, Salem, MA

Local News

December 17, 2012

Salem could be among first to try new Catholic church plan

SALEM — The role of the individual parish in the Archdiocese of Boston, which has been the foundation of the Catholic church in this area for more than a century, is about to change. And the change could start here in Salem.

Next month, Cardinal Sean O’Malley will announce the first phase of a pastoral plan that has been two years in the making. It will start with the designation of about a dozen working collaboratives, or groupings of parishes, within the Archdiocese.

Salem’s four Catholic churches — Immaculate Conception, St. Anne, St. James and St. John the Baptist — are under consideration to be in that first phase, a select group that will lay out a path for the rest of the Archdiocese to follow over the next five years, a top church official said last night.

“Nobody is further along in the (planning) process,” the Rev. Paul Soper, director of pastoral planning for the Archdiocese, told more than 150 Catholics packed into a school hall at Immaculate Conception Church last night. “We’re really hoping you guys are willing to be a phase-one collaborative.”

Soper stressed, however, that the decision will be made by the cardinal.

This shift to collaboratives is an admission by the Archdiocese that the mass closing of parishes in 2004 was a failure.

This is a restructuring of parishes, rather than shuttering, but it represents an attempt to deal with the same problems the church faced a decade ago: dwindling Mass attendance, fewer priests and weak finances.

It is an effort, Soper said, to make parishes stronger by pooling resources, and to allow the Archdiocese, through these collaboratives, to focus on its most important job: recruitment of new Catholics and growing the church.

Even so, the collaborative strategy raises a new set of concerns, many of which were voiced last night by an audience made up largely of older Catholics.

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