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Following is the text of the Feb. 13 letter sent to priests of the archdiocese by Bishop Richard G. Lennon, Moderator of the Curia, regarding parish reconfiguration.
As I write to you I wish first to acknowledge the difficult task that you are presently involved in responding to Archbishop Seán’s call for cluster meetings for the purpose of reconfiguration and to thank you for what you are doing to help realize his goal, and our goal, of having a more vibrant Archdiocese of Boston.
There are several items I wish to present for your information, so that you may appreciate what is going on and be able to share this information with your staff and with those whom you serve.
Archbishop Seán has indicated on more than one occasion two specific concerns which need to be carefully attended to in the whole reconfiguration process. Thus, in formulating the cluster’s response to the two questions presented in my Jan. 10, 2004 letter, these two concerns need to be addressed in the response. The first is the inclusion of established and recognized ethnic communities presently being served in a cluster as active participants in the cluster discussions. In presenting a plan in response to the questions please be sure to indicate how this ministry might continue within the reconfigured parishes. The second focuses on maintaining strong Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese. A cluster’s response needs to address this important aspect of parish life in a way that will serve Catholic Education well into the future.
In Archbishop Seán’s letter of Jan. 9, 2004 and his talk on BCTV on Feb. 4, 2004, he spoke about the closure of parishes. It is the archbishop’s intention that the reconfiguration process will lead to some parishes closing and other parishes welcoming parishioners from the closed parishes. The archbishop has deliberately chosen the canonical procedure of suppression rather than that of merger. There are many reasons for this choice. As you probably already know, when there is a merger of two or more parishes the assets and liabilities of the parishes belong to the new parish that is formed from the merger, whereas when there is a suppression, the assets and liabilities of the parish that is suppressed or closed belong to the Archdiocese of Boston.
The archbishop has chosen this approach so that many issues may be addressed. First, let me say again none of the assets from suppressed parishes will be used to fund clergy sexual abuse cases. Funds for that purpose will come from the proceeds of the sale of part of the Brighton land and from insurance coverages. The proceeds from the assets of suppressed parishes will provide monies due employees of suppressed parishes for past work and separation assistance, for vendors who are owed monies from suppressed parishes, for amounts for past employee benefits and parish insurances due from suppressed parishes, for run out costs of health insurance for separated employees, for covering unfunded pension liability for employees of suppressed parishes, for repayment of revolving loans from suppressed parishes, for expenses involved in the closure of suppressed parishes, for assistance to parishes that are unable to fund needed church repairs, for expenses for providing current support services to parishes, for establishing an endowment fund for parish support for those parishes that cannot be self-supporting, for recapitalizing the Revolving Loan Fund, and I am sure there are other needs that I have not yet thought of which will benefit from the assets of suppressed parishes. As you can see, a large portion of the assets from suppressed parishes will be needed to address very immediate past due obligations and employee benefits of the suppressed parishes.
With regard to employees who will lose their positions due to reconfiguration, please know we are committed to helping them secure positions at parishes if at all possible or to assist them with finding other employment. Also, presently a policy is in draft form which will address the various benefits to employees who lose their positions due to reconfiguration. As soon as the policy is completed and reviewed by various groups, it will be presented to Archbishop Seán for his approval. The policy will be distributed to all parishes as soon as the approval is granted. In consideration for all of our employees and to provide fair and equal treatment, I ask that there be no separate arrangements at the parish level, nor any new employment contracts entered into or extended beyond July 1, 2004.
Also, a policy is in process to address Promise for Tomorrow funds, especially the monies designated for parishes. The Pastors Advisory Committee has reviewed the policy and has offered its recommendations. There will be a few more consultations before it is ready for the archbishop’s consideration. Again, once it is approved I will make sure that you receive a copy of the policy so that the information may be shared with parishioners.
Lastly, appreciating the challenges you have in all of this process, especially as a leader in the community, Father Robert Connors and Father James Mahoney are scheduling regional meetings for the middle of March to more thoroughly address the many issues you now face. Archbishop Seán hopes to attend as many of these meetings as possible and the regional bishops will be present for the meeting in their region. I encourage all priests to attend these meetings to hear what is said, to ask questions or make comments and to spend time with one another in priestly fraternity. Additionally, there will be general orientations scheduled in each region for parish staffs and informational meetings specifically for pastoral associates, DRE’s and school principals.
As we move forward let us do so united with one another and united with our archbishop focused on the goal: Rebuild Our Church.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop Richard G. Lennon