Monday, August 29, 2011

The Manifesto -- Part Three

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

There’s a saying that 60 percent of statistics are made up on the spot. I don’t believe that is the case with Effective Church Operational Systems. The statistics cited originate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and the Diocese of Rochester Pastoral Center. Although CARA has some questionable ratings (see here for questionable authors and fidelity to Church teachings with some CARA projects), it is generally thought to be reliable. In short, while the Catholic faith has prospered in recent decades both worldwide and nationally, it has foundered in the Diocese of Rochester.

Interpreting the statistics in light of the situation on the ground is important. Although the statistics are revealing about the situation in the DOR (see table below for population and some priest stats), the recommended fix seems to be disconnected from typically workable solutions. The shortage of priests and the decline of active parishioners is what the statistics show in our Diocese. Why would the solution be to create a hierarchy void of priests and to relegate the task of evangelizing to a completely new ministerial system? Instead of answering the question of how to increase vocations and stabilize and grow the Catholic population, the solution is to largely cut the priesthood out of the equation and to substitute a lay corporate model (the Strategic Way model used in our parish).
This, however, assumes that the priesthood is on an irrevocable downward spiral and therefore a completely new permanent solution must be instituted, and institutionalized. (See Emerging Models, a website dedicated to the change of pastoral leadership models in the Catholic Church in the United States.) The ultimate outcome of embracing the Strategic Way model would likely be that the parishioners’ souls are left largely to the care of other laity, which is not the model handed down to us from Apostolic times. In the Apostolic infrastructure of the Church sacramental graces are uniquely bestowed on the faithful by the ordained. This infrastructure must be maintained and promoted if the Catholic Church is to prosper in local parishes.
The Strategic Way model conflates the ministerial priesthood (instituted by Jesus) with the general priesthood of believers. They are not the same. There are significant differences that are missed, namely the sacraments and importantly the Eucharist, that which the Catechism of the Catholic Church terms the “Source and Summit of the Christian life.” The Eucharist is a major element of every Catholic’s ongoing sanctification as a believer, and no lay person will ever be able to consecrate the host. The priesthood is a vital aspect of the Catholic faith.
As the Apostolic Tradition is diluted, Catholics lose the benefit of being in God’s will and receiving His saving graces. The priest in persona Christi has always been the leader of the local parish. And since the DOR has decided to deviate from that model, their own statistics bear out the fruit of the decision to promote lay-run parishes.

Who is inspired to become a priest when non-priests are in charge? The priest has been relegated to a sacramental minister. Where do priests come from? The laity.  And if the laity drops active participation in the Church the priesthood inevitably suffers. Clustering and merging parishes, and closing churches has had just such an effect on lay persons. Many are so devastated by the changes that they stop actively participating in their faith. Discussing the closure of St. Patrick’s, Deacon Dean writes, “The outcry was loud and long causing many people to leave the parish.”

Some of the statistics refer to a rise in the number of Catholics per priest. Deacon Dean writes, “To compensate, most parishes have several lay people doing ministry.” However, the laity has always participated in parish life by volunteering, forming and running apostolates, assisting the pastor in mundane parish operations and so on.
What is being proposed and implemented in our parish is the formation of a hierarchical structure of the laity, a professional class of lay leaders. This model is distinctly Protestant and is inculcated with worldly strategies of organization—along with the heavy financial burden of supporting such a class. I believe the growing emphasis on implementing a professional class of lay leaders is behind some of the drive to merge and close parishes. With less financial outlays dedicated to maintaining sacred structures, parish budgets will be used to absorb the increased costs of a lay leadership. In a sense it is a new Replacement Theology – replacing the Apostolic priesthood with the laity.

Click on the table to enlarge.
* Worldwide statistics are for the years up to 2008 (from CARA); statistics for the USA are up to 2010 (from CARA) and the DOR up to 2009 (from DOR Pastoral Center). Please note that the graph is designed to show general trends, therefore the numbers I provided reflect that also and are approximate. Also note this article for additional statistics regarding the Catholic Church.

(Next, Part Four – Accentuate the positives, eliminate the negatives)


  1. This is truly a good endeavor you are undertaking, Gretchen. You said:

    What is being proposed and implemented in our parish is the formation of a hierarchical structure of the laity, a professional class of lay leaders.

    I think you nailed it. DrK used the term parallel hierarchy a while back and it's really stuck with me. I think that is an accurate term. While I'd guess none of these lay leaders are getting rich from their positions, I tend to think of the laity as ideally being in more of a volunteer role. If you really care, then you'll make sacrifices. For this reason I tend to favor St. Paul's example:

    8* we did not eat any one's bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. 9* It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate.

  2. Ben, I should've known Cleansing Fire has already explained it all. :-)

    Dr. K's post is more than excellent. I will be scouring CF to find more on this subject.

    If anyone wants to know what happens when lay leaders are elevated to positions of power, they ought to go look at just about any Protestant model. You run the gamut from tyranny at the top to a bunch of sheep milling about aimlessly--all with no sacraments beyond baptism and marriage. And even in some of the sects you won't get those. That is why you have ever mutating forms of organizational models and structures that often run according to secular business principles. The current Protestant evangelical model is a good example right now. Of the writing of books (on how to run a church) there is no end....

    Exposing this stuff is not an attack on all the wonderful lay people who work in parishes. But we need the discussion about what it means for the health of the Catholic faith in our communities when a parallel or replacement hierarchy is implemented.

  3. While I favor a pastor as head of the church, I do not think we have to seek out Protestant churches to see the result of lay leadership and or the ordained deacon as leader. I have attended another church in Rochester with a deacon administrator and his modus operandi is no different from ASP. I have talked with three people in other parsihes who experience the same seemingly power hungry and all knowing deacon parish leadership who does not involve members in decision making. the just preesent plans for approval period. Is it the dor training? NO, look at Deacon H. a real servant.
    Does the thesis mention how any of the ideas will be implemented, like involving the real church leaders, those who sit in the pews and keep the church alive financially?

  4. Good point, Anonymous 2:49.

    As I understand it, the Strategic Way is designed to bring in several layers of 'leaders' to implement change. It is a gradual widening of the net, so to speak.

    I hope people understand the manipulation that goes on, especially with those who are either new to the parish or new converts, or 'reverts' just coming home.