externs” would refer to deacons from other dioceses who have temporarily or permanently located in and are now serving in the Archdiocese of Boston. These deacons still retain an official relationship to the diocese for whose service they were ordained.

    AIM is the acronym for the Archdiocesan Institute for Ministry which was a non-degree granting program the archdiocese used to offer.

    Every parish is required by canon law to have both a Parish Pastoral Council and a Parish Finance Council. I believe that nearly all parishes in the archdiocese have both, as does Holy Family Parish.

    The Committee writing the report did not suggest the same solutions that daisy recommends. Their task was to study and report to the cardinal the status of the archdiocese and to suggest a basis for pastoral planning. Some members of the Committee might very well agree with daisy’s recommendations and some probably do not. My observation is that the Committee made recommendations which it felt could be followed through in terms of present church structure and which the cardinal would be able to work with.

    Might it be good for the American bishops to raise the questions daisy does? I believe it would be. But I’m not easily convinced that including such language in the report would have helped to advance the Committee’s intentions. And although those issues remain the unnamed pachyderm sitting on the coffee table, what the Committee did name works to make the big gray guy’s trunk and tusks larger and more visible.

  3. Thank you, Concord Pastor, for answering my questions and for your explanation of why the planning committee didn't address some of the concerns that I have. It just seems to me that no one at the archdiocesan level seems to have the courage to "Ask the Hard Questions - Get the Straight Answers." everyone is in denial about other ways to solve the soon-to-be severe shortage of priests. This shortage of priests will dramatically change parish life as we have known it. If people have been angered by the closure of parishes, wait until they have no one to say Mass!


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