Sunday, October 17, 2010

St. Paul-Minneapolis Catholic Archdiocese Releases New Strategic Plan: Who Was Consulted?

By William D. Lindsey

Editor’s Note: This commentary was first published on William’s blog, Bilgrimage.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, which is "right-sizing" by closing churches and merging parishes (even as the Archdiocese engages in a hugely expensive, glitzy political video campaign against same-sex marriage), has a statement now on its website about the strategic planning process that supports the right-sizing.

This statement begins:

After 20 months of consultation, analysis, and prayerful consideration, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is announcing the Strategic Plan (pdf) that shapes the vision for the future of our local Church and restructures parishes to foster a more vibrant faith community.

And as I read that statement, the obvious question that leaps out at me immediately is, consultation with whom? Analysis involving whom? Consideration for whom?

What process of consultation supports the new strategic plan of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis? Can that process have been wide, if there is so much shock and anger among many local Catholics?

When I click on the strategic plan itself, I see a slick media-driven advertisement for the "new" lean and mean Archdiocese expected to arise from the ruins of the old. I see, in other words, precisely the kind of image-management media kit I would expect to find when corporate leaders decide to "right-size" their operation, to bring in larger profits even as employees are cut and expenses at the bottom of the corporate food-chain are curbed.

Nothing in the glitzy media-oriented advertisement I see with this strategic plan assures me that the right-sizing in which the Archdiocese is now involved -- or the baffling decision to accept a huge sum of money from an anonymous donor to bash gays for political gain when the archdiocese was planning to close churches and merge parishes -- depends on wide consultation of the people affected by the right-sizing process.

To the contrary, the tone of the media-driven strategic plan kit in and of itself tells me that the leaders of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese have listened predominantly, overwhelmingly to corporate leaders and their gurus as they have crafted their plan for right-sizing.

And I wonder why those folks are in the driver's seat in American Catholicism now, as we plan for the future.

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice posts:
Breaking Up is Hard to Do: The Man at the Ten O'Clock Mass – Paula Ruddy (June 10, 2010).
What is the Church's Mission and How Are We Doing as Missionaries? – Editorial (March 1, 2010).
Sounding an Alarm – Paula Ruddy (July 13, 2009).

Recommended Off-site Links:
More Than 20 Churches to Close Under Plan to Restructure Twin Cities Archdiocese – John Brewer (Pioneer Press, October 15, 2010).
Archdiocese to Close 20 Churches, Merge Others - Rose French (Star Tribune, October 16, 2010).
U.S. Catholic Bishops and the Corporate Model of Pastoral Leadership – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, October 16, 2010).
The Price of Catholic Homophobia: While Spending to Bash Gays, Minnesota Catholic Bishops Close Churches – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, October 16, 2010).


  1. If any controversy in the announcement of the plan exists at all, much of it has to be that the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press continually, even though they have the correct information, don't make corrections to their initial stories.

    Certainly there probably were many in the congregations this weekend who were shocked by the news because they probably have missed the many announcements that they have been given about the possible closings/merging/clustering of parishes.

    The Star Tribune article notes one woman who thought that the closing of her parish in St. Paul, St. Andrew's, one of the smallest parishes in that city, was "unjustified."

    Other comments in the article from people indicated shock and sadness. Losing a church is indeed not a happy occasion.

    The archdiocese began holding dozens of meetings in many of the 213 parishes in it between May and October of 2009. Then committees of laypeople and priests began the drafting of the plan, resulting in this weekend's announcement.

    I would hold the archdiocese at fault for doing an extremely poor job as to what is meant by a "merger" under canon law, the legal system that controls how a diocese controls its parishes.

    I can't speak for the other mergers, but I am familiar with that of St. Anthony of Padua, Holy Cross, St. Hedwig's and St. Clement's. All of these parishes are smaller than they once were. Holy Cross has over 1,000 less families than it once had. And few of the present members have young children.

    Under canon law, in a merger, the oldest territorial parish in the group must be the surviving legal entity. St. Anthony's, the oldest parish in the City of Minneapolis, is that parish.

    But there is no way that the St. Anthony church structure could hold the thousands of people from Holy Cross, St. Hedwig's and St. Clement's. And under canon law, Holy Cross's name cannot be changed to "St. Anthony of Padua.

    Even if Holy Cross was older than St. Anthony's, it could not become the surviving legal entity because it, and St. Hedwig's, are organized as Polish national parishes. And that can't be changed either.

    So what will happen is that after the merger, which won't take effect for 15 months, January 1, 2012, the four parishes will get together and select their new name. They will become, for example, Holy Cross campus of "St. New-name" parish of Minneapolis.

    By combining and sharing their assets and acting as a group of four, it is planned that they will have more staffing and funds to provide the ministries that are needed in an inner city in the 21st century.

    Each of the four existing parishes will continue to survive for the time being. But if they continue to lose members and become economically not viable, that might change in the future.

    All of this information was provided by Father Glen Jensen, pastor of the parishes, at the Masses this weekend.

    The Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press (and MPR) have this information but have not yet printed it.

    I don't know how the parishes in the other proposed mergers are organized, but I would think that if a parish is not viable, it would be quickly closed.

    Most regular parishioners have known this for many years as they already have been sharing priests with their surviving partner parish.

  2. Thanks, Ray from MN, for the lucid comment. I have heard this information too. And, William Lindsey, are you discounting the consultation the Archdiocese had with parishioners? The parish councils were consulted, the priests were consulted too. The question is whether the consultation was sufficient and whether it accomplished its goals. I went to three of the consultation sessions for parishioners and found them insufficient for two basic reasons: the underlying causes of the decline of parishioners, money and priests could not be discussed, and the facts of the financial situtaton are not disclosed. On the first point, the lifeless liturgy must remain the same, the celibate, male,authoritarian clergy must remain the same, the rigid mind control of propositional doctrine must remain the same. If any of these are factors in the decline of membership, too bad; we'd rather have decline in membership than address these issues. On the second point, the people may have been able to solve their own parish problems but the relation of the individual parish budget and the diocesean budget were not disclosed. For example, the people of Holy Cross may have been able to keep their own parish afloat but they have nothing to say about whether it is possible to make cuts in the Archbishop's budget. Their percentage goes to the Archdiocese without their having any say in how it is spent. So people aren't just supporting their own parish, they are also supporting an Archdiocesan budget without the facts about that budget. The people have not been empowered to solve their own financial problems. All very sad.

  3. Paula, thank you for your question to me. You ask, "[A]re you discounting the consultation the Archdiocese had with parishioners?"

    No. But I am noting, as you note, that "the question is whether the consultation was sufficient and whether it accomplished its goals."

    How can a consultation process about "the underlying causes of the decline of parishioners, money and priests could not be discussed, and the facts of the financial situtaton are not disclosed"?

  4. Sorry--I'm seeing that my final paragraph above got garbled.

    I meant to write, "How can a consultation process be productive and truly consultative, when 'the underlying causes of the decline of parishioners, money and priests could not be discussed, and the facts of the financial situation are not disclosed'"?

  5. "The decline of parishioners, money and priests" is a huge problem in Western Europe, Australia/New Zealand and North America that will be analyzed for decades, if not centuries.

    The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has to deal with a structure and parishes that no longer serve the population bases for which it was originally intended.

    It was designed for a time when most people walked or took the streetcar to Mass on Sundays. Churches were constructed within walking distances of their congregations.

    It was also designed for ethnic populations whose parents did not speak English as their first language and needed priests to preach in their native languages.

    That society doesn't exist any more. Where there are new ethnic populations, the parents most often own cars that will allow them to drive to their ethnic parish, as well as their places of employment and shopping.

    The Church recognized after Vatican II that Catholics with cars no longer needed to be organized on a territorial basis either.

    Catholic families formerly had three to ten children. Today that number is one to three. And the number of single people without children in a large metropolitan area is huge in proportion to the time when single people lived with their parents until they married.

    The archdiocese can't wait to figure out why this happened. Other dioceses have already begun to implement their plans and more are beginning the planning process.

    The Catholic Church is a spiritual organization that must fulfill physical needs. It must change, just like corporations must change.

    Whoever believed 50 years ago that Dayton's department stores would close? They weren't able to adapt to changes in their customers.

    The Catholic Church has to change the way it provides its physical services now. Thus we have the archdiocesan reorganization plan.

  6. I forgot to put this sentence in as a second paragraph:

    One diocese by itself does not have the staff or the funding to adequately analyze the many economic, demographic, political and cultural factors that made up the components of the decline.