Mending the Process

March 13-19, 2003
Mending the Process
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
The agenda was not as full as usual for the March 8 Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) session, but what was on it was a tall order. At the last session, Nov. 16, Bishop Thomas Costello, director of Priest Personnel for the diocese, raised questions as to the current process for appointing pastors to parishes. He asked the DPC to take a look at the process and consider whether there might be a more effective way to determine where pastors serve after their six-year, or 12-year, terms are up. Small group discussions that were geared to address some of those major areas took up most of the morning.

Also on the agenda was the election of officers for the 2003-2005 term. Those officers include the following: Chairperson Margaret (Peg) Buck from the Southern Region; Vice Chairperson for Communications Janet Barry from the Western Region; Vice Chairperson for Membership Richard Jardine from the Eastern Region; and Recording Secretary Sister Mary Alice St. John, CSJ, from the Northern Region. There was also a brief update on the HOPE Appeal by Christopher “Kit” Parker, diocesan director of the Development Office.

The morning began with prayer which was led by the young people from both St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Mexico and Immaculate Conception Parish in Fulton. They each portrayed a person who was present at Jesus’ crucifixion. Their words were interspersed with piano and song as the adults who work with them sang, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” The groups’ youth minister, Heidi Buda, spoke at the end of the prayer saying that all those at the meeting are present at the cross as well — every time they are sick, depressed or facing a challenge.

The small group breakout sessions followed the prayer. The groups were provided with information regarding how pastoral appointments are currently determined. There was a copy of the Feb. 2003 Priest Personnel newsletter which encouraged priests to visit the parishes they are interested in applying to and to visit with personnel involved there. The priests are then asked to direct a letter of application to Bishop Costello indicating how their gifts respond to that particular parish. There is an informal application as well that simply lists the available parishes and a space for the priest to place a check mark next to a parish of interest.

A parish profile is also available with information such as the size of the parish, the staff, whether or not parishioners are involved in Formation for Ministry, parish income, parish debt, parish school information if it applies, “dreams for the future,” and “qualities of a new pastor.” Typically, Bishop Costello visits each parish that has an opening for a pastor. He visits with the Pastoral Council of each parish with an opening and goes over parish information with those involved. Currently, the Priest Personnel Committee is made up of priests representing each region, all ages, ministries and some diocesan staff members. There are 10 voting members and four non-voting members. Both bishops, the chancellor and the Vicar for Parishes are the non-voting members. The committee reviews the application letters and then makes recommendations to Bishop James Moynihan.

The small DPC groups broke down areas of concern into eight areas: Priests Personnel Committee, Process of Appointing Pastors, Revising the Parish Profile Form, Creating a Priest’s Application Form, Recompense/Financial, Recompense/Non-Financial, Accountability, and Interim Pastor/Administrator Concept.

After the Nov. 16 DPC meeting, members were asked to formulate some suggestions that might be considered at the March meeting. Their ideas ranged from redesigning the Priest Personnel Committee to include lay people, to whether or not preference should be given to priests with seniority and if there should be a minimum number of open parishes before the process begins. There were many issues to address and the groups made progress by discussing all the issues presented. After the small group sessions, the facilitators reported on the results. Sister Mary Anne Heenan, CSJ, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, spoke about her group’s look at the Priest Personnel Committee. They determined that there need to be members on the committee who have some expertise in personnel matters, that a lay person representing the parish with an opening could be an ad-hoc member of the committee for information reasons, candidates could be interviewed in person and that a resume listing experience, training and qualifications could be adopted. One member of the group suggested that the meeting between the parish’s Pastoral Council and Bishop Costello could be videotaped giving the applying priest a better idea of how the church functions.

Some members asked how the personnel committee gets the “feel” of a parish with a short profile. Some suggested a parish history with past pastors be available to those applying. The overall outcome was that the laity should be involved more in the process, and that the process, which has been in effect since the late 1970s, could use an overhaul. Discussion will continue to address the issues mentioned and more. Kit Parker spoke about the HOPE Appeal which enters its 25th year this year. He told attendees HOPE Appeal 2003 was officially kicked off March 1, and has raised nearly $66 million over the years. Bishop Moynihan then spoke about the appeal, but first he thanked the DPC for the impressive reports made after their small group sessions. “You made many positive statements and comments with excellent ideas,” the bishop said. He spoke briefly about priests’ compensation and how it could not be addressed until the people know exactly what the process entails. “You [DPC] bring us new ways of looking at things and we take advantage of your thoughtfulness and your insights. Laity on the priest personnel committee is a very good idea. I’m not sure if there was laity on the committee at one time, but it needs to be considered.”

The bishop stated that the HOPE Appeal was down more than a half million dollars from its $4.2 million goal. He said there were many parishes that worked very hard but did not make goal, and there were 22 parishes that exceeded their goal. He spoke about the difficult year the church has had with the sexual abuse cases and said that some people seem to have the notion that HOPE Appeal monies are connected with the scandals — he stated emphatically that they are not.

Bishop Moynihan is asking that every parish meet its individual goal this year. He would like to see active and committed efforts from pastors to meet the goal and that the leadership in the parish do the same. “The HOPE Appeal is the most important thing we do as a diocese,” Bishop Moynihan said. “It enables 94 different programs to function and minister. It helps all those programs, all those people. The HOPE Appeal itself is a ministry.”

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