Winds of Change

May 22, 2003
Winds of Change
By Howie Mansfield
Diocesan Pastoral Council votes on issues, offers recommendations to bishops

Voting was a major part of the May 17 meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) held at Bishop Grimes High School. During the last DPC meeting, small groups discussed issues surrounding priest personnel, including when new priest appointments should be made, the process for which pastors apply for vacancies and what information parishes provide in a profile to applicants. After the meeting opened with a reflection honring the Virgin Mary, Joseph O’Connor, a diocesan seminarian studying at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md., spoke briefly about his current pastoral year at Blessed Sacrament Church in Syracuse. O’Connor talked about how the experience strengthened him for his final years of seminary. He visited hospitals, taught fourth, fifth and sixth graders religion and brought communion to shut-ins.

“I’m so in love with this ministry and so in love with Christ, it will be hard to go back to books,” O’Connor said. “I got a taste of the reality of priesthood and I say bring on the meal. In fact, supersize the meal — bring it all on. The future is coming quick — I’ll be ordained a deacon in less than a year. But it’s your prayers that carry us through.”

Tina Dyer, executive secretary for the DPC, led the voting process on the 20 resolutions brought before the council. The results of the DPC voting were meant to provide recommendations to Bishop James Moynihan on how to handle these topics. Resolution A stated “Does the DPC recommend to Bishop Moynihan that all appointments be made in the Spring and be effective July 1?” In a previous DPC session, questions were raised as to whether appointing pastors mid-year was disruptive to parish life. Resolution A passed resoundingly 87-15. Resolution B recommends to the bishop that a “sufficient” number of parishes must be open before the application process begins. The DPC voted in favor of the resolution 77-24, but the number of parishes required to be sufficient must be defined. Resolution C recommends to the bishop that pastor could be granted a one-year extension to his term, only if a particular parish he has been interested in serving becomes available the following year. The DPC voted in favor, 79-20, but only 19 members strongly agreed and 20 disagreed. One of the concerns was that parishes would be “left in limbo” because of this temporary assignment. The DPC also advised the bishop to change the parish profile form, in Resolution K, adding statistics such as number of envelope holders, last October average weekend count, total savings and investments and whether the parish reached its HOPE Appeal goal the previous year.

The DPC voted to restate resolutions P, Q and R, all discussing the evaluation process of priests. Bishop Thomas Costello, diocesan director of priest personnel, gave a short presentation about the evaluation process at the beginning of the session. The current evaluation process has a number of steps, Bishop Costello said. The pastor to be evaluated identifies eight to 10 people from the parish, composed of a combination of staff, parishioners, parish council president, men or women religious and priests from the church. The pastor also chooses a member of the priest personnel committee to sit on this evaluation committee. Bishop Costello said a self-evaluation is given to the pastor which focuses on the priest’s accomplishments, gifts, areas he needs to be more effective and areas for additional growth, along with other comments and observations. The evaluation committee is given a similar form. The evaluations are reviewed and discussed between the pastor and committee. A final report is agreed upon and given to the bishop. Bishop Moynihan will meet with the priest and discuss the report.

“These are some things that are constructively critical, but it’s most always affirming,” Bishop Costello said. “The process isn’t perfect, but it does some good things and it’s affirming to a major degree.” The voting brought to light a number of questions and issues that need to be discussed, including which specific questions would be asked and how often evaluations should be done and who would be performing them. Resolutions P, Q and R were tabled and will be revisited after additional discussion and consultation in an ad-hoc committee. Regional meetings were held midway through the DPC session. Bishop Costello visited the Western Region while Bishop Moynihan sat in with the Eastern Region. Each regional meeting elected new regional officers as its first order of business. Each newly elected officers is required to attend four executive committee meetings with Bishop Moynihan each year.

Bishop Costello discussed the current state of diocesan finances during the Western Region meeting. He said tuition assistance for Catholic schools will not be affected by budget cuts. One of the biggest problems in the budget committee was health insurance costs, where the diocese pays $12 million each year to Blue Cross Blue Shield for diocesan employees’ medical coverage. Father James Lang, diocesan vicar for parishes, gave his report on the state of the Office of Pastoral Planning. Father Lang said a business workshop was held April 25 and April 26 for parishes. The goal of the workshop was to find ways to make parishes successful financial entities.

Over 60 hours were spent with pastoral care area representatives recently to look at issues facing the church, Father Lang said, such as implementing a safe environment for children set forth by the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” and the on-going pastoral planning conversations. Father Lang said the diocese can feel confident that the challenges of a priest shortage will be met head on. Father Lang also talked about what an October count meant in the resolution regarding the parish profile. “It’s one of my favorite things,” said Father Lang of the October count. “There are many inconsistencies in parish censuses. You can’t measure accurate number of parishioners through old numbers. It’s time to base our counts on reality.” Father Lang said the October count is devised from the average number of parishioners in the pew during Sunday morning Masses that month. He said it’s the “one solid number on parish life” worth tabulating.

Bishop Moynihan closed the session with his own remarks and answered questions from the DPC. The bishop addressed the latest lawsuit brought against the diocese stemming from allegations of sexual abuse. “I cannot speak to those directly because I was only yesterday served with the lawsuit,” Bishop Moynihan said. “But this matter saddens me as much as it saddens you. But they are merely allegations. [This priest] emphatically denies them and is very confident he will be exonerated.” Bishop Moynihan reiterated that no money from the HOPE Appeal or Heritage Campaign has ever been given to settle lawsuits related to sexual abuse by priests. “I feel like I’m always saying it, but I think we have to say it on a daily basis,” the bishop said. “We desperately need to achieve our goal this year. No HOPE Appeal money means no programs,” the bishop said. “Our early returns indictate that our major donors are increasing their pledges. We hope that’s true across the board.”

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