LANSING, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Lansing is well into the final stage of a two-year process to restructure its parishes in an effort to stop the trend that has seen Church membership plummet by 26% and baptisms by 40% in a mere decade.
The final draft of the restructuring plan was announced with great fanfare by the diocese on Aug. 29 at regional meetings in all four of the diocesan high schools, where, at each site, members of the 14-person Realign Resources for Mission Committee (RRM) presented seven short videos and fielded questions from the audience (except in Ann Arbor, where the moderator and a priest refused to answer questions about whether the diocese is willing to move against homosexual and predatory priests and shut down two problematic religious orders, the Jesuits and the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales).
The RRM plan calls for creating 26 clusters — formally called "parish groupings" — of two to five parishes each that will share priests and staff. Each group will have a moderator who will oversee all other priests in the group (who will still be at least nominally attached to a parish).
The relationship of the priests in the plan is in solidum ("for the whole") and is based on canon 517, §1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, according to Fr. David Hudgins, who explained the details of the new concept with PowerPoint slides.
Canon 517, §1 provides, "When circumstances require it, the pastoral care of a parish or of different parishes together can be entrusted to several priests in solidum."
The moderator will be the primary contact for the parish grouping with the bishop. According to Fr. Hudgins, the moderator "directs joint action among priests in the group, answers to the bishop and alone represents the parish in juridic affairs."
Hudgins brought some humor to his presentation, as the slide explaining the benefits of having a moderator oversee all of a group's priests included an image of Star Wars villain Darth Vader.
All diocesan speakers at the meetings acknowledged the potential stresses involved in expecting the priests to get along and to be in accord on matters large and small.
A person familiar with the presbyterate and Lansing's Bp. Earl Boyea told Church Militant anonymously:
One way of looking at these structures is the bishop consolidating his control and getting new leverage to marginalize any priests who may have a different agenda. Everything depends on the integrity of the bishop and the priests he names as moderators. There is nothing that suggests optimism for the new plan in Lansing.
The RRM committee asked for any new input from Catholics to be submitted to the diocese before Sept. 8. Those recommendations will then be taken under advisement, with Bp. Boyea expected to present a final plan in October.
The main presentation of the RRM plan can be viewed on YouTube. The proposed alignment of the parishes is outlined in four regional groups at the end of the presentation. Likewise, the main diocesan resource regarding the RRM process can be found on the diocesan website.
Much of what has been published by the diocese about the RRM plan gives sweeping, ambiguous descriptions of how the plan will somehow create or be comprised of a different kind of priest and staff — as opposed to members of the status quo who have driven the diocese into ruin in recent decades.
Bishop Boyea admitted in his video message during the RRM presentation, no doubt unwittingly, that his tenure so far has been a disaster. He spoke of the dizzying and unmitigated collapse of the Church in the 95 parishes in his diocese.
Boyea was named the ordinary in 2008 and, in 2012, announced an ambitious agenda for change in a pastoral letter, "Go and Announce the Gospel of the Lord."
"My hope for a re-evangelizing of our diocese may have been a bit naïve," Bp. Boyea related.
"Even apart from the COVID pandemic," he remarked, "our church attendance has continued to decline throughout all these years. The numbers of those being baptized or confirmed or married have declined."
Perhaps a reason for the decline is the unmistakable control of known, active, homosexual priests — some of whom work in the higher levels of the diocese — and their inevitable entanglements with the law. Furthermore, religious orders in the diocese have a long history of dissent against Church teaching, as is the case with the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales.
In late June, I tried to interview the chairman of the RRM Committee, Fr. Mathias Thelen, to learn from the 37-year-old priest ordained a decade ago whether there would be efforts to mitigate the influence of homosexuals and others who dissent from Church teaching. Father Thelen did not respond to my inquiry, but his secretary sent me an email indicating he had refused to talk and that I should talk instead to the diocesan director of communications, David Kerr.
Below are my questions to the RRM, which are intended to focus on the homosexual scourge that has afflicted Catholics in the diocese of Lansing for at least three decades.
Church Militant: It seems new standards of who will be a pastor are being developed. Will active homosexual priests be removed from ministry and when? Will the role of pastor be forbidden to priests who dissent from basics of the Creed (for example, transubstantiation) and who oppose the Church's moral teachings? Any changes in the seminary or priest-formation process?
Diocese of Lansing: It hopefully seems obvious that all pastors within the diocese of Lansing are expected to embrace and uphold both orthodoxy and orthopraxy — right belief and right conduct. Hence, in response to the specific twin points raised: It would be incongruous and scandalous for a pastor within the diocese of Lansing to be actively homosexual. It would also be incongruous and scandalous for a pastor to actively or even tacitly promote heresy.
The Vocations Office of the diocese of Lansing is guided by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education's 2005 Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations With Regard to Persons With Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, which states clearly that "the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture."
Church Militant: I think the Toledo-based Oblates of St. Francis De Sales and their long-time pattern of encouraging, promoting and sheltering pedophiles rightly demands that priests of that order be forbidden from serving in any parish in the whole wide world and, particularly, in the diocese of Lansing for at least 50 years. Will a policy banning them be put in place?
Also, in the 20 years that I've lived in Ann Arbor, St. Mary's has been a center of public dissent against Church teaching on several fronts. I have seen this up close, personally. Each and every of my many inquiries about it by email and in person have been rebuffed by the classic arrogance known to Catholic dioceses everywhere that promote homosexuality, abortion, etc., which is silence. Will the Jesuits likewise be banished?
Diocese of Lansing: The bishop, curia, clergy and lay faithful of the diocese of Lansing both demand and expect the highest standards of safeguarding within Catholic parishes, school and institutions in order to ensure the safety and well-being of all minors and vulnerable adults. Anybody with any concerns relating to safeguarding is encouraged to promptly contact the diocese of Lansing and law enforcement too.
During the regional meeting in Detroit on Aug. 29, the author asked shortened versions of the foregoing questions to Fr. Bob Bacik, a member of the RRM Committee, hoping that at least some of the nearly 300 attendees would be aware that there are concerns about the nonstop sex scandals involving Lansing priests, all of them reputed predators.
The moderator refused to answer the question and declined to give the microphone to Fr. Bacik, who stood firm, looking at me with what might be called a blank stare. That stare is well known to me, certainly, since I have asked versions of those questions at what seems like countless meetings of Church activists.
Some things never change.