June 14, 2013

Archbishop: Connected in the Spirit will help Church carry out its mission

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.There have been some spectacularly happy moments in my first six months as Archbishop of Indianapolis. Confirming our young people, celebrating the Eucharist in each of the 11 deaneries and ordaining four deacons and three priests for the service of the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana stand out as particularly joyful moments.

This half-year has included thoughtful, reflective occasions as well, such as visiting the sick and the elderly at St. Paul’s Hermitage or St. Augustine’s Home for the Aged, listening to young men and women who are considering life as a priest or religious, and taking part in countless but necessary meetings at the Catholic Center and elsewhere.

But no life is spared pain and loss—not the lives of families, parishes, an archdiocese or its pastor.

On the vigil of my installation last December, we learned of the tragic death in a plane crash in Greensburg of Donald and Barbara Horan and Stephen and Denise Butz. As you may recall, they were loving spouses, parents and dedicated parishioners at St. Mary Parish in Greensburg. Attending their wake and meeting their children moved me to tears. I could only imagine the grief of their children and their extended families.

On June 6, a press conference at St. Louis Church in Batesville was an occasion to share another type of grief. After considering the results of the self-assessment carried out by the 27 parishes of the Batesville Deanery, as well as two parishes in the adjoining Connersville Deanery and one parish in the Seymour Deanery, together with the recommendations made by the Archdiocesan Planning Commission, I announced the mergers of a number of parishes and other changes that, in one way or another, will touch all of the parishes of the Batesville Deanery. (See a summary of the changes as well as the official decrees)

Connected in the Spirit began under the leadership of Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein. This process is an effort to discern where God is leading the Church in central and southern Indiana, and to discuss how the Archdiocese of Indianapolis should change its structures in order to carry out its mission today and in the future.

The parishes of the Terre Haute Deanery were the first to have participated in the planning process, and those parishes in the western region of the archdiocese have undergone some reorganization. Last March, the four deaneries of greater Indianapolis began their own self-study and the remaining five deaneries of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will eventually take part in Connected in the Spirit.

Pastoral planning recognizes the need for the Church to adapt its structures to a changing world. Factors such as demographic shifts in Catholic populations, 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 availability of clergy to staff parishes, and a review of facilities have influenced the pastoral plan for the Batesville Deanery. We understand that today’s mission and the viability of the Catholic Church in the future requires that we reposition our structures and marshal our forces in a new way.

Two years ago, pastoral leaders and lay representatives from the parishes in the Batesville Deanery began Connected in the Spirit. By the time I arrived in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis last December, the parishes of that deanery had already concluded their self-assessment and the Archdiocesan Planning Commission had submitted its recommendations. I chose not to implement immediately these recommendations.

Instead, I wanted to become more familiar with the Batesville Deanery as well as the entire archdiocese and enter into a broad consultation with a variety of groups: representatives of the affected parishes, the Council of Priests, the senior managers of the archdiocese and others.

This consultation convinced me that the process used to arrive at the decisions I announced was 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.

The process was not an arbitrary movement from the top-down. And while I still have much to learn about the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana, I am confident that the decisions we are making will contribute to its growth and health.

The coming months will bring changes that touch all the faithful of the Batesville Deanery, 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.

I ask all the parishes in the archdiocese to remember the faithful in the Batesville Deanery, who need our prayerful support in the days ahead. The parishes that will remain must be especially attentive to the brothers and sisters coming from a parish that will close, offering them a warm and compassionate welcome, while showing great respect for the merging parish 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, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Indianapolis

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