Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The art of mediocrity

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.


Unknown said...

One of my students is a renegade (LOL) and another might become bishop of Fresno. Hmmmm.

Birdie said...

As I read this about your parish limping along, barely surviving at the leisure of your bishop, I wonder about you, Father Geoff. How are you doing? What is your next step? I keep you in my prayers, that this turns out to be a wonderful thing for you personally. Please let us know how you're doing.

Mareczku said...

Oops, I left this comment on the wrong day so here I go again. I just wanted to wish you a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving. Enjoy the day. All the best to you.

Love & Blessings - Mareczku

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed, Father Geoff. Can you let us know how you are doing, and how we can help you in your work.
A most happy and holy Thanksgiving Day to you and your family. Thank you, Fr. Geoff, for believing in yourself and your principles.

Theresa J

Anonymous said...

Probably not an appropriate place to put this .. I just want to wish you a wonderfully abundant Thanksgiving, dear Fr. Geoff. Among the many things for which I am most profoundly grateful this year, you are high up on the list. I thank God continually for the witness of your presence, your committment to integrity, and the inspiration that has caused so many of us to rise up and take a firmly committed stand for justice.

Bill said...

Father Geoff, I hope you have a Thanksgiving filled with blessings. I am grateful for your work.

June Butler said...

Will the powers in the church be pleased when all the intelligent, educated folks who dare to think for themselves are driven out?

God bless you Fr Geoff. I pray for you. May you find your way to serve God and God's people in ministry.

Anonymous said...

Deacon is to become the PLC...need I say more... God bless you

Anonymous said...

Father Geoff -
Hope that you're doing well and making your way. Saw this in the paper this morning and would appreciate some comment on this...

What in the world is going on in the Catholic church that allows tripe like this to be preached from the pulpit? This is beyond mediocrity and tantamount to full-fledged commitment to ignorance.

I thought that the role of the church was to teach us a set of values and give us a moral compass with which we're to go thru life and make our daily decisions.

Now, it looks like they're taking a giant step backwards to the middle ages with the hubris of the church not trusting its own members to make up their own mind.

Please don't apologize on their behalf - you've become one of the sole sources of candor from someone trained in church teachings. Thanks.

(11-29) 10:32 PST Modesto, CA (AP) --

A Roman Catholic priest has told parishioners they should confess if they voted for Barack Obama because the president-elect supports abortion.

The Rev. Joseph Illo says his parishioners at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto shouldn't risk losing their "state of grace" by receiving communion sacrilegiously. He delivered the message in a Nov. 21 letter and during mass.

In an interview this week with the Modesto Bee, Illo says he sent the letter because Catholic teaching requires that people go to confession when they commit a mortal sin.

During the 2008 campaign, many bishops told Catholic politicians and voters that abortion should be the most important consideration in deciding which candidate to back.


Information from: The Modesto Bee, www.modbee.com

Mareczku said...

Just stopping by to say hi. Hope that you had a good Thanksgiving. Many blessings to you. May the peace of Christ be with you.


WifeandMom said...

As a member of the Newman Center, I can honestly tell you that I'm not happy about the whole Parish Life Coordinator b.s. I'm especially not happy with the priest that was appointed as the sacramental priest, Father David Norris. He used to be our priest at St. Helen's and he was nobody's favorite. My husband and I actually left St. Helen's to go to the Newman Center to get AWAY from Father David, only to get him back again now! Uggh! All I can say is that I'll be glad when we move in a few months due to my hubby's new job. Maybe the town we move to will have a better priest.

Hope you're doing well Father Geoff! Keep fighting the good fight!

Rosa Cobarruvias said...

Yes Father, please let us know how you and your family is doing. I for one am torn and seeking guidance from Above as I cannot fathom what both the Bishop and Father Salvador at St. Helen's Church have done. My prayers go out to you and all who have negatively been affected for speaking out against Injustice and Discrimination (Robbin McGehee and beautiful family).

Rosa Cobarruvias

Frair John said...

The tittle of this post says it all.

I think you have hit the nail on the head, and that nail encompasses more than the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno. Mediocrity and slovenly behavior seem to be the order of the day far to often in the Church as a hole.

I am very sorry to read that the petty attitude of the Bishop is causing you and your former parishioners so much discomfort.

Frank said...

And on the world front...the Vatican refuses to support a UNITED NATIONS resolution that would encourage several backwards countries to decriminalize homosexuality - countries where gays can be imprisoned or executed. Their excuse seems to be to "nip in the bud" any possibility that decriminalization would somehow lead to same gender marriage.