I don’t know if Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee will, in fact, become the next archbishop of NY, as so many expect.
Regardless, it’s worth taking a look at a pastoral letter he offered to his archdiocese only two weeks ago.
The letter deals with an extensive planning process that the archdiocese has undertaken in recent years. It lays out a clear vision for the church in Milwaukee — a vision that acknowledges challenges, requires input from clergy and laity, and sets expectations.
It has a real “We’re all in this together” feel.
If Dolan does come to NY, you have to figure that something similar will happen here.
Even if someone else gets the job, though, there’s a good chance that such a process will take place. Although Cardinal Egan oversaw planning for a realignment of parishes, most observers believe that a far more inclusive, sweeping “vision statement” is needed for the Archdiocese of New York.
Dolan’s letter says up front that the church is dealing with suburban flight, a worsening priest shortage, “an increase in the number of cradle Catholics who unfortunately later leave the Church,” a growing number of people who see no use for organized religion, more Catholics marrying late, and a growing push in society for “privacy” and “individuality” at the expense, at times, of the church’s moral teachings.
This is heavy-duty stuff that Dolan says is addressed in a new planning document: Vision 21.
It says, among other things, that lay leadership must expand so that priests can pastor, that new forms of parish leadership and organization need to be explored, that parishes need to work more often with neighboring parishes, that Catholic schools may have to be run differently, and that diverse Catholic communities — Latino, Asian, African — must be “celebrated and cared for.”
Dolan writes: “You see what’s happening here? Our conversations about planning have not been reduced to nervous chatter about closing parishes or trimming numbers of priests, but about the challenges and needs of God’s people right now, and how the Church must plan to meet them.”
Two things about Dolan’s letter strike me.
First, he is direct and informal, without talking down to anyone.
Second, he acknowledges that some will disagree with him. He writes that some people will think he’s being too aggressive and others will think he’s not being aggressive enough. He seems to be okay with that.
“I regret disappointing both sides,” he writes. “Hopefully, my decision…is a prudent middle course; yes, clean, clear direction has been given; but the way we implement these guidelines has to include the very people most affected: our pastors, parish directors, and faithful parishioners.”