Anatomy of a Diocese, Post Pandemic

A revealing publication recently released by the Diocese of Oakland, the Mission Alignment Project Interim Report, represented an effort to include priests and laity in the bishop’s inevitable decisions to cluster, merge, or close a number of its 81 parishes. The 73-page report is a fascinating read for its raw data and transparency.

The report defined “cluster” as follows:

Two or more parishes remain separate and retain their names but share one or
more priests and one administration.

Merger:

Two or more parishes are combined to form one new parish while consolidating
membership, property and finances.

Closure:

Church and other buildings sold, rented or used for other purposes. Parishioners attend a neighboring parish.

While the project began in January 2021, the middle of the pandemic, the meetings took place during the first half of 2022, long after the dispensation on attendance to Holy Mass had been cancelled. The diocese, however, never really recovered from the pandemic:

As a result of the combination of fewer vocations and retirements, the diocese is running out of priests:

There were three sets of meetings: one on a broader regional level, another on the local deanery level (several churches unified geographically), and one limited to clergy. Some of the top concerns that came out of the regional meetings:

  1. Too many parishes and Mass times.
  2. More Masses don’t mean better attendance
  3. 2/3 of parishes have yellow or red financial scores.
  4. Drop in number of 1st Communions/Confirmations as compared to Baptisms
  5. Demographics and location impact finances and attendance.
  6. More evangelization needed: youth, families and lapsed Catholics.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest concerns coming out of the meeting of Bishop Michael Barber and the clergy were attendance and financials:

  1. Large number of Masses vs. seating capacity and attendance.
  2. Some parishes rich in spirit and sacraments are financially struggling.
  3. Inner city/urban parishes in the red.
  4. Cultures and ethnicities have different models of giving.

Far more laity were in involved in the deanery-level meetings and common themes emerged. One is that churches which are financially stable should help support those that are not:

Adjust diocesan assessment for social equity (i.e., red parishes do not pay an assessment, yellow
parishes pay an adjusted assessment, and green parishes have a more progressive assessment
to pay).

Redistributing resources: human, students, financial, clergy, administration and formation
and sacramental programs would be beneficial to deanery and parishes.

Consider combining the financially weak with the stronger parishes.

Diocesan assessments should only be taken from financially ranked green parishes.

Another common concern was that there were too many Masses:

Reduce Mass times to fill the churches to have a vibrant “Sunday experience.”

Too many Masses for the numbers attending.

Reduce Mass times in clusters.

Finally, in the deanery-level meetings there was a definite preference for clustering weaker parishes with stronger ones rather than closure or merger.

Cluster better than merger because it maintains each parish’s identity and strengths and allows
for parishioners to have more say in parish life.

Of the six table groups, the common thread was clusters were better than mergers. It was important to
these parishes to keep their identities.

Clustering would keep the identity and charism of each parish, protect legacy
sacraments, create cost savings by having one administration and one priest.

The groups shared strong negative feelings about closures and were also not open to mergers
either. The biggest reason was because each parish believes in the importance of their own
identity, and they would like to maintain this.

The problem with clustering is that there are not enough priests to go around. Had I been invited to one of the meetings I would have advocated for closures, reminding them that in the early 1980s the Archdiocese of San Francisco closed about a dozen parishes, and then had to reopen most of them a decade later.

Also, in the report there was a comparison of the 5-year average attendance to that of 2021 for each parish. The average decline in attendance was 47%, a reduction of almost half. There were only two churches that bucked that trend. One was St. David of Wales in Richmond and the other St. Margaret Mary in Oakland. The former is a small parish with a school that actually increased its attendance, the latter is a traditional community with daily Masses in Latin led by a Canon from the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, where attendance declined by only 5%.

st. margaret mary1
St. Margaret Mary Church, Oakland, CA

The experience of St. Margaret Mary suggests to some extent this might be a spiritual crisis that needs a spiritual response.

…rjt

The Real Intention Behind a ‘Digital Dollar’

digital-dollar1Six months ago, the president signed another (his 83rd) executive order, Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets, which inaugurated a process to develop a computerized dollar. It gave government agencies six months to explore the project and report their recommendations. The reports are in, and the Treasury Secretary gave the idea a thumbs-up:

WASHINGTON, AP — The Biden administration is moving one step closer to developing a central bank digital currency, known as the digital dollar, saying it would help reinforce the U.S. role as a leader in the world financial system. …Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said one Treasury recommendation is that the U.S. “advance policy and technical work on a potential central bank digital currency, or CBDC, so that the United States is prepared if CBDC is determined to be in the national interest.

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Climate Change Hysteria and Scripture

globalwarming1Once climate change had taken on an apocalyptic tone, the sense of panic was advantageous to the progressive left. Their knee-jerk reaction to every climate-related event is to blame global warming: forest fire, flood, drought, snowstorm, hurricane, etc., as though these things otherwise would have never occurred. 

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Some Thoughts on Collaborating with Unbelievers on Social Causes:

vatican coference1
Keynote speakers: Chelsea Clinton, Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Cindy Crawford, Jane Goodall, Tarzan, etc

At all levels, the Church commonly partners with various non-Christian organizations and individuals to promote certain social objectives for the greater good. While I’m sure many of these partnerships have been beneficial in helping those in need throughout the world, some have clearly compromised the moral teaching of the Church. Here are a few scriptures that might apply to these relationships.

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Paradoxical Promises that Sustain Hope

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Catechism states that the beatitudes are exclusive to Christ’s disciples and define the Christian life:

[T]hey shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples (CCC, 1717).

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Pope Francis Redefines Evangelism

francis25During his visit to Canada, Pope Francis apologized again for the Church’s past efforts at proselytism:

He [God] does not sustain with his Spirit those who dominate others, who confuse the Gospel of our reconciliation with proselytism. One cannot proclaim God in a way contrary to God himself. And yet, how many times has this happened in history! (Link)

The Pope likes to identify proselytism with forced conversions. But evangelization and proselytism are essentially synonymous; the former refers to a general effort to convert someone from one religion to another, and the latter is the same but specific to Christianity. To Pope Francis, however, they represent contrasting efforts to share the gospel, one good and the other bad, a dichotomy that doesn’t exist:

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The Conundrum of Catholic Kids in Public Schools

stella maris1Since many dioceses continue to close or consolidate their Catholic schools, the number of Catholics attending public schools keeps increasing. Alarmed by this trend, the popular conservative blogger Msgr. Charles Pope wrote an article a few years ago targeting public education, referring to it as “poison”:

…[T]he vast majority of Catholic children now go to government run secular schools where they are daily indoctrinated with trendy and often sinful teachings to include the immoral agenda of the homosexual lobby, condom obsessed sexual “teachings” and all sorts of deconstructionist and syncretistic notions that discredit faith, the Scriptures, and the meaning of the human person, and the existence of God.

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The Third Strike for Higher Education

STRIKE I

strike33The decline of higher education in America commenced in the 1960s. College attendance was soaring as a result of three trends: in 1964 the baby boom generation had reached college-age and a degree was increasingly perceived as necessary for personal advancement. Also, the G.I. Bill, originally intended for education and other benefits for WWII vets, was expanded to include all military. University administrators desperately needed instructors, many of which were less than qualified and sympathetic to the radical changes taking place in society.

Students in the major universities from about 1970 on were being increasingly indoctrinated as to what were the acceptable opinions on race relations, sexuality, homosexuality, cultural values, etc. This was exposed by University of Chicago professor Allen Bloom in his widely read 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind.

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Inching Toward a Dangerous Threshold

statues1In the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision, churches have been increasingly the targets of desecration, vandalism, and arson. In response, the USCCB recently sent a letter to congress asking for an increase in funding for a program that offers security for religious institutions:

These are not mere property crimes – this is the degradation of visible representations of our Catholic faith. These are acts of hate.

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The Silence of the Fathers

baby1“Empowerment” with respect to abortion is a mild way of expressing what the laws have enabled: self-deification, women playing god with their unborn babies. If they decide it’s entitled to humanhood, than its life is protected by the civil rights enshrined in our legal codes and constitution. If they decide it is not human, the child can be killed, and in a painful manner by dismemberment. This was also the privilege of slave-owners and NAZIs.

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