Say goodbye to parish schools and hello to regionalization

When I was still on the beat, I wrote quite a few articles about the Archdiocese of New York’s plans to “regionalize” Catholic schools.

The idea was to end the old one parish/one school model and have all parishes — including those without their own school — take on administrative and financial responsibility  for the schools in their region. A lot of people hoped that this approach to running Catholic schools will give all parishes — all church-going Catholics, in fact — a stake in the future of Catholic education.

Something had to change, as all the school closings of recent years have shown.

After numerous delays, regionalization is happening. The archdiocese recently announced that all schools will be grouped into one of 10 regions — including Rockland, Central Westchester, and Northern Westchester/Putnam.

The Rockland group will be one of three that will begin operating next September. The others will take shape in the fall of 13.

Boards of trustees will be appointed to run each region, with clergy holding a majority on each board. ALL parishes will contribute financially to their region. There will be “a new parish assessment for schools based on a sliding scale,” according to Catholic New York.

Board members in the three model regions will receive training beginning in January. School principals will also be trained on how to work with the new boards.

Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, said that Archbishop Dolan is on board. “He understands completely that what cannot happen is that we remain with the status quo,” McNiff told CNY.

 

 

 

 

Keeping up with Archbishop O’Brien

A friend made me realize today that I never mentioned a significant story with local ties: the reassignment in late summer of Archbishop Edwin O’Brien from Baltimore to a Vatican post.

As I’ve written many times in the past, O’Brien grew up in Bedford and graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Katonah, which evolved into Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers (that’s him at Kennedy in 2003). He is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York who did two stints as rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

O’Brien served as a civilian chaplain at West Point and then an Army chaplain in Vietnam, and later served as secretary to Cardinals Terence Cooke and John O’Connor. In 1996, he became an auxiliary bishop of New York.

For years, he was considered a leading contender to become archbishop of New York. Instead, in 2007, he got the top job in Baltimore, where, it’s safe to say, he was expected to remain for more than a few years.

But at some point in 2012, he will leave for Rome. He has been named the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is an ancient Catholic order that seeks to promote and defend Christianity in the Holy Land.

Whispers in the Loggia’s Rocco Palmo, who broke the story two days before the official announcement, had this to say about O’Brien’s new gig:

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A notably energetic figure — he’s exhorted his priests on the importance of personal fitness — word from Rome emphatically adds that, despite the age of the millennium-old order’s new chief, “this is not a ‘retirement’ appointment.” O’Brien’s enjoyment of travel, efficient management-style and savvy at navigating difficult geopolitical situations (a skill honed during his decade leading the archdiocese for the Military Services) are all expected to be employed to their fullest extent, both for the effectiveness of the order’s work in the Holy Land, and to keep connected with the group’s membership spread across the globe.

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O’Brien will leave Baltimore once his successor is named.

Archdiocese planning another ‘realignment’ of parishes

Back in 2005 and 2006, I wrote a lot about the Archdiocese of NY’s plan to “realign” parishes.

I thought it was an important story. The church was looking at all sorts of demographic data — including the worsening shortage of priests — and might make some tough decisions about how to better allocate resources.

I wrote about a giant, 50-person committee overseeing the planning, about lay involvement in the planning process, whatever I could think of.

But when Cardinal Egan finally dropped the big plan in March 2006, it was a bit of a let-down. Only 15 parishes were targeted to close — and most of them were barely breathing.

People I spoke with were surprised that regions of the archdiocese were not touched, even though several churches appeared to be stagnant or worse.

There was a sense among some that the archdiocese deferred the hard choices until…a later date.

That date may have arrived (not today, but soon. Maybe.).

Archbishop Dolan has initiated a new planning process he’s calling “Making All Things New.” Yes, he’s presenting it as an opportunity to prune the archdiocese and make it stronger.

The planning process is well underway. Even though I’m no longer the religion guy here, I write about for tomorrow’s JN/LoHud.

Interestingly, the archdiocese has begun passing out surveys at weekend Masses, trying to get a sense of what people know and think about the pretty serious challenging facing their church in New York.

The first question/statement reads like this: “I am aware of the current situation facing the Archdiocese, particularly with such issues as the decline in Church attendance, shortage of priests, decreased financial stability, etc. For me this is a serious issue.”

The choices for the respondent are strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree.

Who would strongly disagree that these things are serious issues?

Many of the question/statements ask point-blank about the possible closing or merger of parishes.

Archdiocese of NY sets out to ‘make all things new’

As is always the case when Catholic schools are about to close, a lot of people in the affected parishes are hurt, frustrated and disappointed.

Some school communities knew they were in trouble but hoped for the best.

A few thought they were doing okay and would be spared — at least for a while.

But when the announcement comes that your school is officially “at risk” and will likely lose its life-sustaining subsidy from the archdiocese, it’s a shock and difficult to absorb.

The archdiocese has, of course, closed dozens of schools in recent years. After each round of closings, school communities hope that the dust will settle for a while. But these are tough times economically, enrollments are down, and Archbishop Dolan has made clear his belief that in order to strengthen and promote healthy schools, the church has to stop subsidizing those that can’t make it on their own.

In fact, in his recent column, Dolan says that he’s prepared to face the big challenges facing the Catholic Church in New York.

As he puts it:

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At times, I am tempted to run from all of this, to avoid it, to deny that we need any planning, or that we even need to ask realistic questions and come to a clear direction with consequent tough decisions about the future. I’m tempted to say, “Forget about all this planning for the future. Let’s just keep things as they are and let nature take its course.” That is tempting; that is comfortable. That’s also irresponsible, lazy, destructive and dumb.

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Dolan writes about a new pastoral planning process within the archdiocese that will tackle a lot of the short-term and long-term challenges that priests and others have been talking about for, literally, decades. He’s calling the process “Making All Things New.”

I can’t tell you how many times priests and church officials and active laypeople have lamented to me that the archdiocese has avoided making tough decisions. The archdiocese has, for instance, been very quiet about its shrinking pool of (aging) parish priests and what this will mean for parish life in the not-too-distance future.

Cardinal Egan oversaw a much-hyped “realignment” of parishes that many observers saw as a minimal, let’s-wait-on-the-tough-decisions package.

But Dolan says it’s time to look at the Big Stuff:

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Let’s face it, we’ve got some tough decisions to make in the years ahead: our people are “on the move” and populations are shifting; parishes in wonderful neighborhoods that 25 years ago were teeming with large, young families are now quiet and empty, while outlying areas cannot build churches big enough or fast enough; older parishes with extensive facilities struggle to keep them in repair as their numbers shrink, while other parishes cannot find room for meetings, education and worship; the number of priests goes down, so we have to be creative and careful in their assignments, so that all can benefit from their essential ministry; and the sluggish economy and the demands on our resources make it imperative that we take stewardship of our finances, properties and buildings very seriously.

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One more note: It will be interesting to see how Dolan reacts to those parents and school communities that will inevitably resist the closing of their schools. When Egan closed schools and parishes, he generally avoided them and did not answer criticisms in public.

Many priests have noted that a more pastoral approach from the Archbishop of NY could do wonders.

A new approach to running Catholic schools in New York

Well, the Archdiocese of NY is finally preparing to take a big step to improve the financial health of its school system.

No, I’m not talking about closing more schools — which is also going to happen.

I’m talking about breaking the traditional link between parishes and parish schools, which puts tremendous financial pressure on many parishes to support money-losing schools. Many pastors have told me over the years about the tensions created by having to prop up schools.

The archdiocese is moving toward a new regional system that will allow groups of parishes — led by new regional boards of education — to oversee groups of Catholic schools.

The church outlined what’s coming in a new report released today, which describes a three-year period of planning and reconfiguring things. Archbishop Dolan has been talking about this for months, but now the process, it appears, is underway.

What is certain to get the most attention, at least for a while, will be point 1.iii on page 18: “Recommend schools to close or merge for the 2011-12 school year and provide suitable alternative Catholic school options to affected families.”

The archdiocese has closed dozens of schools in recent years. Are we talking about 5 more? 10? 20? Who knows.

But the real plan, the report makes clear, is to provide a LONG-TERM foundation for Catholic education in the 10 counties of the archdiocese. This means not only coming up with a new regional system for operating remaining schools, but also improving and modernizing academic standards and facing the bedrock question of how to best give Catholic students a firm Catholic identity.

It’s all in the report, Pathways to Excellence. You can read it HERE.

Msgr. Kavanagh writes he was charged with ‘grooming’

I don’t know how many times I wrote about the case of Monsignor Charles Kavanagh.

A lot.

I still get emails every now and then asking what happened to the guy. Well, I now have a small update.

Going back a bit, Kavanagh was the chief fundraiser for the Archdiocese of NY and a very visible and well-known priest in Westchester and all around. Then he got removed from ministry in 2002 after a former Peeskill resident named Daniel Donohue charged that Kavanagh had an improper, sexually charged relationship with him three decades before at a high school seminary.

He didn’t say there had been sexual contact, but that Kavanagh had manipulated him into a strange and inappropriate relationship. Donohue did say that Kavanagh once got into a bed with him on a trip wearing only underwear.

This was supposed to have happened while Donohue was a student at Cathedral Preparatory Seminary during the late 70s/early 80s and Kavanagh was the head of the place.

Kavanagh has maintained his innocence as his case has…languished. That’s him at a birthday party in Harrison in 2005.

Little happened before a church trial was held in 2006. No result was ever announced.

Both Kavanagh and Donohue have told me in the past about their extreme frustration over not being able to get (their version of) justice or even any information about what might happen.

In 2008, I wrote that Donohue, who now lives on the West Coast, believed a decision had been made, but no one would tell him what it was.

In 2009, Archdiocese Dolan, recently arrived, told me he would look into Kavanagh’s case.

Now Kavanagh has sent a letter to his supporters updating things from his point of view. A copy of the letter, dated July 4, was sent to me by one of the recipients.

Here’s the key part:

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Although I have never had sexual contact with anyone, I am now being charged with “grooming.” The fact that, thirty years ago, I took a student to ballgames, drove him home from school, helped him with tuition is a crime because, supposedly, those kindnesses were “preparatory acts” aimed at sexual exploitation.

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So some party in the church — A jury of priests? A Vatican tribunal? The CDF? — has concluded that Kavanagh was guilty of “grooming” Donohue for exploitation. But Kavanagh apparently has not given up. He also writes:

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Needless to say I am protesting the charge and hope to prevail soon. I have to keep on trusting that the Church will treat me with the respect and fairness I know I deserve after 47 years of service.

One fed-up archbishop

Archbishop Dolan is angry.

It comes through loud and clear in is latest blog post, up today.

Once again, he’s not happy with how his church is being portrayed by the media. But this time he’s not going after the New York Times, his target several times in recent months.

Instead, he’s going after “a prominent Catholic journal, published in New York,” “a newspaper on Staten Island” and an “Irish newspaper” for unfairly criticizing the church hierarchy.

He doesn’t like the journal’s steady criticisms of bishops and the pope, how the Staten Island newspaper blamed the “autocratic, aloof, mean, clandestine archdiocese (Dolan’s words)” for the mosque controversy and the Irish’s paper’s blaming of the “nasty, money-hungry, mean-old (Dolan again)” archdiocese for the closing of a Catholic school.

Dolan writes:

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Who likes criticism?  Nobody.  But I figure it comes with the job, and have to face it when it’s legitimate.  That happens often enough.

But I don’t like seeing “the archdiocese” blamed for something not its fault.

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Upon his arrival in New York, Dolan was widely praised for knowing how to work with the media.

But he seems increasingly exasperated by media coverage of his church.

Remembering Cardinal O’Connor — 10 years after his death

It’s hard to believe, but May 3 will be the 10th anniversary of the death of Cardinal John O’Connor.

O’Connor had been an outspoken and sometimes controversial figure, but his death was mourned by all of New York.

tjndc5-5b23gjbn63d6uqtmk3i_layoutOver four days, 150,000 people filed past his body in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pay their respects.

Over 3,000 mourners filled the cathedral for the Funeral Mass, with thousands more outside listening to a broadcast of the service.

President Clinton and Hillary were there. Al Gore and Tipper, too. George H.W. Bush sat with O’Connor’s family.

I remember the roar that rose through St. Patrick’s when the homilist declared “What a great legacy he left us in his consistent reminder that the church must always be unambiguously pro-life.” (The homilist was Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who had little idea that his world would come down two years later…)

Certainly, a big part of O’Connor’s legacy was his strong opposition to abortion. He started the Sisters of Life religious order to promote the church’s pro-life teachings.

tjndc5-5b1xm9on8c1176tizgqo_layoutLater this month, on Saturday, March 27, the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York will hold an all-day conference “honoring the legacy of Cardinal O’Connor” at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

Archbishop Dolan will get things started with his talk: “Cardinal O’Connor: Priest and Churchman for Our Times.”

Also scheduled to speak: Helen Alvare, a professor at the George Mason University School of Law; Father Charles Connor, historian for the Diocese of Scranton; and Mother Agnes Mary, superior general of the Sisters of Life.

The admission fee is $25, including lunch.

For info: www.flrl.org or 212-371-1011, ext. 3195.

A Catholic take on Tony Montana

If you’re a Catholic teen, how could you not want to attend this workshop: “Everything I ever needed to know about following Jesus I learned from Scarface and other Al Pacino movies.”

Scarface? I don’t get it. But I’m mighty curious.

scarface-photo-scarface-6229381The Pacino workshop will be part of a “youth congress” on Saturday, March 20 at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. Hundreds of Catholic teens from across New York are expected to turn out.

A busy youth retreat leader named Tony Bellizzi will lead the Pacino talk (hopefully, without screaming).

There will also be a discussion of William Paul Young’s extremely popular book The Shack.

And there will be workshops on chastity (one for boys, one for girls).

Archbishop Dolan is scheduled to celebrate Mass at 2 p.m. And you know he will have plenty of jokes.

Says Cynthia Martinez, assistant director of Catholic Youth Ministry for the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of NY:

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Together with a very supportive committee we are planning a day that is sure to be very memorable to all of the youth that attend.  From the musical entertainment to the workshop presenters who will join us, this day is designed to motivate our students to bring “holy flavor” to the earth by recalling their call as Disciples of Christ, and by letting their light shine before others.  It is definitely an event our youth do not want to miss.

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It’s $20 per person, including lunch and a T-shirt. Only youth leaders can register, not individual teens. For info: go here or call 212-371-1000, ext. 2831 or email cynthia.martinez@archny.org.