The darkness at the end of the tunnel

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 14, 2004

In an agonized letter to the faithful of Boston, explaining the closing of dozens of archdiocesan parishes, Archbishop Sean O'Malley points to the example found in the Act of the Apostles: "Those who had properties sold them and gave the proceeds to the Apostles who distributed to each one according to his or her needs."

True. But the dominant theme of the Acts of the Apostles is the growth of the young Church. That's not what's happening in Boston. The archbishop concedes:

The only way to avoid a catastrophic debacle is for us to downsize....

...Five decades ago we were ordaining fifty or sixty priests a year for the Archdiocese of Boston.  This year we ordained seven.  Over 100 of our present pastors are in their 70’s or 80’s...

...The 50 % reduction of annual income to the diocese caused by the scandal has dealt a very serious blow to our local Church....

The Archdiocese’s operating budget has been slashed by $14 million over the past three years, and we still have an annual $10 million deficit....  $35 million borrowed three years ago to pay operating expenses is exhausted and needs to be repaid.

Pretty grim, huh? But the worst news is still to come:

Some people think that reconfiguration will mean a great surplus of money for the Archdiocese.  Unfortunately, this is not true. 

Imagine this possibility: You close 80+ parishes, but the people still don't come to Mass, the young men still don't enter the seminaries, the collection baskets still come back half-full. Then what? Do you go through the whole parish-closing process again? Where does it stop?

The baptized Catholics of the Boston archdiocese have infinitely more financial resources than the early Christians of Acts. Money is not the problem here.

A comparison between the two situations makes it clear that in Boston today, we're seeing the same process that we saw in Acts-- but it's running in reverse.

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  • Posted by: - Nov. 15, 2004 3:38 PM ET USA

    There is an old saying: If you can, do; if you can't, manage; and if you can't manage, teach. Where do the bishops go who can't do anything. Maybe they could, hope against hope, try teaching. But of course the public schools have monopolized the teaching of nothing. The bishops would have to stir around for something to teach, something to the East maybe.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Nov. 15, 2004 12:47 PM ET USA

    I worked for 18 years for one of those large Massachusetts tech companies that disappeared in the 90's. Once the blood was in the water with the first round of layoffs in its history, there was a feeding frenzy to fire people as fast as possible. Eventually it became like an unbalanced boat that tipped over. Inside any organization any rapid shrinkage leads to chaos and questioning the mission of the organization. What is the right size for the long-term stability of the Archdiocese?

  • Posted by: - Nov. 15, 2004 7:50 AM ET USA

    This was all going to happen whether or not there was a scandal. For years pastors built and spent like there was no tomorrow. I look at my parish, which covers the northern half of a big suburban town, and I look at the parishes in the cities that have the same number of buildings, staff, priests, utility bills, infrastructure problems, and they cover a much smaller territory with poorer parishoners. There is no way the parishes can stay open. Even if Boston was ordaining 20 priests a year.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 14, 2004 11:02 PM ET USA

    "And then shall many be scandalized and shall betray one another and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise and shall seduce many. And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold. But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved."(Matt. 24:10-3)