Friday, December 13, 2013

Sink or swim, Staten Island Catholic churches are told

12-7church.jpgThe more than 30 Roman Catholic churches on Staten Island will be "going down faster than the Titanic" unless they all collaborate and some agree to merge or even close under the Making All Things New initiative. 
That was the sink-or-swim message delivered by the Rev. John O'Hara, the former pastor of St. Teresa's R.C. Church, Castleton Corners, who now is the director of strategic pastoral planning for the Archdiocese of New York. 

Major changes are required -- beyond churches sharing soup kitchens -- Father O'Hara said, at the first Staten Island Cluster Training Session for the initiative. 

"If we don't do this, we're going down faster than the Titanic," he warned, rallying the cluster groups to take the initiative seriously and develop plans that are "realistic and doable." 

Father O'Hara and consultants Tom Reid and Charlotte McCorquodale of the Reid Group, which is working with the archdiocese on the initiative, were among those who provided guidance to priests and lay representatives from 33 Island parishes at the Wednesday session at Monsignor Farrell High School, Oakwood. 

Various presentations reinforced Cardinal Timothy Dolan's emphatic message that 368 parishes in the archdiocese are too many, unneeded churches are costing the archdiocese $40 million and all churches will have to collaborate, merge or close. 

The consultants said the cardinal took off the table the concept of linked parishes -- in which a pastor or administrator oversees two or more separate churches -- because of concerns that cluster teams might choose that relatively easy option over making tough decisions like merging or closing. 

A diagram displayed at Wednesday's meeting hinted that the archdiocese is looking for a one-third reduction in parishes, although officials have repeatedly maintained that there are no such targets. 

The diagram of six churches in a cluster showed four of the churches merging into two new parishes and the other two churches remaining separate entities, but collaborating with the two newly consolidated parishes. 

"The cardinal has made it very clear that we have to hit this head on," Father O'Hara said. "We can't dodge the bullet." 

Shared Religious Education Programs also are on the table. 

Monsignor Richard Guastella, pastor of St. Clare's R.C. Church in Great Kills, urged all of the parishes to return their questionnaires regarding Religious Education Program attendance, staffing and the possibility of doing a combined program with a neighboring parish. 

The consultants noted that some of the parishes had been moved to other clusters per their requests after the groups were revealed by both the archdiocese and the media, including the Advance. However, Father O'Hara made it clear that the tweaking was over, and urged all to work with their current clusters. 

The Island clusters have as many as seven parishes, with a total of 35 people working together, so they may form subcommittees to specialize in key areas such as evangelization, stewardship, effective administration and sacramental life. 

The consultants recommended that the clusters hold six meetings from December through February and send a draft of their suggestions and evaluations to the Reid Group by Feb. 22. 

The final cluster group recommendations must be submitted by March 1. 

They then will go through various evaluations and consultations until Cardinal Dolan signs off on the plan and implementation begins in January 2015. 

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