Boston Plans Restructuring Of Its Parishes

by Christopher S. Pineo

BRAINTREE, Mass. (CNS) – A pastoral plan approved by Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley calls for the Boston Archdiocese to organize its 288 parishes into approximately 135 groups called “parish collaboratives.”

Led by one pastor, a group of priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers, called a pastoral team, would provide pastoral services to parishes in the collaborative. Under the plan, each parish in the collaborative group will maintain its separate identity and retain control of its own property and assets.

Cardinal O’Malley said the new pastoral plan comes in response to current challenges faced by the Catholic Church in Boston and could change if those realities improve. He approved the plan Nov. 15.

“The plan to implement a new model of leadership at the collaboratives does not mean that we are leaving behind the model of a priest being assigned as the pastor of one parish,” he said. “It is my fervent hope, encouraged by a significant increase in seminary enrollment during recent years, that a greater number of ordinations to the priesthood will allow us to again assign priests as pastors of individual parishes.”

Called “Disciples in Mission,” the plan identified parishes’ main challenges: declining Mass attendance; shrinking numbers of priests and trained laity; and an increasing number of parishes unable to sustain themselves financially.

Published in September, the plan contains the final recommendations of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission based on research and information gathered through 40 consultations held from December, 2011 to March, 2012 throughout the archdiocese with priests, church staff and volunteers.

“Though the challenge of renewing the Church will call for significant effort and a new way of staffing our parishes, we are committed to re-engaging the culture, the current generation of Catholics and providing a strong foundation for those who will follow us. Our Catholic faith is our most precious gift,” the cardinal said.

His prepared remarks were made available to The Pilot, Boston’s archdiocesan newspaper, before he announced his acceptance of the plan at a press conference.

“Parishes are the heart of the new evangelization; they must be well staffed and financially sound so as to be effective in this mission,” the cardinal said.

The new collaboratives will be made up “usually of two or three parishes, but sometimes only one, and, in rare occasions four parishes.”

Though the composition of teams would be different from collaborative to collaborative, reflecting the needs of each parish, team members would follow the pastor in serving all parishes in the collaborative.

Each collaborative, the plan says, is a means for fostering common pastoral action and a common vision, not a structure “above” the parish, or coming between the parish and the diocesan bishop. The collaboratives will take shape in four phases over the course of five years.