Tuesday, February 21, 2012

45 Fewer Parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit by 2016

It was a sad day for many Catholics in metro-Detroit, but one that was not  unexpected.

Going to aodonline.org - the home page for the Archdiocese of Detroit, one is automatically directed to a new page set up to quickly get heavy traffic to what they want to seer: What is happening to their parish.  Archbishop Vigneron writes:

In November, I received and prayerfully considered input from our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, which itself built upon thoughtful input from 1,500 parishioners from throughout the six counties of the Detroit archdiocese. After consulting the auxiliary bishops, pastors, and others, I have come to my decisions regarding the next steps in the Together in Faith process. Along with the approved parish action plans, and the mission priorities fundamental to this entire process, on these Web pages you will see what I have concluded, what has been communicated to those involved, and the resources shared with the parishes. 

There is a video at the local NBC affiliate worth watching, from the press conference.  I cannot yet find embed code for it and the AoD has not uploaded it to it's YouTube channel.  In the video, you will hear Archbishop Vigneron state a rather stunning statistic:

"Only half of the people who claim to be Catholic have registered in their parishes.  Of those half, only 30% come to Mass every Sunday.  So, that is 15%, of the people who are members of the Catholic Church are attending church according to what we understand to be a baseline of participation. That's having an impact on our lives."

Consider that when jobs were lost, it meant a loss of donations, as well, and Detroit was hit especially hard with the auto industry.  I never saw so many vacant and foreclosed homes anywhere I went in metro-Detroit. I personally know people who found employment, but were so underemployed, that the only thing they could offer their parish was their time. God bless them for recognizing that their time given, saved the parish money.

A complete list of parishes can be found on the next page.  Click on the Vicariate name in the Action Plan column to see the plan for individual parishes here: http://tif.aod.org/parish-action-plans/

From Archbishop Vigneron's Pastoral Letter:

The life of the Church here in the Archdiocese of Detroit cannot simply continue without significant changes. Faith and prudence demand that we act now to ensure that we will be able to do God's work effectively in the years to come. Charity demands that we pass on to our children both the gift of faith, which is the "pearl of great price," and Church institutions equipped for the mission God will, in turn, entrust to them.

Of course, such changes are always difficult, but even these difficulties become redemptive when viewed with eyes of faith. God is drawing us more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. The changes we need to make will surely involve moments of personal loss as some parishes are reconfigured into new worship communities, but we move forward always with the hope that God will raise us up and raise up for us new resources to do his work. We need only to trust in the Lord and follow where he leads us. I believe that with the benefit of Together in Faith, Phase Two, and particularly those elements I will offer in the sections that follow, we have a much clearer sense about where the Lord is leading us than we did before we began this process.

Now, he goes on to talk about a number of pastoral priorities:  Evangelization and Catechesis, Christian Service and Outreach, Youth and Young Adults, Lay Leadership Stewardship and Administration, Catholic Schools, and Vocations.

In a FAQ sheet, the AoD talks about vocations versus retirements:

Archdiocesan priest ordinations are not keeping pace with priest retirements. The Archdiocese of Detroit currently has 44 seminarians in formation for the priesthood, a process of learning and training that takes six to eight years. Thirty-nine of those men are studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. In May of this year, the Archdiocese anticipates ordaining three seminarians as priests; four are on track for ordination in 2013; and, in 2014, if current numbers hold, seven archdiocesan priests will be ordained. This rate is much lower than the 77 fewer priests projected over the next nine years.

I'm going to come back to vocations because something struck me back in November when I had mined the data provided by the archdiocese.  I think the topic of vocations in Detroit deserves a blog post of it's own for further discussion and I'm going to introduce some thoughts, and ideas, I've not really seen elsewhere.

Getting back to the parish news, in today's Detroit Free Press we read:

At a news conference Monday, Vigneron unveiled a complicated, wide-ranging plan to restructure 267 parishes within the Archdiocese of Detroit. There will be at least 27 fewer parishes, and at least 38 parishes will be merged or reduced to 18 parishes by 2016 -- but a newly merged parish in many instances may retain two or three churches

Vigneron directed many more parishes to merge in the coming years, but did not always specify a date by which the merger must take place. From the looks of the plan, much will depend on the availability and health of the priests who head parishes, and the parish's ability to maintain its finances.

"We face many challenges," Vigneron said. He compared the challenges to those facing the Detroit auto industry, schools, and city government. "Like General Motors or Ford or Chrysler," he said.
Churches including St. Luke and St. Leo in Detroit, which had received death sentences last fall, got a reprieve. Vigneron directed some parishes to merge in the coming years, but did not always specify dates. 
Two parishes will close as planned in 2012: St. Donald in Roseville and St. Elizabeth in Wyandotte. St. Elizabeth is merging with St. Joseph, and the St. Elizabeth building will close. In mid-2012, Our Lady Queen of Peace in Harper Woods will be put up for sale, but parish services and mass will continue until the building is sold. 

The Freep also has:

Vigneron also decided that the following parishes might close or merge if they don't work out an acceptable repayment of the debt they owe the Archdiocese of Detroit:

• Assumption Grotto in Detroit

• SS. Simon and Jude in Westland

• St. Florian in Hamtramck

• St. Alexander and St. Clare parishes in Farmington Hills

• St. Mel in Dearborn Heights.

While not disclosing each parish's debt, the archdiocese previously has said that parishes owe a combined $79 million to the archdiocese, for loans made for repairs, renovations, school-related issues and other needs. The archdiocese said about 35% of city parishes and about 20% of suburban parishes have financial difficulties.

I'm pretty confident that Fr. Perrone has a plan to meet the debt.  I know the number, but it is not my place to make that public, but I can tell you that it is a drop in the bucket in contrast to what I've heard other parishes owing.  I'm sure Assumption Grotto's pastor will be addressing it this weekend and will share with you what he offers.  Here is the text from the action plan for Grotto:

Assumption Grotto is to develop a realistic plan to:

1. Pay its outstanding payables to the Archdiocese of Detroit; and,

2. Participate in all vicariate and archdiocesan activities, policies, and procedures, and follow through on Together in Faith, Phase Two implementation.

The payment plan is to be submitted to the Regional Moderator and the archdiocesan Director of Finance and Administration no later than June 30, 2012. In addition, Assumption Grotto is to identify a cluster partner in early 2012 and develop a cluster plan to be submitted no later than June 30, 2012. The cluster plan should be implemented when a current pastor is no longer available, if a replacement is not available to be assigned, or when either parish begins to experience a net operating deficit. Plans should commence with models for initial collaboration and include contingency plans for programming, outreach and administration, for clustering/merging the parishes, and/or closing buildings and planning for the sale of property.

Now, the language in all of these action plans involves cookie cutter expressions, such as the whole paragraph following, "...submitted no later than June 30, 2012".  You have to randomly click through a number of other action plans and this becomes visible.  For this reason, I wouldn't get hung up on one expression or another in a personal way.  Each parish had something unique, but then each parish had things in common with other parishes, such as debt, or the statement about collaboration on clustering.

Here is the group involving Ss Cyril & Methodius in Sterling Heights.  Note the langauge used for each of the parishes in this group. Use Our Lady of Czestochowa also, as an example of some of the common language you will see in similar parishesI'm glad to see that St. Lucy's Croatian parish will be clustered with Ss Cyril & Methodius Slovak parish.  The parish was really in a difficult situation with the Croatian Franciscan Custody in the US, also facing a number's crunch.  Ethnic Croatian parishes have been shuttered in other dioceses due to the shortage.  Being of ethnic Croatian ancestry, and also quite familiar with Ss C&M, I can tell you there are some cultural and devotional similarities, so it is the best possible fit.  This is a generous move by Fr. Ben who already has his hands quite full with his parish which continues to expand.... with lots of non-Slovaks attracted to the reserved liturgies, robust devotion and strong Catholic identity.

Also, after looking at plans for many other parishes throughout the diocese, that most, if not all parishes were suppose to cluster  or team-up with another parish to, " be implemented when a current pastor is no longer available, if a replacement is not available to be assigned, or when either parish begins to experience a net operating deficit."  

The words used by Archbishop Vigneron at his press conference were that he wanted parishes "twinned-up" so that as we go forward, there isn't a scramble should one of the two find themselves without a priest, even temporarily.  What came to mind when I heard him say this is that with so many parishes having only one priest, if the pastor is temporarily disabled through, say, surgery, it can be an administrative nightmare.  Part of this is intended to buffer the impact of such cases.  This "twinning" of parishes would mean that the archdiocese mitigates the need for it to scramble like a deer in headlights when something happens abruptly.  I am aware of several parishes in the past few years that suffered a sudden loss of the one and only priest at the parish - their pastor - either through death, sabbatical, or other. 

Long Term Impact on Traditional Catholics in Detroit?

One of the things I have been concerned with all along is that there is no provision to ensure that the Archdiocese of Detroit has a long-term plan for Catholics attracted to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM).  There is interest among some seminarians and I believe Archbishop Vigneron will work to address this. In the future, it could mean more opportunities in the suburbs to experience the TLM.  One of the challenges though, is allowing people to follow the full calendar, rather than  having just a weekly or monthly chance to worship in this way, if they are partial to it.

Assumption Grotto is the only parish in the Archdiocese which offers the Traditional Latin Mass 364 days yearly, the exception being Good Friday.  However, even Good Friday's Tre Ore service uses the 1962 Missal.   The parish coming in second is St. Josaphat, which is about a 10-15 minute drive from Grotto.  It offers many of the same things using the 1962 as does Grotto, with the main exception being that they don't have a daily TLM.  There is Mass on Monday evenings and on special feasts during the week, as well as the Triduum, if I recall.  It was clustered years ago with St. Joseph and the Sweetest Heart of Mary.  I am quite concerned as to what this means for them.  The cluster of three has shared one priest, and their plan reads as follows:

Sweetest Heart of Mary (personal parish), St. Josaphat (personal parish), and St. Joseph

In early 2012, these already clustered parishes are to develop a plan to merge, to be submitted to the Regional Moderator no later than December 30, 2012. This plan may result in the elimination of buildings and will include consolidation of Mass schedules to conform to the archdiocesan policy of following canon law for a priest to say no more than three Masses on a regular Sunday or holy day of obligation.

All three of those church buildings are absolute gems.  It would break my heart to see any of those buildings closed. 

The main concern I have about the Traditional Latin Mass communities in Detroit is that I do not feel we are recognized as a component of "diversity" that has something to offer the wider community.    When one thinks of diversity, it often limited to race and ethnicity; it does not include, for example, traditional Catholics.  This is not something unique in the Archdiocese of Detroit, but a common thread in many dioceses.  I think dioceses need to be continuously encouraged to allow those of us with a love for the usus antiquior a place where we can worship in a way that lifts our hearts to God in a deep and profound way, and in a setting proper to the form.

The AoD's plan, unfortunately, has the potential to eliminate this opportunity for traditional Catholics in the coming years.  Where they were careful to ensure that, for example, certain ethnic groups, such as the Polish, Italian, Croatian, and others had some kind of provision, there has not been a similar protection for traditional Catholics.  There is the potential for certain unintended consequences should such a void develop in this archdiocese years down the road.  I don't know if these things have been considered or not.   I hope to discuss them personally, at the very least, with my auxiliary bishop, to raise awareness.

At some point in the future, I may share some of these concerns in a post here, but not before making an attempt to discuss them one-on-one.  Anyone who knows me, should know by now that I will not make presumptions that there is something sinister at the root of such a thing.  CCC 2478 encourages us to interpret the words of others - and, by extension, the actions - in the most favorable light.  I find this mindset helps me to avoid the pitfall of engaging in conspiracy theories which really have no basis in the devout life.  I let God do the interpreting because only He can read hearts.  Besides, it keeps my blood pressure from going too high.

I don't have time to give you updates on all of the parishes affected, so I leave you with local news coverage.  Here is a Google news search on Archdiocese of Detroit and Parish Closings.

Please pray for everyone impacted by this sad news, most especially those with immediate closings. 

The combox is open.  Published comments do not reflect my views and do not mean I am in agreement with what is stated.  I will not be able to respond to every comment, including those with which I may disagree, so nothing should be read into my silence.  I ask that people voice their opinions and concerns in a respectful manner.  If you find your comment not moderated after some hours, feel free to send me an email to inquire why it was not posted: TeDeumBlog (at) gmail (dot) com.

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