The Evangelist | Albany, NY
Advanced Search
search sponsored by

  • About
  • Opinion
  • Features
  • Events
  • Specials
  • Photos
  • Bishop
  • Advertise

home : more top stories : news

Planner assesses 'Called' year
Staff Writer

"How do we keep the Catholic presence in this day and age when there are significant challenges? If we come to this question through a negative lens, we've done a disservice to the future," said John Manning, director of the Office of Pastoral Planning for the Diocese of Albany.

A year after Bishop Howard J. Hubbard announced the "Called to be Church" planning process, Mr. Manning spoke with The Evangelist about the challenges faced by planning teams throughout the Diocese.

Some of those challenges include the pace of discussion, change, confusion about the roles of priests and parish life directors, frustration among some about too much talk and not enough action, and communications issues.

Different paces

Mr. Manning finds planning groups working at different speeds around the 14-county Diocese.

Some are proceeding briskly, at ease with discussions regarding the future of the Church; others are just beginning to be "comfortable with each other," he said.

Still others, he said, are "mired in suspicion and mistrust of the process. Group dynamics vary, according to philosophies and understanding of change by the participants."

Fear of change

In dealing with change, Mr. Manning said, some people experience mistrust, fear and skepticism.

He hopes that the planning groups will be able to look at the process through "a lens of hope and energy, versus one of fear."

He added that "the question on the table is not so much 'Is the church building important?' as 'Is the Eucharist important?'"

Common problems

The need to change in order to adapt to a new century's challenges is universal in the Northeast, said Mr. Manning.

In June, officials from the Diocese met with representatives from nearby dioceses to share ideas about pastoral planning. They discovered that all seven dioceses in New York State are going through pastoral planning to combat the declining number of priests and religious, demographic shifts, the secularization of society, and declining Mass attendance.

The Albany Diocese is one of the only dioceses whose planning groups are starting at the parish level and whose clusters will be making recommendations to the Bishop, he said, noting, "Solutions are being asked on a local level."


Mr. Manning recommended that parishes struggling with inter-parish divisions try to see themselves not as separate entities, but as the Catholic Church in their given area, invested with the responsibility of taking care of the sacramental and spiritual life of all Catholics.

With that viewpoint, he added, discussions of consolidations, Mass schedules, religious education programs and so on can be done more easily.

"This is a chance to model the parish of the future," he explained. "We have a tremendous opportunity to create a new local community. Although it's challenging, we hope Catholics will rise to responsibility."


Some planning groups have expressed concerns about the role of the priest or parish life director in the planning process. Some leaders take too much of the discussion for themselves, say some groups; others wonder if their parish leader is purposefully holding back from conversation when they could be more helpful.

Mr. Manning said that the solution lies somewhere in the middle recommends "a balanced approach to participation."

Groups have also asked Mr. Manning for advice about what changes to implement immediately and what to shelve for further discussion. He replies that "right-now solutions" for common problems aren't barred.

"As long as they are things the local level has the authority to do," he explained, "they can begin immediately."


Communication to other Catholics about what the planning groups are doing is crucial, he noted. "In June of '08," Mr. Manning said, "there should be no surprises" when the parish presents its recommendations to the Diocese.

Planners can increase their communication with parishioners through bulletin inserts, pulpit announcements and newsletters sent to parishioners' homes.

If what is being decided "stays within the core group," he warned, "nobody will know what 'Called to be Church' was about. Invite people to break down fears and stereotypes, and keep talking.

"Many see planning as frustrating to do, but not do it would be irresponsible. The hope of the Diocese and the hope of Bishop Howard J. Hubbard is that Catholics take ownership. This is their time."



The Evangelist, 40 North Main Ave., Albany, NY, 12203-1422 | PHONE: 518-453-6688| FAX: 518-453-8448|
Copyright © 2014 | Evangelist.org | All Rights Reserved.

Software © 1998-2018 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved