Reconfiguration redux

Parish changes take foreground at DPC meeting
By luke eggleston / sun staff writer

Father Jim Lang’s entry, entitled “Reconfiguration Update” on the May 19 agenda for the Syracuse Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting may have been the final one but it was clearly first on the minds of many people gathered in the Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School cafeteria Saturday.

In addition to the regular attendees of such meetings were the trustees from parishes throughout the Syracuse Diocese who had heeded an invitation to listen to a talk delivered by both Chancellor Father Cliff Auth and diocesan attorney Doreen Simmons.

The trustees’ inclusion inflated the number of attendees to roughly 220 according to the estimate of DPC Coordinator Tina Dyer, more than twice the usual presence. Among the trustees and council members were several clerics including Bishop James Moynihan and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello.

Pointing to the portion of the meeting during which Father Lang was scheduled to speak, Marcia Rafte, a trustee of St. Patrick’s Church in Oneida said jokingly, “Oh sure, they put reconfiguration at the end just to make me stay.”

The first portion of the meeting dealt specifically with legal and civil definitions outlining several issues pertaining to trustees. Father Auth lent his expertise in canon law to the segment.

A question-and-answer period that followed the presentation by Father Auth and Simmons revealed that most of those in attendance were clearly troubled with questions about reconfiguration. During a later portion of the meeting, the trustees were asked to attend a second discussion that dealt with various definitions and other elements of trusteeship in more detail. The breakaway session was held in the gymnasium. One attendee said that that portion was also dominated by concerns regarding reconfiguration.

After introductory remarks from Paul Reilly of St. Paul’s in Rome as well as DPC Chairperson Rich Jardine, Simmons began her presentation with a joke referencing the unusually nice weather that had settled in Central New York.

“I’m here and my husband is golfing…there’s something wrong with that,” she said, noting that the willingness of so many parishioners from throughout the diocese to attend the meeting on such a day was evidence of their commitment.

She said that reconfiguration signals a challenging era in the history of the diocese and stressed the need for leadership and prayer from the trustees.

“You have a heightened sense of responsibility for your responsibilities,” she said.

Simmons defined what a trustee is (a holder of property on behalf of a beneficiary) and also explained the obligations of a trustee.

Father Auth opened with an anecdote about his late mother. At one point, Father Auth was responsible for watching his ailing mother, when she asked him to go downstairs and make a Manhattan. As he went to make the drink, his mother insisted on a 2:1 ratio. When he returned his mother began muttering “weak, weak” and Father Cliff became gravely concerned for her immediate health only to have his mother say, “No dummy, the drink is too weak.”

Father Auth explained that the anecdote was intended to illustrate that while many of the trustees perhaps have never so much as looked at the canon law tome, they were likely instinctively aware of its guidelines. Father Auth asked a number of hypothetical questions regarding canon law and asked for a show of hands from the audience to show that they understood what he was talking about.

Moreover, while canon law doesn’t specifically mention trustees, it implies a number of guidelines for them.

Simmons noted that in contrast to the rest of the U.S., New York State has its own laws of corporation for the Catholic Church. In most states, the diocese is considered a corporation and each parish operates within its structure. In New York, each parish has its own certificate of corporation.

Using a handout, Father Auth also discussed the bylaws the trustees should develop for each parish. Simmons noted that during the general discussion, the more critical bylaws would be discussed, while more of them would be included in the breakaway presentation.

In closing, Father Auth offered another story, this one from his youth. He asked if any of those gathered had any chores around the house while they growing up and said that his own father’s axiom was, “The Auth family is only as strong as its efforts.”

Father Auth used the story to segue into his closing remarks in which he thanked those in attendance for their efforts.

“I’d like to thank you and the bishop thanks you for your presence,” he said. “Your presence strengthens the diocese.”

During the question and answer period, many of the attendees asked how reconfiguration would impact their parish. One trustee, for instance, asked what would happen to the corporate status of a parish if it were to merge with another.

Bishop Costello volunteered to field that particular question. He answered that those parishes, which merged into others, would retain their status as a corporation. If, for instance, a parishioner wished to will his property to his church, he could still do so many years after the fact.

During the final phase of the meeting, Bishop Costello and Father Lang offered an update on the status of the reconfiguration process.

“I have been moved by the graciousness of the people of [the Syracuse Diocese],” Father Lang said as he introduced a packet of materials pertaining to reconfiguration process.

Father Lang stressed the importance of moving forward despite what may be in some cases a “sense of loss.”

Bishop Costello introduced a glossary detailing some of the terminology those in the Syracuse Diocese have become familiar with since the reconfiguration process was recently accelerated.

“I have a new vocation. I learned of it just this morning. I am a definologist,” the bishop joked.

The auxiliary bishop cycled through such terms as “merger,” “link” and “facilitated conversation.”

Such terms have become commonplace in recent months. In a merger, for instance, one parish is closed and then absorbed into another. During a merger, plans for reduction are to be submitted to the bishop within 12 months and, once they have been approved, they are to be implemented within six months. A linkage means that the two parishes remain open but share a priest in common. A facilitated conversation is the least extreme outcome in which two parishes engage in a dialogue studying the altered demographics of their region and how to accommodate those changes in the future.

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