Evangelization and the Reform of Diocesan Structures
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
As you are already aware, I have asked for an accurate count of the number of people attending Mass each weekend during an entire year. This is one of the many initiatives that we need to undertake before we embark on any restructuring in our diocese for the benefit of the Evangelization Project. Restructuring the diocese is not an end in itself, nor is it merely caving in to changed demographics. It must be done in an orderly and intelligent way, in order to free up the energies of all, clergy and lay, for the sake of the mission.
The first thing I did, shortly after arriving in the diocese, was to ask a local professional firm to assess the condition of all our buildings, from churches to rectories to parish halls. I also asked all the parishes that operate cemeteries to get together and find ways to unify and reduce their administrative burden, and I did this by asking for external help to assist them in this process. This initiative is still ongoing.
I am now asking all the parishes to have one unified financial software (Sage). This will facilitate administration for priests and lay employees and volunteers who don’t necessarily have all the technical knowledge to do the parish accounting.
All the projects that the Evangelization Team have created so far or that are presently underway are meant eventually to free us up to focus more attention on the renewal of faith and the vitality of our parishes, and to reach out to people who don’t practice their faith or have abandoned faith altogether. If we do not or cannot focus our energies outward, we will simply live for a short while in maintenance mode, and our parishes will continue to decrease in numbers and die soon.
The initiative to renew the prayer life in the diocese is meant to become a beacon of God’s graces that will enable us to slowly change and transform our hearts and communities from within. This is all part of the missionary journey that we must make to survive and bear much spiritual fruit in the future.
I have asked the priests in each of the five deaneries (pastoral zones) of the diocese to reflect on and propose a new pastoral and administrative structure for their respective deaneries, in order to lighten the administrative burden on the priests so that they can concentrate more on their pastoral work, as opposed to administrative work. The reformed structure of each deanery is also intended to pave the way for the new missionary approach we will soon be undertaking. The number of our priests is rapidly decreasing. For example, in three years’ time, three of our active priests will reach the age of retirement, i.e. 75 years. This is without counting the unpredictable things that could happen to young priests in the near future.
One of the latest initiatives that is now underway in every church of the diocese is the counting of the number of faithful attending the Masses, along with making the financial reports of all parishes available to all the pastoral and financial councils of the diocese and to all the faithful: this is a logical step that will help us all become aware of the dramatic need for us to restructure quickly with fewer priests available in the near future, and to create a movement of awareness and urgency for the lay faithful to participate even more in the pastoral life of their communities, and to become and feel part of the missionary project which has been ongoing for the last two years.
All these initiatives and steps are interrelated and are intended to prepare our priests and parishioners to become even more aware of the need to restructure ourselves both pastorally and financially, so as not to impede the spiritual renewal so necessary for the survival and flourishing of our Christian communities.
Change is always difficult, but it will lead to better times on the following conditions: that we build with and for the Lord, founding all our efforts on prayer; that we plan in an intelligent and rational way; and that we see administration as something that must be harnessed to serve the mission and not hamper it.
In every one of our communities, there are deeply committed Catholics, and there are many others who hunger and thirst for God, even if they have not yet put a name on this hunger and thirst. The diocese’s energies must focus outward toward them. So that we can do this much better, structures must be identified for what they are: means to an end. As means, they must be streamlined in order to serve the end: I am talking here about the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to those who are farthest away spiritually even if not geographically.
I have great confidence in the Lord, and also in the faith and goodwill of the clergy, religious, and laity of the diocese. Together, with courage, we can let the Lord do great things in us and through us.
With kind regards and good wishes, I am,
Yours in Christ the Redeemer,
+ Guy Desrochers, C.Ss.R.
Bishop of Pembroke