Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Talkin' 'Bout A Bicentennial

Last week, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York shed some light on the long-discerned (and closely-held) reconfiguration of his archdiocese. Details have been so closely held that even the presbyteral council has largely been kept in the dark.

Ballpark figure: 48 parishes "are in for some level of realignment," a dozen schools closed, "two sets" to be merged. But, so we're told, it's still early in the game. No names have yet been revealed, but the Cardinal's been spending a lot of time in the car going to institutions which look to be potentially affected.

Egan couches Catholic New York's future in the context of its past, setting as his focus the impending Bicentennial of the erection of the See in 2008. I've honed in on that magic date several times before, as it's effectively the 200th anniversary of the American hierarchy given the foundations of dioceses at Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Bardstown (now Louisville) and the elevation of Mother Baltimore to the metropolitan dignity.

From the Cardinal's Column:

While the history of our past will hopefully be of interest, what is most important about the upcoming bicentennial celebration is, of course, our future. Thus it is that in preparation for the bicentennial, our clergy, religious and laity have been working diligently to realign the parishes and major institutions of the Archdiocese so as best to serve an ever-shifting community of faith.

Over the past 50 years, there has been an extraordinary change in where the Catholic faithful of the Archdiocese reside. For example, somewhat more than 25 percent of our parishes are located in the Borough of Manhattan, even though only around 12 percent of our people currently live there. In large numbers, Catholic families have been moving to the so-called "upper counties," such as Rockland, Orange, Dutchess and Putnam, where they clearly and urgently need to be served.

This is the story of American Catholicism's last five decades.

To respond to all of this change, a realignment program has been under study for well over two years. The clergy in all of the various ecclesiastical sectors of the Archdiocese, which we call "vicariates," have been meeting on their own and joined by staff from the Catholic Center in order to discuss realignment, originally under the leadership of Bishop Timothy J. McDonnell, now the Bishop of Springfield in Massachusetts, and later under the leadership of Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, one of our two Vicars General. Moreover, Bishop Sullivan and his staff, along with Dr. Catherine Hickey, secretary for education, and her staff, have been in regular consultation with the leadership of both our elementary and secondary schools. Finally, directors of the various offices of the Archdiocese having to do with such matters as administration, properties and finance have been involved at various levels in all of these discussions, as have a number of extraordinarily generous lay experts. One such expert, for example, has provided Bishop Sullivan and his staff with professional analyses and detailed maps to indicate as exactly as possible where various ethnic and religious groups within the boundaries of the Archdiocese are living now and will likely be living in the future.

One year ago, when it became clear that the realignment program was coming together as we had hoped, Bishop Sullivan contacted all of the Vicars of the Archdiocese and a large representation of pastors to assist him in selecting a committee of primarily lay leaders from every corner of the Archdiocese to whom the proposals for realignment would be presented for their insight and guidance. The committee has come to be known as the Archdiocesan Realignment Advisory Panel (ARAP) and numbers 52 members. As this edition of Catholic New York goes to press, Bishop Sullivan and his staff will be sharing with ARAP what, after two years of study, they believe needs to be done in order to provide most effectively for the spiritual needs of the faithful over the years that lie ahead.

Having received the comments and recommendations of ARAP, the Bishop will then make a report to the staff at the Catholic Center which has been intimately involved in the realignment program from its very outset. They include the Chancellor, the Secretary for Education, the Chief Financial Officer, the Director of Catholic Charities and key staff persons in the areas of finance, insurance, properties and personnel, and myself as well. As a final step, all of this will be presented to the pastors, parish leadership, principals and school leadership of those parishes or schools that stand to be affected by the realignment as a final step in making an ambitious and essential initiative both understood and embraced.

Suffice it to say, the waves of closings and mergers are nowhere near finished.... In many ways, they're just beginning.