Monday, December 1, 2008

Living Our Faith in the 21st Century

That's the name of the latest long-range plan for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It will be the subject of staff meetings the next three evenings before Archbishop Dolan decides whether or not to approve it. (see Regional meeting details finalized ) Since he asked not for alternatives but for a single recommendation, I'm assuming he'll agree to it.

Here are the full Final Observations and General Recommendations. There's a shorter version with the Final Recommendations Only.

If you read them, you might be the second after me, judging by the Recommendation on "Renewing our Archdiocesan Commitment to Protect All God’s Children" (plan page 16, recommendations page 5).
We must never waiver in our commitment to protect children and ensure a safe environment in our parishes, schools, central offices and agencies; and to help victim/survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.

That after almost six months no one's read the document closely enough to catch this indicates there's a good chance the plan document will be another credenza-stuffer.

Our Archdiocesan Vicar of Planning has provided an Executive Summary in the form of his June 13, 2008 cover Letter to Archbishop Dolan. It lists the eleven "cornerstone recommendations". I don't see any for which it couldn't be claimed "we're already doing that." Since that full plan doesn't do much in suggesting "best practices" or in setting objective and verifiable goals, it looks like more of the same. Much, much more. For example,
4. Provide for ongoing pastoral planning at the archdiocesan, district and cluster levels. Such planning should integrate the wisdom of priests, deacons, women and men religious, lay ecclesial ministers and other parish personnel (e.g., parish directors, pastoral associates, directors of religious education, Catholic school principals, youth ministers, liturgical ministers, parish nurses, parish business managers), and parish lay leadership (e.g., parish council members, and committee heads). The district deans, the members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, and central offices personnel can facilitate this effort. This planning process should provide opportunities for all of these persons to participate in inter-discipline discussions that lead to establishing short-term goals that, once accomplished, will enrich the faith of the people, especially in light of the declining number of priests in active ministry. Moreover, this planning process should provide worthwhile input to the archdiocesan working ministerial commissions, thus providing necessary linkage to the recently restructured archdiocesan central offices.

P.S. If you decide to read the full plan, Here's an outline. The plan is organized generally under Archbishop Dolan's six priorites, to which I've added the bracketed Roman numerals. The observations are in numbered paragraphs, followed from time to time by recommendations. I've added bracketed references to the observations included under each priority, and page references.
To: Archbishop Dolan June 13, 2008, p. 1
[I] Seek ye first the kingdom of God [1-10] pp. 2-4
[II] Strengthen Our Parishes [11-15] pp. 4-6
[III} Foster a Sense of Vocation in the Church [16-35] pp.7-12
[IV] Strengthen Catholic Education and Faith Formation [36-42] pp. 12-15
[V] Emphasize Our Mission of Justice and Charity [43-49] pp. 15-16
[VI] Cultivate Good Stewardship [50-63] pp. 18-22
Conclusion [64-68] pp. 21-22
Recommendations Regarding Archdiocesan Offices and Services [69-73] pp. 22-23

P.P.S. Aquinas commented on why so much time is spent planning the work rather than working the plan. "Sorry. We just 'vision.' ... We're prophets, not drones." This suggests to me the plan would have been more descriptively titled "The Prophet And Loss Statement".


  1. Based on your quotation of #4, shall we take it that this is 'pentential-reading'?

  2. This smacks so much of the 'Mission Statements' so beloved of the corporate world and co-opted by parishes - er, 'faith communities'...

    There are probably more words here than in all of St. Paul's Epistles - but they're not likely to endure as long!

  3. Well, Dad29, it was only a decade or so ago that I was among those who worked on such a long range plan for my parish. The process appeared to me to create a general aversion to later reading the finished product. Those effects never completely wear off, it seems.

    GOR, at the same time we're being asked to be better stewards, parish leadership might be sitting down with a blank sheet of paper brainstorming just what the heck the parish mission is, anyway.

  4. Anonymous8:11 PM

    How does Archbishop Dolan expect us to believe that any place in the Archdiocese is safe for children if he has not bothered to find out who the preditors are??? I wouldn't trust him or anyone working for the archdiocese with my children (if they were younger) or my money!

  5. Anonymous, I assume you refer to Archbishop Weakland's testimony that he did not discuss this issue with Archbishop Dolan. That doesn't mean Archbishop Dolan is less than fully informed, since he presumably could get the same information by other means. But it is a reason to wonder.

    Similarly, I've heard the question raised if Archbishop Dolan has personally reviewed these priests' files. If not, it might be that he delegated this task. If that's the case, though, one might wonder why.

  6. aquinas3:23 PM

    Banging out "visioning" plans, "long-range" plans, "energing our vibrancy" plans, "cluster" plans (get your minds out of the gutter!), and all the other mindless churnings in which diocesan and parish staffs participate give them the feeling that they're actually doing something. The amount of paper generated by all this "planning" must be staggering. And, in the end, what can the average Catholic parishioner claim as a successful result of all this "visioning" by their leaders? Improved Mass attendance (that was one of Dolan's specifically stated goals)? Better preaching? Well-catechized kids? Liturgy by the book? A will to sanctity? Nope. Sorry. We just "vision." Don't expect us to achieve verifiable, objective goals. We're prophets, not drones.

    God help us.

  7. A DRE once had to explain to the parish council why that year's textbooks were ordered at the last minute without going through the usual procurement approval process. The explanation was that ordering textbooks had been forgotten due to all the time spent planning.

  8. aquinas4:30 PM


    Process is more important than Product to these people because Product scares them to death. It means that they'd have to be judged and their performance evaluated by specific criteria. Process admits of no such judgments; one person's "vision" is as good as another's. Never mind that we all have to live with the results of those nightmares.

    It's also why you'll often be told that, for example, a kid can't be given a "religion grade" because no one can look into his soul, or that liturgy doesn't admit to being evaluated because, ultimately, it's all about how we feel. Hey! Who's to judge?

    In any other line of work (except, perhaps, phrenology and the shuffling of Tarot cards), these people would all be out on the street.

  9. There certainly is a kind of faith or investment in this process. That faith seems to be that the process, by its nature, will produce inspiration and innovation and solutions. This leads to a discomfort with (or even hostility for) positive results that come from outside the process.

    One example is the comprehensive budget and stewardship process. Everything is to come from increased regular donations and spent per the budget. To get the donations up, my parish once published something pointing out amounts of some major expenses coming up. A parishioner sent a six figure check in the amount needed to replace the organ. The then-pastor had a hard time bringing himself to cash the check. He seemed bothered, as if someone had the wrong idea and took the figures bandied about as specific requests rather than illustrations. It took months, as I recall, to get him to deposit the check.

    On a bigger scale, one can't rule out that this attitude could lead to a priest or staffer who produced good results outside the process being regarded unfavorably by those in a position to judge their performance. An analogy might be the way, as I hear it, General Motors essentially destroyed its Saturn division when Saturn's objective success with quality control and eliminating sales hassles threatened the corporate status quo by making it look bad by comparison.

  10. Yes, the 'process' as an end in itself and not a means to an end. One suspects that the Cure of Ars would not be well-received in today's environment.

    "But you didn't follow the process!" "Where are the documents, the committees, the progress reports...?"

    Of course there's precedent for this. Some time ago another 'churchman' was more concerned about process than purpose: "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?"

    The lessons of history...

  11. Anonymous7:17 AM

    "On a bigger scale, one can't rule out that this attitude could lead to a priest or staffer who produced good results outside the process being regarded unfavorably by those in a position to judge their performance."

    Actually, I have seen this happen. A parish in a county has very high Mass attendance (60% compared to the county average of 35-40%). People from all over the county attend. When it comes time for new pastors to be assigned, the pastor who was in charge of the parish with high Mass attendance is moved out of the county. The new pastor decides that this parish with 60% Mass attendance has serious problems since it is so different from the neighboring parishes. No problem.....within a year this parish's Mass attendance is right in line with the county average.....

    What would happen if the Archbishop actually came to the parishes of the Archdiocese and told us the truth......

    1. Do you want your parishes to be vibrant and alive? Then learn the Catholic faith and live it faithfully.

    2. Do you want your parishes to have good leadership? Then have children, teach them the faith, and encourage some of your kids (particularly the young men) to become priests and religious.

    If we, as laity, do not do one and two, then parishes will continue to close.

  12. GOR, rather than the minutes of more and more meetings (assuming these are published), it would be simpler to continue and expand the publication of parish statistics. Let's see if that at least continues. Of course, as Anonymous notes, that might turn out to be a way to target parishes that are spoiling the curve. At St. Al's, I often hear the explanation that what appear to be poor results are part of a much larger trend. Or as I once heard a parish council member say, "We're no worse than anyone else." It is hard to see the Cure of Ars accepting mediocrity as policy. (Maybe he was "boondocked" to Ars.)

    Anonymous, that "People from all over the county attend" might be a good sign. You might recall when I raised the issue of niche parishes. Those niches could be on either side of the nave, so to speak. But I'm aware of the phenomenon. People committed to the status quo at St. Al's in Greendale seem to have a ready supply of unsubstantiated reasons why any apparently better results at St. John's in Greenfield should not be investigated.

    One recent rhetorical question was why there are lines for confession at St. John's. (They might not be like pre-conciliar lines, but they are lines.) One reason might be priests at St. John's don't come across as looking for a next opportunity to push General Absolution.

    Which brings me to your "1. Do you want your parishes to be vibrant and alive? Then learn the Catholic faith...". To continue this example, it was hard to see why St. Al's spent time and money teaching kids about confession, and then pastors would schedule General Absolution. So far, I've asked three pastors if what the parish practices and what we teach should be the same. So far none has said "yes".

  13. "Maybe he was boondocked to Ars"

    Actually, Terrence, there's some truth to that. As Fr. Rutler noted in his book on the Cure, Ars "...had the reputation of being a punishment place for priests."

    When are the clergy going to realize that what people need is not more plans, programs, committees, initiatives etc., but sound preaching, orthodox teaching, reverent liturgy and the example of holy living?

    If we are all called to Heaven (and we are!) and the clergy are called to lead us there, the example of a John Vianney would not be a bad one to emulate.

  14. "...the example of a John Vianney would not be a bad one to emulate."

    Not long ago there was a meeting at my parish to launch a new program for more Adult Formation. The attendees included maybe eighty parishioners and the pastor. It was introduced by a staffer who literally said the program's main attraction was that it wouldn't involve much more work for the staff. In what other organization could you 1) say this in front of the people you ostensibly serve and your boss, and 2) get no reaction from either? Seems like the real vision statement is We don't practice what we teach, and we're pacing ourselves while not doing it.