I received an E-mail from one of my former parishioners at St. Paul's Newman Center in Fresno today. It seems the bishop went to the parish to meet with the parishioners and inform them that he will not assign a new full time pastor to St. Paul's. Rather, he will appoint a Parish Life Coordinator and have a priest act as a sacramental minister.
I have to say that this does not come as a total surprise to me. St. Paul's was difficult to fill, the last time it was in need of a pastor. The reality is that St. Paul's was founded in 1964, in the middle of the Second Vatican Council. The founding pastor, the late Fr. Sergio Negro, was a huge proponent of the principles voiced at Vatican II. St. Paul's became a pioneer parish in our Diocese in many areas. In the inclusion of women as lectors and eucharistic ministers; of female altar servers. Fr. Negro started a Pastoral Council, long before many other parishes. In short, St. Paul's from its birth as a parish has been inclusive of women and has placed an emphasis on the role of an active lay participation in parish governance.
While all of this certainly captures the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, it is not appealing to many traditional pastors. In addition to all of this, St. Paul's is a personal parish and not a geographic parish. Most Catholic parishes are geographic entities. You automatically belong to a parish by the virtue of living within its geographic boundaries. St. Paul's is a parish without boundaries, it is a personal parish. The only individuals who "automatically" are parishioners are the Faculty, Staff and Students of the academic institutions which St. Paul's serves. Anyone else, may become a parishioner by registering. I recall the bishop commenting to me: "That's the last personal parish in this diocese!"
What this means in practical terms is that, the president of the CSUF, the Provost, many professors along with faculty and staff from Fresno City College and of course, many students are parishioners of St. Paul's. As you might imagine, this demographic tends to be well educated and comes from an academic tradition of enquiry, debate and discussion. Another large segment of the parish is composed of University Alumni. As a group, they tend to be very loyal, well educated, well off financially and connected in the greater community. St. Paul's also has, as I mentioned earlier a reputation for being very theologically and liturgically progressive.
While the concept of parish life coordinators had been discussed at the last diocesan convocation. In fact, I made a plea for them at the convocation and signed up for the committee which would oversee their development. The presenter at the convocation of clergy had asked that those who signed up for the committees elect moderators; however, the bishop intervened and appointed moderators himself in order to "save time." And of course, to steer the committees his way. In the case of the parish life coordinators, other diocese require PLC's to attend courses at accredited institutions and become certified. They also pay PLC's a living wage.
Neither of these two requirements are met by the Diocese of Fresno under the leadership of our current bishop. This was particularly annoying to pastors of our diocese who were then, hit up by an increase in assessments (taxes) the bishop places on plate collection to pay for all of these new programs. Pastors of course saw through all of this as just more gouging by the bishop of parish funds. However, given our subservient position there was no outcry at the time. One senior pastor simply said that he was "disgusted." Morale among the clergy is very low in our diocese. Most look to three years from now, when the bishop will be forced to turn in his resignation to Rome. The current speculation is that auxiliary bishop Alex Salazar of Los Angeles will be the next bishop of Fresno.
The result is, PLC's who have spotty preparation at best and are volunteers. You don't need an advanced degree in business to realize what the effects of this diocesan policy will be, on the quality and constancy of service at the parish level. But, then again, most of the PLC's were envisioned as serving in outlying rural areas under the supervision of a "hub church" and a mentor pastor. The decision to assign a PLC to St. Paul's on a permanent basis seems to be a convenient way of not having to deal with a progressive academic community and relegating it to insignificance on a diocesan level. In this, it is the triumph of mediocrity and should come as heart warming news to middle management bureaucrats everywhere within the greater Church.
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