Slick words are often used when a corporation wants to make their decision to cut the labor force to seem palatable, even smart. Descriptors that are meant to mollify like “downsizing,” “restructuring” and (a particularly smooth one) “right-sizing” come to mind.
As Pope Francis comes to the United States, I really hope he gets to meet some of the people who have suffered in the movement to “right-size” the Church in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other places across the United States. This Pope is the kind of “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” person Matthew 10:16 describes and corporate models do not impress him. He understands that the parish, like the family, is the basic organizing unit, the foundation for proclaiming and spreading the work of the Gospel. Yet, too many bishops have defended and rationalized the corporate model and continue to merge or close parishes rather than #openordination or look for other creative ways (parish life coordinators, etc.) to keep parishes open.
After experiencing the slick, off-putting tactics of prelates who too often obstruct Catholics who are working to keep their parishes open; systematically dismantle their faith communities and, in the final blow, sell off the property — those who once trusted their leadership now point to the money that is exchanging hands and the coffers that are spilling over as proof these men value mammon over God, the Gospel and God’s people.
Gina Scalcione, 75, who lives across the street from Our Lady of Mount Carmel said, “I knew it was coming — they’re heartless. The big investors who are buying the property, they want every inch of everything in East Boston.”
Benito Tauro, age 82, a long time parishioner who joined the parish in 1952 points out the obvious damage, “I feel part of me has gone with the church, but what can I do? It’s a shame what they did to us, and what they did to the religion.”
Parishioners fought the closing and occupied the church for years. The archdiocese changed the locks on the doors and shut them out. Rome upheld the archdiocese in the appeal process. Now some twenty of these parishioners join others to pray in front of the statue of Padre Pio that Benito Tauro donated and erected just across the street.
It’s a shame what they did to us, and what they did to the religion. ~ Benito Tauro
Maybe the saddest, but most important comment for Pope Francis to hear comes from Lorenzo Grasso, 63, who now joins the weekly prayer vigil.
“As far as I’m concerned, after this, if we do dissolve, I will either watch the Mass on TV, or not go anywhere.”
Grasso is like many Catholics who left when their parish merged or closed. According to a 2003 study, 40% of parishes that merge or close report that a sizable number Catholics walk away and never return.
In this Francis era where he once urged priests to rent a garage to build the Church, our Pope should hear the stories of suffering told by Gina Scalcione, Benito Tauro and Lorenza Grasso when he arrives on our shores. Their witness is critical if Church leaders are going to be encouraged to turn back from this corporate mentality, end their love affair with “right sizing” and find pastoral, creative ways to keep faith communities and the Gospel alive.
Written by: Deborah Rose-Milavec, Executive Director