Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Many of us are familiar with the role of the fact-checker. When claims are made by political candidates, the fact-checker does the research to determine whether they’re true. And it often turns out that the claim is only partly true.
In this article, I’d like to play the role of fact-checker for some things that are being said about the All Things New pastoral planning process.
Claim: “I heard that Pittsburgh went from 188 parishes down to 57, and we’re working with the same group.”
It’s true that that’s what happened in Pittsburgh. And it’s true that Pittsburgh worked with the Catholic Leadership Institute, and so are we.
But Pittsburgh’s plan was Pittsburgh’s plan, and our plan will be our own. The Catholic Leadership Institute is here to help us fashion our vision and plan, not the other way around.
Claim: “They already know the plan.”
This is, perhaps, the most important rumor that people hear. I will not tire of reiterating: We do not already have a plan!
We know what the demographics look like; we know what the sacramental and financial trends look like. What we’re discerning is what our infrastructure could look like, and what our mission should look like.
Some preliminary models will be prepared over the summer as a starting point for conversation. But then these preliminary models will be brought to the priests and the faithful through listening sessions so we can hear from people’s hearts. The conversations we have will clarify what we need to prioritize, and how we will invest our time and energy moving forward.
Claim: “All Things New is trying to destroy the tradition of the Church.”
We’re not trying, in any way, shape or form, to change what the Church believes. Quite the opposite: What the Church believes is the foundation upon which we build! All Things New will not change the nature of the Mass, or of the priesthood, or of the sacraments, for example.
What we’re looking at is the way parishes are structured in this sense: where they’re located, how priests are distributed among them, how parish programming supports evangelization.
What we believe will not change. How we operate needs to.
Claim: “Demographics are inevitable.”
Let’s call this “demographic fatalism.” If we just look at the numbers, they’re declining. If we simply project those numbers into the future, it looks like the decline will continue to get worse.
But consider just one counter-example. In the early 1800s Catholicism in France was in demographic freefall. By the late 1800s there had been a tenfold increase in the number of priests and religious sisters! Of course, there were many factors in this turnaround. But the fundamental elements were the grace of the Holy Spirit, and individuals cooperating with that grace.
We need to view our own demographic trends with human realism, and we are. But we also need to view them with faith in what the Holy Spirit can do, and what can happen when we cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
Many things are genuinely unknown at this point of the process.
What often happens, however, is that those unknowns get filtered through our fear, sadness and anger. That filtering process turns uncertainty into rumor — and rumors are not the Lord’s work!
So here’s my plea: Let’s resist the rumor mill! And here’s my proposal: Every time we experience fear, sadness and anger — which we all do! — let’s pivot on them in a different direction. Let’s make them occasions for turning to the Lord, and asking for His guidance.