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The IPPG Documents – St. Thomas the Apostle Addendum

February 12th, 2010, Promulgated by Dr. K

In the previous installment, we took a look at the Irondequoit Pastoral Planning Group’s letter to Bishop Clark where the IPPG recommended the closure of St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Salome. In this edition, we will take a look at St. Thomas’ detailed, and excellently done 19 page rebuttal which was sent to the bishop as an addendum along with the IPPG letter.

The letter: “Parishes that are suppressed often experience demoralizing and devastating outcomes. Loyal, long-time, active parishioners lose their confidence and trust in the clergy and administrators. They remain faithful to their Catholic beliefs; however, they go underground [Emphasis not mine, but it’s a very good point]. They avoid registering at a parish that participated in determining their church’s closing and they steer clear of fellow Catholics, even members of their own parish, who felt empowered to judge and press decisions about a parish other than their own. They become active viewers and supporters of EWTN and Catholic radio and find fellowship in small groups who meet and pray in each other’s homes. They do not become energetic and emotionally involved in another parish fearing that they will again suffer the harm and disrespect they endured when outsiders chose their parish to close”

Commentary: The above is lengthy, but it is worth the read because never have I heard the plight of the parishioners of closed parishes told so well. It’s absolutely true that these people have become less trusting of the Catholic clergy. How can you look a priest in the face anymore and not think to yourself whether he has been sent by the bishop to consolidate parishes, and hence close your church? That smile that priest could be giving you the whole time could be hiding his true intentions. How can one trust the diocese after this, no matter what cheesy attempts the new parish may try to create a sense of a new parish? (i.e- calling their parish “We Are the Light of the World parish”). These people are not going to commit themselves to hurt and heartache again. Don’t expect for a minute, IPPG, that you will witness floods of new parishioners stopping by Christ the King. Even if you do, it will be short-lived once people see the nature of your liturgies. You might get a few older persons who don’t want to drive far for Mass, but that’s not permanent increase in your attendance. The people are going to go elsewhere. They will go “underground”, as this letter puts it. You’ll see these people pop in at Our Lady of Victory and St. Stanislaus, though they won’t register necessarily. The EWTN and Catholic radio points made by the letter writers is also very good and true. I’d also add that many turn to the blogosphere, and sites such as Cleansing Fire, Ten Reasons, and DoR Catholic to let out their frustrations and interact with other Catholics in similar situations.

The letter: “Bishop Clark, let us envision a plan in the Diocese of Rochester, which effectively places the responsibility of each pastor, Pastoral Council, and parishioner to make sure their parish is succeeding in meeting their parishioners’ and pastor’s requirements. If Mass attendance, parishioner participation, or financial support are decreasing at a significant rate such that the future of the parish is uncertain, the pastor must notify the Trustees, Pastoral Council, Business Manager, parishioners, staff and Diocese. Next, the parish must set forth a plan to improve their situation.”

Commentary: All valid points. The people want a chance to fight for their own parish and to put their time and energy into improving their situation, just like Holy Name in Greece was able to do.

The letter: “STA parishioners prefer to be a stand-alone parish or become partners with St. Margaret Mary (“SMM”) Parish. Partnering or collaborating with a neighboring parish that shares like characteristics would not present overwhelming, drastic, destructive changes to STA parishioners. Good will, familiarity, trust, cooperation, relationship building among parishioners and pastor would have a chance to take root.”

Commentary: I don’t know why St. Thomas was not clustered with St. Margaret Mary in a two-parish partnership to begin with. Wouldn’t this have made more sense? St. Thomas should have been clustered with St. Margaret Mary (the two western parishes, somewhat similarly traditional), St. Salome with St. Cecelia (the two eastern parishes, somewhat similar in their styles and traditions), and Christ the King remain a standalone (the clearly largest parish located in the center, doing its own progressive thing). Why was this idea not undertaken to begin with? Like-churches would have been able to work together for the good of each other. You wouldn’t have the more progressive, and significantly larger Christ the King pushed into a cluster with two smaller, more traditional parishes. That was a terrible decision from the very beginning. One would have to be blind to not realize that this was going to go badly. In this situation, the parishioners of the smaller parishes would rightly be concerned about their future, and whether they will be pressed to conform to the liturgical styling of Fr. Tanck’s church. That’s where we are today. There’s no way a three-parish cluster was going to work, we all knew this. The next few parts will help prove this.

The letter: “Several significant changes in the past three years have caused STA to experience a decrease in Mass attendance and increased feelings of frustration. STA became part of a cluster when our pastor retired despite our Council voting six to three to retain our identity as a single parish. Our highest attended Mass was eliminated resulting in an immediate decrease of parishioners attending Mass STA on Sunday”

Commentary: So basically this three-parish cluster with Christ the King was forced upon them against their will. Taking away their most attended Mass is ridiculous, and shows that St. Thomas was treated like a second-class citizen to Christ the King from the beginning. This second-class treatment continues to this very day. Take a look at the Ash Wednesday schedule printed in the most recent bulletin. Christ the King is holding 4 Masses and Services, while St. Thomas will have 2, and St. Salome 1. Was there any doubt which parish was going to succeed and which would slowly die away?

Some things never change… CTK 6:30, 8, 12:15, and 4:
30 => more than STA + SS combined.

The letter: “One of the primary concerns of many of the parishioners at St. Thomas regarding the cluster theory promulgated by the IPPG was the fear of a loss of parish identity and a path to the closure of STA. Many thought that the three parish cluster would come to be dominated by Christ the King and would damage St. Thomas the Apostle. In hindsight, the fears of the parishioners regarding the clustering were well founded.”

Commentary: Again, take a look at the number of Ash Wednesday services being offered at CTK versus STA/SS in the image above. It’s clear which churches are being asked to make sacrifices, while CTK gets to continue as if they were not even clustered at all.

The letter: “In 2006, before the cluster, weekend Mass attendance at St. Thomas was averaging around 700. The 446 current average weekend Mass attendance at St. Thomas represents a 37% decline since the cluster was formed less than three years ago.

Our School of Religion was closed and the administration of the program moved to Christ the King in 2009.”

Commentary: This clustering process, which was supposed to help strengthen the three parishes, has crippled St. Thomas and St. Salome, while having minimal negative impact on Christ the King. Moving St. Thomas’ School of Religion to CTK certainly did not help matters.

The letter: “An IPPG representative was selected [Their emphasis] and did not represent the wishes of the majority parishioners. In a recent survey in which four hundred-forty parishioners participated; twenty (20) voted to close STA, one hundred-ten (110) vote to keep STA open in some parish configuration and the remaining three hundred-ten (310) voted to keep St. Thomas the Apostle open as a single parish.”

Commentary: There you have it, Margi Ochs’ appointment to the IPPG, according to this letter, came from up above (be it Fr. Tanck, or the IPPG itself), and it was not just a matter of a volunteer stepping forward when no one else would answer the bell. The letter specifically refers to her being “selected.” The fact that she did not listen to the cries of her people throughout the process, and went right ahead with supporting the closure recommendation helps to support the theory that she was hand-picked by the pastor. Ms. Ochs had a responsibility to represent her parish, but she clearly failed to fight for the will of the people. It makes one wonder; What is in it for Ms. Ochs for her to do what she did? Has she been promised a job in the new parish? It’s very strange for a person who is allegedly representing St. Thomas to make a decision that so many parishioners are opposed to. And no, it was not just a “vocal minority” who are upset with Ms. Ochs, Fr. Tanck, and the IPPG.

The letter: We firmly reject the IPPG proposal to create one parish for Irondequoit and the closing of St. Thomas the Apostle. The IPPG proposal is overwhelmingly drastic and destructive. It is drastic in its inflexibility and irrevocability; it overreaches with an action that will not be easily rescinded or reversed.”

Commentary: It’s true. Once this decision is made, these two parishes will be sold and gone for good. What happens if the present facilities can’t accommodate the number of Catholics in Irondequoit? Then the DoR will have to expand parishes or build new parishes. Instead of making a decision as permanent as they are preparing to make, the DoR needs to step back and look at the long term, not just the short term.

The letter: “The Irondequoit Catholic Community (hereafter, “ICC”) will suffer the loss of identity, and a tremendous loss of parishioners. The umbrella parish will not have the retention powers of the original identities”

Commentary: I believe this is true as well. The new parish will lose a significant amount of people from St. Thomas and St. Salome. These people simply aren’t going to support a parish they have no attachment to, especially when the representatives of these parishes voted to shut down their own. The people of St. Margaret Mary, St. Cecelia, and maybe even Christ the King, will also begin to leave as they witness the erosion of their individual parishes’ traditions. The loss of Mass times which is sure to follow in the new Irondequoit parish will also hurt attendance as it has in the St. Thomas/St. Salome/Christ the King cluster. This unified parish will only lead to fighting between the remaining parishes, and blame being issued when one struggles while another does better financially. This whole thing is a mess.

The letter: “It has been acknowledged in our evangelization meetings and by the IPPG that we will lose parishioners, many of whom will be angry, hurt or totally disenfranchised. This figure is widely accepted to be between 20 percent and 25 percent. Effective evangelization must have a positive beginning. By closing two beloved parishes, the effort to evangelize is put at an extreme disadvantage. Before the remaining parishes make attempts to increase attendance, the ICC will need to add 20-25% more just to get back to the pre-closing numbers. Closing St. Thomas would make it near impossible to ever revitalize the Catholic faith in Irondequoit and result in a spiritual vacuum. Losing the souls to other faiths due to the shiny newness of something [Probably referring to the new Baptist expansion on St. Paul Blvd] cannot be fought when we are closing churches.

We believe that the estimate of a 20% to 25% drop in parishioners in a “best case scenario” for the ICC. Based on the October survey results, with over 90% of parishioners opposed to the closing of STA, it is reasonable to consider that the expected drop in parishioners may be as high as 75%”

Commentary: A very important point was made in this passage. The IPPG is planning to engage in evangelization once the new parish is formed and STA and SS are closed. However, any results they have in evangelization will need to take into account the parishioners that will be lost as a result of this process. Thus, gaining maybe 5% more attendance through evangelization is severely negated when 25% or maybe as many as 75% of people from St. Thomas and St. Salome leave the IPPG parishes. We are putting ourselves at a severe disadvantage in the war for souls when Protestant parishes are adding expansions, and we’re shut
ting down churches. How are we supposed to draw people to the faith when we have so little care for our own? Do they think Joe Baptist will come running to join an IPPG parish after the people of St. Thomas and St. Salome have been treated like dirt and had their parishes closed? I don’t think so. Irondequoit needs as many open parishes as possible to put up a good fight in evangelization.

The letter: “We will no longer have a facility large enough to accommodate a general service similar to our recent standing room only children’s Christmas Mass. We will never again be able to provide a venue that could include all. If we are trying to share as much as possible in a spirit of unity within Irondequoit, closing the only church capable of doing that is incomprehensible!”

Commentary: It’s absolutely foolish to close the largest parish in the IPPG when you’re planning on consolidating all of Irondequoit under three, if not less down the road, church buildings. It’s just stupid.

The letter: “The 1-2-3 church combination [Christ the King, St. Cecilia, St. Margaret Mary] has been projected to result in an estimated annual income of $10,570. The combination of Christ the King, St. Cecilia and St. Thomas (hereafter, the “1-2-5 church combination”) results in an estimated income of $125,081. The vast differential between solvency and deficit spending should not be ignored”

Commentary: This is something you didn’t hear before with the IPPG. If this is indeed true, how could this be ignored?

The letter: “The estimate of the deferred maintenance costs for St. Thomas has ranged from $350,000 (November 2008) to $862,500 [June 16, 2009]. It should be considered that over 50% of the high estimate are improvements not necessary to the operation of the building currently operated by Stepping Stones Learning Center, the current tenant of the former school at St. Thomas. Furthermore, the $60,000 in expenses to upgrade the electrical system and fire alarm system is paid. The figure of $862,500 was used to describe the potential capital needs of St. Thomas over a period of 10 years and an engineer’s estimate. If bids were requested, the total for such capital improvements would be one-third to one-half the amount. Consider the immediate capital needs of the 1-2-3 church combination:

St. Margaret Mary ($500,000) + St. Cecilia’s church ($250,000) + Christ the King ($250,000) = Total immediate funds necessary in the 1-2-3 church combination ($1,000,000)”

Commentary: It appears that the IPPG has done the best it can to massage the books. It appears that St. Thomas is hardly in the dire financial situation that the IPPG will have you believe. The repairs that allegedly are necessary are largely to a school that St. Thomas no longer occupies, and are not even necessary at all. The costs for the 3 churches that will remain open in the IPPG plan are staggering, and immediate. This simply can’t be ignored. Then again, with the sale of St. Thomas and St. Salome, and by extracting the Msgr. Burns fund, they should be able to cover the expenses in their own parishes. Don’t think for a minute that the money from these sales isn’t on the minds of the IPPG powerhouse parishes of Christ the King, St. Margaret Mary, and St. Cecilia.

Well, there you have it. I feel that the people of St. Thomas the Apostle have laid out an excellent case why their parish should be retained. The reasoning and details provided by the people of St. Thomas are excellent. How can the IPPG and the bishop ignore this? I encourage everyone to read through the entire document, available online here. Definitely read the 18 reasons why St. Thomas should remain open, which spans pages 8-10 (not printed here on Cleansing Fire). The truth shall prevail, despite the best efforts of Christ the King, St. Cecilia, and St. Margaret Mary to protect their own hides and keep their parishes running.

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