Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 1, 1999
Your questions on parish restructuring
Since the release of the report Faithful Into the Future in November 1998 dealing with the transformation of parishes in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, many questions, comments and reactions have surfaced. In this Dialogue, we have attempted to address some of them.
Dialogue Re: Faithful Into The Future
1. Will the report be implemented as is?
A. Not in every detail. I have accepted the plan in principle, meaning that I like its general thrust and the notion that within three years or so, we will implement the majority of the recommendations.
2. So there is some flexibility in the plan?
A. Yes, indeed already changes have been made, as a result of new circumstances and discussions with those affected.
3. Where did the information come from?
A. In large measure parishioners and pastors from all over the Archdiocese were involved in the process of gathering and sharing information through studies, discussions and dialogue which took place over several years. At the end of a two-year term, in 1998, the Transformation of Parishes Task Group issued preliminary recommendations based on two sources of input:
1) A viability survey completed by the members of each parish pastoral council and parish team in parishes and missions across the archdiocese, and
2) Parish statistical data provided through parish annual reports. These preliminary recommendations were shared with Dr. John Acheson who released them to the people of the archdiocese via zone workshops giving everyone an opportunity to react and offer alternatives, adjustments or completely new suggestions.
Considering the information received from this second round of feedback and in light of Church documentation and literature, and in consultation with the (ToPs) Implementation Task Group, the report Faithful Into the Future was issued and presented to me and to the priests at the annual mid-term Priests' Assembly. It was also presented to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Council of Women Religious and to the general public.
4. What is the process to be followed now?
A. A coordinating committee composed of representatives from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Council of Priests and the Council of Women Religious has been established by me to oversee the implementation of the plan. Also, the Priests' Personnel Committee of the Council of Priests will consider the recommendations contained in the plan when assigning priests to the various pastoral positions needed.
5. Is it still possible for a parish to seek a review of any recommendation directed at them?
A. Yes. However, caution must be applied and consideration given to the circumstances present. In most situations the majority of the parishioners seem to recognize that the recommendations reflect accurately the discussions that have taken place over the years. They seem to appreciate that the plan has treated everyone as equitably as possible providing equitable contact with a priest.
Nevertheless, it is understandable that not all members of every parish found it possible or convenient to participate in these discussions so they may be somewhat surprised and disappointed.
There are a couple of parishes or missions who had planned to build new or extended facilities and now read that they are scheduled not to have regular Sunday celebrations. We will review these cases to see if other arrangements can be made, even if for a couple of years.
6. Recall for me the major factors necessitating this reorganization or transformation.
A. Basically they are, a shortage of priests, a reallocation of human resources and population shifts resulting in underutilised church buildings in certain areas. Furthermore, it must be remembered that many of our priests are working at an age much beyond the normal retirement age. We should be sensitive to this.
7. Could you be more specific in regards to these factors?
A. Certainly. In regard to our priests, it is useful to recall the source of our priests.
Some of our priests have grown up in this Archdiocese. They number 48.
Some of our priests grew up in other diocese, for example, in Nova Scotia and have been ordained for this archdiocese. They number 11.
Some of our priests have come from other parts of Canada, or other countries, or from religious orders. They number 20.
Out of these 79 diocesan priests, 31 are officially retired but many of them continue to help serve our parishes on a part-time basis.
Some priests belong to other dioceses but serve us here. They number 14.
Some priests are members of religious orders, such as Oblates, Franciscans, Redemptorists, Salesians, Scalabrinians, Sulpicians, Holy Cross, Holy Spirit, Pallotines, Basilians. They number approximately 115 in parish and pastoral related responsibilities, for example, Newman Theological College, St. Joseph Seminary, St. Joseph's College, various Archdiocesan services.
These religious priests have given their service here over many decades. For this we are eternally grateful. But we must keep in mind that their religious superior may transfer them to other dioceses or countries depending on the perceived needs.
8. Are these religious orders experiencing a shortage of priests?
A. In most instances, yes.
9. What are the consequences?
A. Many. For instance, all of the national (ethnic) parishes - Polish, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish-speaking, German, Croatian, Hungarian, Korean, Vietnamese - are staffed by priests either belonging to various religious orders or to another diocese.
Also, a number of our parishes, educational and pastoral facilities are staffed by priests from religious orders. Again, these priests are here because they wish to help us and their religious superior authorize this. Of course, such contracts or arrangements could be terminated for various reasons, such as the unavailability of priests.
We are completely dependent on their good will.
We have learned recently that the Oblates will no longer be available to serve Annunciation Parish and that the Redemptorists will no longer be available to look after St. Alphonsus Parish.
10. So, we are seriously dependent on the good graces of other dioceses and religious orders?
A. Definitely, and that has been our history.
This crisis gives us a golden opportunity to reflect on our responsibility to provide the priestly vocations needed for this archdiocese and indeed to repay the other dioceses and religious orders who have been so generous to us.
Certainly, we can no longer presume that we should expect other people to supply us with priests. As a mature archdiocese, we ought to provide all the priests we need from among our own people.
Perhaps as we all deepen our sense of vocation, of being called by God to serve by our Baptism and Confirmation, we may enhance the climate that will encourage more priestly vocations.
Can we turn around this crisis to a positive challenge?
11. You also referred to a surplus of church buildings. What does this mean?
A. It refers to a number of aspects of historical development and to the movement of people, for example, from rural areas to urban centres. When the pioneers settled in central Alberta, they developed many small communities, each with its Catholic church.
But for 50 years or more many of these communities have experienced declines in their population with the result that the church building became underutilized. It was convenient to join a larger Catholic church in a growing neighbouring settlement. The phenomenon continues to this day with the demographic shift to larger villages and towns. In many instances, the combination of larger, better church facilities, increased number of parishioners to fill lay ministry positions, and a Catholic school have enriched the life of the Catholic community.
However, rural pastors and parishioners have questioned why such mergers and clustering were not taking place in the city of Edmonton.
12. How do you answer that question?
A. The reasons are diverse. Many educational and pastoral care institutions are located in the city of Edmonton, there is a higher concentration of retired and semi-retired priests here, most of our religious orders of priests and sisters are stationed in the city.
In a way, restructuring has been taking place in the large urban areas in the form of the creation of relatively large parishes, for example, one church in Mill Woods instead of three, one church in Sherwood Park serving 4,200 families, etc. This year, St. John Parish and Holy Spirit Parish have been twinned. Also, more parishes are now served by women religious, lay men or lay women as pastoral administrators.
It should be noted that the report recommends that restructuring also takes place in the city parishes. Should the plan be implemented to its fullest, up to nine city churches would no longer have Mass celebrated on a regular basis.
13. Why the change now in the city of Edmonton?
A. Because the parishioners in the city of Edmonton have been experiencing some of the same population shifts as the rural people. Within the city, people are moving from the central area to the periphery and to the neighbourhood communities, for example, Sherwood Park, St. Albert, etc.
As a result, in some situations we have four churches which at one time served four large communities but today the total number of parishioners would constitute one or two parishes. In large measure the young people from these areas have moved to the larger parishes on the outskirts of Edmonton.
In addition, because most of the national (ethnic) parishes located in the central area of the city have seen the immigrant people move from the area to become members of other parishes we are experiencing a surplus of church buildings. These national (ethnic) parishes have increased the number of Masses celebrated in English.
Many smaller parishes are experiencing increasing difficulty in providing lay ministry positions and adequate financing. Merging with a neighbouring Catholic parish a short distance down the road seems to be an appropriate solution.
14. How many new churches have been constructed in the past couple of decades or substantially renovated?
A. Many, approximately 39 new churches and 15 major renovations.
In Edmonton, 18 new churches and nine major renovations. Outside Edmonton, 21 new churches and six major renovations.
15. Has the archdiocese increased in size in the past couple of decades?
A. Yes, the total Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Edmonton almost doubled from 149,500 in 1975 to 295,000 in 1995. (These numbers are taken from the CCCB directory in which the figures are extracted from the 1971 and 1991 Canada census respectively.)
16. Was it necessary to develop such a grand plan?
A. No, not necessarily, but sensible.
We had been making ad hoc decisions for years. In fact, such decisions were being made by the archbishop, the Council of Priests and the local pastor. We could have continued in that fashion but many of the priests and parishioners advocated a more comprehensive plan that would be developed with wide participation and shared with all the people.
Now, all of us may engage in our plans for the future with appropriate information. All this should make us a stronger, more participating Church.
Other questions will be addressed later. It is our desire to continue the dialogue so that issues and concerns may be answered and clarified in a climate of openness and understanding.
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