When the Church Acts Like a Corporation

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.

First frame of cartoon by Pat Maurin
First frame of cartoon by Pat Maurin

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.

Yesterday, the Boston Globe reported that the Archdiocese of Boston sold the formerly closed Our Lady of Mount Carmel church for $3 million.

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








Women Need More than Absolution: They Need the Church to be on Their Side

Changing our rhetoric, ordaining married men, and welcoming women back to the diaconate would make the Church a place where more people would come for guidance before an irrevocable decision is made instead of a place to seek absolution after the fact.

In a perfect world there would be no abortion. The sorts of structures that perpetuate economic injustice, the oppression of women, the sexual entitlement of men, and poor education wouldn’t exist. But they do. And as long as they do, the Church needs a better response to the problem of abortion.

pope-francisjpg-78988a47f1d9b1c8In a step forward this week, Pope Francis paved the way for any priest anywhere in the world to use his “discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it” during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Depending upon how you read Canon Law, ordinarily such absolution could be reserved to bishops or other priests who have been granted special faculties.

It’s a move that has been welcomed by many who see it as a hand stretched out to Catholic women who have undergone an abortion, especially in an environment that often seems void of the kind of mercy that Pope Francis is modeling for our Church. Pope Francis also shifted toward a more pastoral tone when he sympathized with “women who have resorted to abortion,” saying, “I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision.”

And yet, I get the feeling that women – and their male counterparts – won’t be busting down church doors to get into the confessional. But perhaps there’s something deeper to explore. Perhaps there’s something more the Church can do.

Pope Francis has used the image of a “field hospital after battle” to describe what the Church can be for the 21st Century world. But what if the Church could provide ‘preventative care’ too? What if the Church could be there at the beginning of the battle that is modern life? What if the church could help people make different decisions instead of arriving on the field after the battle is done to point out all the mistakes — no matter how gently or lovingly it is done.

In his comments, Pope Francis says that women “resort” to having an abortion and that there is “pressure” leading them to make the decision. That kind of language makes me think that Pope Francis knows what so many of us understand: that these women and couples need more from the Church than absolution. Women, couples and families need to know that the Church is on their side.

Reframing the conversation, as Francis has begun to, would be a good start. But the Church needs to do more than tone down its rhetoric. The church needs to show in word and deed that it understands that there are political, economic, and cultural systems and structures at play making an abortion something to “resort” to. And more than that, the Church needs to demonstrate its commitment to overcoming those very structures and systems that put women and couples in their situation in the first place. It’s a tall order. But Pope Francis had laid the foundation to do just that. Let’s hope the bishops of the world take notice.

In addition to heated rhetoric, the continued insistence upon clerical celibacy and ordination for males alone hinders the ability of the Church to stand with and companion women and families on the 21st century “battlefield.” As the Extraordinary Synod on the Family seems to recognize, life – particularly the lives of women and families – in the 21st Century is not easy. And so they called for a renewal in the way we train ministers in the Church.

No amount of theoretical training on family life or women’s issues could ever replace the actual experience of raising a family or being a woman in today’s world. The Church doesn’t need ordained ministers with more training in family life or women’s issues. The Church needs families and women in ordained ministry.

And so the Church should begin having a conversation at the highest levels about returning to its earliest traditions of ordaining married priests and women deacons. There are married men and well-trained women who can respond to the call immediately if we would just open ordination to them.

Changing our rhetoric, ordaining married men, and welcoming women back to the diaconate would make the Church a place where more people would come for guidance before an irrevocable decision is made instead of a place to seek  absolution after the fact.

In a perfect world, families, couples and individuals wouldn’t face many of the difficult decisions that they do – including whether or not to have an abortion. But our world isn’t perfect. And until it is our Church needs to do better job of putting itself in a place to stand with people on the “battlefield” of life.

By: Russ Petrus, Program Director for FutureChurch