May 30, 2014

Archbishop: Connected in the Spirit will lead us to even more faithful discipleship

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, CSs.R.There have been many joy-filled experiences during the past year and a half that I have served in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Confirming our young people, celebrating the Eucharist in each of the 11 deaneries, ordaining new deacons and priests for the service of the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana and last year’s pilgrimage to Rome to receive my pallium from Pope Francis stand out as particularly joyful moments.

This year and half has included thoughtful, reflective occasions as well, such as visiting the sick and the elderly and listening to young men and women who are considering life as a priest or religious.

But no life is spared pain and loss—not the lives of families, parishes, an archdiocese or its pastor. None of us can avoid losing those we love to sickness and death. But as Christians, we believe that no death is final. We believe that as a result of Christ’s victory over sin and death, hope is present in every pain-filled situation. With the help of God’s grace, we can move beyond our pain and sorrow to a better life.

Like so many other dioceses throughout our country, we have had to make some difficult and very painful decisions about the future of parishes that must be merged, linked or partnered with other parishes. For those who are most immediately affected by the closing of a parish, the result can be a kind of death.

Sixteen months ago, pastoral leaders and lay representatives from the 47 parishes in the Indianapolis metropolitan area entered into an important planning process called Connected in the Spirit. The Terre Haute and Batesville deaneries have already gone through this process, which is an effort to discern where God is leading the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana, and determine how the Archdiocese of Indianapolis should change its structures in order to carry out its mission today and in the future.

Pastoral planning recognizes the need for the Church to adapt its structures to a changing world. Factors, such as demographic shifts in Catholic populations, the concentrated density of parishes in a limited geographical area, a history of declining Mass attendance and sacramental activity, increasing economic challenges that threaten sustainability, a decrease in the clergy needed to staff parishes and a review of facilities, have influenced the pastoral plan for the four deaneries in the metropolitan area. Today’s mission and the viability of the Catholic Church in the future require that we reposition our structures and marshal our forces in a new way.

The Archdiocesan Planning Commission is a group of 16 ordained, religious and lay leaders who are broadly representative of the archdiocese, and were delegated by me to study the self-assessment conducted by all our parishes and then make some preliminary recommendations. These recommendations were communicated to the parishes, which had another opportunity to present their position to the Planning Commission. After reviewing the responses from the parishes of the four deaneries of greater Indianapolis, the Planning Commission made their final recommendations to me in February of this year.

In the weeks and months that followed, I broadened the consultation to include a variety of groups, such as representatives of the parishes that would be most affected by the recommendations, the Council of Priests and the senior managers of the archdiocese. This consultation convinced me that the process used to arrive at the decisions I announced last week resulted from a sincere attempt to discern the will of God by proceeding from the base of each parish to the leadership of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. That is to say, the process was not an arbitrary movement from the top-down. I am confident that the decisions we are making will contribute to the growth and health of the archdiocese.

The decisions I announced last week make use of three different models—merged, linked and partnerships—for the Catholic communities in the four deaneries of greater Indianapolis.

The term “merged parishes” describes a new configuration in which an existing parish is entirely joined to another. In these cases, the independent identity of one of the parishes will cease with the merger, and its members and assets will be incorporated into another. In the decisions I announced last week, three parishes will be merged into others.

Linked parishes are produced when two parishes share a single pastoral leader. Linked parishes cooperate in as many ways as possible, since the pastor or administrator is striving to serve two separate parishes. The decisions I announced last week continue two sets of parishes that were already linked, and establish two new linkages.

Parishes in partnerships are created through the implementation of joint programs, the appropriate sharing of staff with a view to enhancing the quality of ministry as well as the practice of good stewardship of resources and the use of joint councils and commissions. All the remaining parishes in the four Indianapolis deaneries will be expected to form effective partnerships with a view to sharing planning and resources aimed at implementing and, eventually, evaluating joint programs of evangelization, catechesis and the effective exercise of charity.

In approving these partnerships, I expect that each grouping will include in their joint planning some objectives that are common to all, such as the provision of lifelong formation in our faith, coordination of Mass schedules and support for local Catholic schools. I also hope that the partners will discover new ways to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious, and begin new and creative programs of evangelization.

Besides objectives that are common to all the partnerships, each grouping has received specific recommendations from the Planning Commission which have been approved by me. I expect the respective deans to ensure that the agenda of the monthly deanery meeting includes an evaluation of the progress made among the partnering parishes. The deans will report on their progress at their quarterly meetings with me. In addition, the archdiocese has set in place a team that will assist the parishes in carrying out these decisions.

I can well understand that some of these decisions, especially those regarding parish communities that are being merged, are difficult to accept, and parishioners may wonder how and to whom they might appeal. With this in mind, at the time I announced my decisions I also communicated in some detail the process of appeal as governed by the proper law of the Catholic Church. Those who are affected have the right to seek recourse against these decisions.

The coming months will bring changes that touch all the faithful of the four Indianapolis deaneries, as well as a particular grief for the members of the parishes that will close. I truly regret the pain these decisions will cause. While I personally know the anguish that comes when having your home parish closed, I am also certain that God is constantly working through us to advance the work of his Church, leading us through sorrow to new and more abundant life.

Amid the pain, I believe that it is important to recognize the signs of new life already evident among us. I invite all Catholics to rejoice with me that this Easter the Lord called nearly 1,000 people to enter the Church through baptism or profession of faith. Connected in the Spirit is not an effort to downsize a failing business. Rather, it is the search for the will of God that will lead us to even more faithful discipleship of our Risen Lord.

I ask all the parishes in the archdiocese to remember the faithful in the Terre Haute, Batesville and Indianapolis deaneries, who need our prayerful support in order to look beyond their pain to a hope-filled future. All parishes must be especially attentive to those brothers and sisters who come from a parish that will close, offering them a warm and compassionate welcome, while showing great respect for the merging parochial community and its history.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to continue to accompany the planning process of Connected in the Spirit, so that all the communities of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis may be loving disciples who give eloquent witness to the love of God that is manifest in Jesus Christ.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most. Rev. Joseph W. Tobin, CSs.R.
Archbishop of Indianapolis

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