This thought has been bouncing around in my head for some time now. At some point a year or so ago I was tempted to write it down but time slipped away. I thought of it again today as the topic came up in a conversation I had so I thought best to write it down even though I can’t hope that in such a short proposal it would be more than a shadow of my hoped for articulation. I pray others will respond if only because the vision is compelling to me and I wonder if it is possible. At some point I would like to see a scholarly treatment if only because a movement usually needs some philosophy and historical context (my sense is that this proposal has much to support it but I have done no research to speak of).
I’m no theologian and no expert on Canon law or Catholic history. But it seems to me that if one were to look for an underlying cause of the lack of growth, dynamism, and excitement in your typical parish in the United States one need look no further than the parish structure itself. For all the value there is in the hierarchy, for all the benefits that it lends to preserving and developing revealed truths, there is no getting around the fact that a system that is very good in preserving truth may raise certain challenges to propagating it. That is to say, it lends itself to a slow, lazy, risk-averse and somnolent bureaucracy that takes its members and its future for granted despite its long winded prognostications to the contrary. Specifically, and more concretely, while I am sure there are many higher level examples of this problem, I would like to discuss the territorial exclusivity that one calls the parish. Pull out your local diocesan map and you’ll see that if you live between Main Street and Elm Street, your parish is Saint Anne’s, but if you live between Elm and Maple you will be attending St. Joe’s. Now granted in this modern age these boundaries aren’t nearly as well honored as they were in years past but still there is plenty of compliance. In addition, and most importantly, your parish priest, the priest of St. Anne’s (you live between Main and Elm if I didn’t tell you) knows he has you. He knows he has a built-in fully loaded prepackaged parish. With no effort. It’s there. Now, again, I grant you this doesn’t mean you will show up. In fact, you probably won’t because most Catholics today don’t. But regardless Father knows he has some level of a built in base of souls, typically of the well-seasoned type who are close to meeting their maker, and of course, are currently living between Main and Elm. Father opens the doors on Sunday and lo and behold he has a congregation. This structure has its advantages in focusing a priest’s attentions and service on his flock. But no doubt it is a recipe for the fat and successful pulled from happier times. Times perhaps when the Church was living large. When there were so many priests that it was deemed necessary to grant exclusive fiefdoms.
But that is not today. There are many good things happening in most dioceses but I think it’s probably true that a strong growth wave in either priests or members is not one of them. Parishes need competition between themselves to sharpen the quality of their leadership, programs, mass, homilies, and sacraments, and to create new and better ways to attract more souls for God. The only way to do this in my humble opinion is to get rid of territorial exclusivity. Permit parishes to be formed wherever a dynamic priest or group of dynamic priests, whether diocesan or not, and lay team can gather a committed flock. Permit and even encourage cross-parish poaching of members, with the understanding that the more healthy inter-diocesan rivalries are fostered, the stronger the diocese as a whole will be. Give at least associate priests the ability to transfer from one parish to the other without Diocesan micromanagement and consider permitting the same for pastors. Don’t fear the splitting of the pie but its staling.
Do you want to see vocations, priests, brothers, and women religious, take off ? Give them a diocese where every block is free for the taking and territorial monopolies are non-existent. I guarantee you the that unshackling parishes from territorial boundaries and opening them to competition will attract leaders capable of growing the church like it hasn’t seen before. The dynamism, quality, and diversity that is reflected in the unbounded Catholic social media will be replicated in living breathing communities.
The lack of exclusive territories of course also suggests that any long term central planning or micromanaging by the Diocese which are open to sway by diocesan politics would be replaced with a deference to successful strategies proven in the new marketplace of evangelism.
Of course this will be opposed by those priest and parishes that like the stable and guaranteed, but increasingly old and shrinking congregation. And it will be difficult for Bishops. It will require Bishops to referee with a light touch entrusting growth to the Holy Spirit. At the same time, it will liberate the Bishop from micromanaging growth and dictating which parishes survive or die, permitting them to focus instead on teaching doctrinal truths, evangelization, and encouraging and enforcing orthodoxy.
For a contrast to the territorial parish, see the evangelical protestant model. The single church denominational model has no choice but to compete for members with other nearby congregations. They must think creatively, grow rapidly and act efficiently. Marry this model with the full measure of the Truth that is found only in the Catholic Church and bind it with the guidance of the magisterium and the world will be on fire.
In closing, I have no doubt that this is hopelessly naive and there’s a million reasons why it won’t work. Let’s hear them. Please comment below.
I’m not a fan of Wikileaks but they just did an amazing job putting all of Hillary Clinton’s released emails during her time as Secretary of State online to be searched.
Out of curiosity I searched for “abortion”.
Now what you ask would the Secretary of State have to do with abortion ?
Well quite a lot it turns out.
First of course, she was very active in promoting abortion internationally.
For example, here’s an email (state department or wikileaks) from Laurie Rubiner of Planned Parenthood urging Clinton to protect the right of abortionists to kill the lives of Kenyan children in the womb (all the more baby parts to experiment with), equating economic stability with abortion rights, and lamenting religious opposition.
Note the level of access and intimate knowledge of Hillary’s advisors. Rubiner sends this directly to Hillary’s clintonemail.com address (knocking the notion that Hillary’s private server address was privy only to high level government officials) , copying her close advisors Huma Abedin and Senior State Department Philip Reines. Abedin responds that same day lamenting that there was then no opportunity on the agenda but that she will see what the embassy staff in Nariobi could do.
UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05764008
From: Abedin, Huma
Sent: Friday, July31, 20098:09PM
To: Rubiner, Laurie; H
Cc: preines pverveer
She isn’t doing any specific health or womens events in Kenya but I’ve also shared your email with policy team at state and embassy staff in Nairobi helping to plan the trip to see if there is any way to address this.
From: Rubiner, Laurie
Sent: Friday, July31, 2009 1:26 PM
I understand you are going to Kenya next week and while I know the trip is primarily focused on trade issues, I wanted to flag an issue for you because I know it is near and dear to your heart.
Kenya has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in Africa —it is illegal unless a woman’s life is at risk and criminalizes both the woman and the provider. Two years ago, Kenyan authorities imprisoned a doctor and two nurses, falsely accusing them of providing illegal abortions. After a year in prison, the providers were found innocent and released, but it galvanized the legal and provider community who formed a coalition to make abortion less restrictive. It will come as no surprise to you that, as a result of their abortion law, Kenya has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in all of Africa, with an estimated 800 women a day seeking the procedure, often through dangerous means.
Kenya is restarting a long-stalled constitutional review process and they hope to produce a final Constitution by next year. Religious groups are on a concerted crusade to include new language in the Constitution which would codify that “life begins at conception”. The current Constitution is largely silent on the issue. If this fetal personhood amendment goes forward, it would place Kenya in the small community of nations with such a provision. It would clearly mark Kenya as out of stop with countries attempting to institutionalize the African Union’s Maputo Protocol, one of the most progressive regional documents on women, development and reproductive rights, and with the vast majority of African countries in general. For a country trying to regain the momentum of stability and success it enjoyed until recently, such a policy imposition would be a regression for women’s rights and for the country writ large.
I went to Kenya last month to work with the coalition that has formed to strategize against the Constitutional amendment and to work toward a less restrictive abortion law. I also visited several of our clinics and providers in Nairobi and in nearby villages where Planned Parenthood has programs to train providers in post abortion care. You have seen this a million times in your travels around the world, so I don’t need to tell you how poignant the stories were of the lives saved and lost, the bravery in standing up to constant government harassment, and the fear of what this potential Constitutional amendment will mean to the provision of safe medical services. I know it is asking a lot, but if there is any way that you could draw attention to this issue when you are in Kenya, you would be even more of my personal hero than you already are. It is our hope that if Kenya knows the world is watching they may be more careful in how they proceed. Of course we would be happy to help you in any way if you decide you want to do something on this while you are there. There is also a Congressional delegation going to Kenya the week of August 8thand we are working on them to have a side meeting on this issue as well.
As always, thank you so much for all you do. We are all so grateful that you are there!
All best, Laurie
Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
(202) 973-4863 office
Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
(202) 973-4863 office
And who would have thought, there’s even a Catholic connection. “pverveer” copied on the email appears to be “Philip Verveer” the telecommunications lawyer husband (and then an employee of State) of Melanne Verveer, a former Hillary chief of staff, a rabid abortion rights supporter and now the Executive Director of Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security (Hillary being the honorary founding chair, ironic to the nines).
Given the issues involved we can only assume the cc was not only for the benefit of Phil (to help out with the PR part possibly or at least ostensibly) but as a bonus and more likely for the benefit of Melanne so she would reach out to Hillary.
Here’s an excerpt from the Georgetown’s Institute’s staff bio page about Hillary and Mellanne:
Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security – Meet the Team
Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Honorary Founding Chair of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. From January 2009 to February 2013, she served as Secretary of State of the United States. During her tenure as Secretary of State, Clinton launched the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University on December 19, 2011, at which time she also announced the creation of the Institute. A lifelong advocate of women and girls’ empowerment, Secretary Clinton has some four decades to public service. Read more.
Melanne Verveer – Executive Director
Ambassador Verveer most recently served as the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, a position to which she was nominated by President Obama in 2009. She coordinated foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women, traveling to nearly sixty countries. She worked to ensure that women’s participation and rights are fully integrated into U.S. foreign policy, and she played a leadership role in the Administration’s development of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. President Obama also appointed her to serve as the U.S. Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
From 2000-2008, she was the Chair and Co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international NGO that she co-founded to invest in emerging women leaders. During the Clinton administration, she served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady. She also led the effort to establish the President’s Interagency Council on Women, and was instrumental in the adoption of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. She is the co-author of Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose (2015).
Ambassador Verveer has a B.S. and M.S. from Georgetown University. In 2013, she was the Humanitas Visiting professor at the University of Cambridge. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Bank Advisory Council on Gender and Development. She holds several honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the U.S. Secretary of State’s Award for Distinguished Service.