Parish and Personnel Task Force Resumes WorkOctober 05, 2007
After a brief summer hiatus, the Parish and Personnel Task Force returned to continue their efforts toward offering recommendations for the long-term future of the diocese. The Task Force was put together a year ago by Vicar General Rev. Frank Murphy and charged with reviewing the human, structural and financial resources of the diocese. Its ultimate goal is to assist Bishop Cooney in planning how best to minister to the needs of the people of Northern Lower Michigan with the resources that are available.
In June, the Task Force presented Bishop Cooney with its first report which dealt with short term recommendations relating to areas where there were specific concerns due to recent deaths of clergy or other issues.
As the Task Force moves forward with their work, the situation in the Diocese of Gaylord mirrors that of many dioceses in the nation of an aging clergy with a trend that indicates there be fewer priests as time goes on.
Candace Neff, spokesperson for the Diocese stated. "The challenge is to discern how we can best provide sacramental care faced with current realities, as well as provide and sustain faith development programs, outreach ministries, social justice initiatives and so on. The Task Force will be delving more deeply now into these issues as they look to the long-term."
The Diocese of Gaylord has 81 parishes spread across some 11,000 square miles with approximately 80,000 Catholics. Statistics indicate the diocese will likely have 28 diocesan priests by the year 2010. The number does not include the many already retired priests living in the area or the priests from religious orders who graciously serve area parishes at this time.
"Basically, it means we are all going to have to pull ourselves away from the traditional paradigms, think creatively and work together," Neff said.
When the Task Force reconvened in September, Bishop Cooney joined them to share some of his thoughts and desires for the Church in the Diocese of Gaylord. He began his comments with a brief history of the Church explaining that the early Church was centered on Jesus and everyone was a disciple. They had to care for one another and they actively worked to meet the needs of the community. Later, the clergy was elevated to a state of grandeur and empowered to be strong leaders. With the immigration to America, priests were often brought along by their people and these clergy became servants to the lay people. As happens, history repeated itself again and there was a successful movement to make clergy the bosses again.
Bishop Cooney said the Second Vatican Council tried to balance things out so that we all would be minister and disciples and were called to do so through our Baptism. It is the responsibility of all Catholics to hand on their faith and the American Church is again striving for the model where everyone is a disciple.
"This is my vision for the Church in the Diocese of Gaylord," Bishop Cooney stated. "We need to strive to be active disciples and we must be prepared. It is in our parishes – our communities of faith – where people are nourished, strengthened and encouraged in their faith so that they continue to actively pray, practice their faith and live as disciples in their everyday lives."
Bishop Cooney reiterated his ultimate hope that parishes would not have to close, but also left open the possibility.
"In a perfect world, no parish would close," Bishop Cooney said, "But I’m old enough now to know we don’t live in a perfect world and it may be necessary." He again encouraged the Task Force to be sure to look at all possible alternatives when considering how to structure the diocese into the future.
Though Task Force members did not meet in the summer months, they did have homework and were invited to read materials relating to their work. including a book titled, "Sharing More than a Pastor," which focused on how parishes might work together.
Last year, the Task Force gathered specific information on each parish. Those efforts will continue and the Task Force is considering what further information is needed and how input might best be gleaned from parishioners and leadership.
"The members of the Task Force have been very dedicated to this ministry for the Church," remarked Fr. Murphy. "They bring a great deal of expertise and insight to the process. Each of them really embraces the concept that we are looking for what will serve the common good – what is best for the good of the whole diocese. They’ve worked very hard and after we submitted the first report, members were given the option to leave the committee if they were finding it too burdensome. Each person enthusiastically wanted to continue and so we will move forward to accomplish the task set before us," Murphy concluded.