Report on the First Post-Synod Session - December 5, 2015
The first of a series of follow-up sessions to Synod 2014 took place on Dec 5th, 2015. Bishop Caggiano called the session to order at 8:15 a.m. We began with Morning Prayer that included a scripture reading by Anne Pollack, one of our board members.
Bishop Caggiano introduced this session as a “Snapshot of the Diocese—December 2015.” He said that the amount of change underway since the closing Mass is breathtaking and that much of it is tangential to what we did as a Synod. Next, Bishop introduced his new Vicar General, Msgr. Thomas Powers. He is a native of Newtown, where his family still resides and attends St. Rose of Lima Parish. Bishop described him as his alter ego, having the same vision and commitment to the diocese, and as a man of deep faith who loves the people of God. Msgr. Powers comes to us from Rome, where he worked under two popes, Benedict and Francis.
Patrick Turner next took the podium to speak on the strategic and pastoral planning process. He announced that Rev. Michael Dogali has been appointed Director of the Strategic Planning Commission. Patrick explained that the commission is designed to bring business leaders together to advise the diocese on issues facing the Church. The objectives of the commission are four-fold: To foster servant leadership in the work of the Curia; to allow the Curia to be more efficient, responsive, and cost-effective; to oversee pastoral planning in all its aspects; and to position the Curia to respond more efficiently to the needs of the parishes as they implement the Synod recommendations and develop pastoral plans. One of the possible initiatives regards integrating our communications systems to make the diocesan message consistent and available. The second initiative is to improve IT capability. The third is a new system to collect and store data from across the diocese and do away with multiple forms for multiple offices. These three reforms will enable the diocese to respond quickly and accurately to multiple needs. Patrick also announced that communication using social media would continue in order to engage and educate the people of the diocese in discipleship.
The Pastoral Planning Process has gotten underway, having held two meetings, one for priests and the other for parish leaders and priests. The object is to provide the priests, religious, professional staff, and lay leaders of each parish the opportunity to engage in ongoing, systematic and comprehensive planning towards the establishment of each parish’s plan for long-term pastoral vitality. Each parish will be asked to create a planning team/task force for its pastoral plan.
Plans for the Catholic Leadership Institute are in process in twenty-nine selected parishes. The Institute will have a twofold purpose: to provide ongoing, systematic formation and support for all current Church leaders in their various pastoral works, and to provide theological and spiritual education and formation for every adult who wishes to grow in knowledge of the faith and personal relationship with the Lord. In the next few months, the diocese will hold listening sessions in these parishes to ask how the Synod’s five Global Challenges are being implemented. This will help the diocese assess priorities and frame the response.
At this point, Bishop Caggiano took the podium to underscore the importance of the data to be collected in this survey. This will be critical to the training sessions for members of the Leadership Institute. Of greatest importance is the assurance that each parish has an effectively functioning parish council, finance council, etc. Each parish needs to assess its long-term viability and stability, and create a five- to ten-year business plan. For this to work, it is imperative that all parishioners be engaged in decision-making and implementation. All will be asked to discern and then offer their gifts and talents to enrich their parishes. The results of the data accumulated from all parishes will be synthesized into a “snapshot,” a common template to display the results.
Bishop Caggiano then addressed strategic planning for the diocesan Catholic schools and education. High school enrollment has increased, but the elementary schools are still experiencing financial difficulty and accumulated a $2 million dollar debt last year. The issue here is declining enrollment. Schools across the diocese have been asked to provide a snapshot of issues and challenges. The goal is to maintain the schools we have, although the closing of one school may have to be contemplated. Since four times as many children attend non-Catholic schools, a Catechetical Task Force has been formed to discern and present models of faith formation suitable for each parish’s needs.
Bishop announced that a diocesan summit was held in November for commissioners overseeing real estate, finances, and planning to discuss three issues: establishing operational financial stability, eradicating accumulated debt, and identifying investment income. He announced that the diocese still has $8 million in inherited debt. (Some $7 million has been repaid.) Diocesan (not parish) real estate has now been identified and divided into three groups. First is “mission central” property that will remain untouched. Second is “not mission central” property that can be sold. Third is “not mission central” property that can be leased to generate income. One of the properties in the first group is the Jewett Avenue headquarters property. Its sale would generate funds that would create long-term financial stability.
Further addressing finances, the bishop said that $22 million in parish debt is owed to the diocese. This is the key weakness in the diocesan financial structure: the diocese is the payer of last resort, making no parish too big or small to fail. The two largest annual budget items for the diocese are medical premiums ($12 million) and the pension liability ($30 million). Bishop said that there are only two revenue streams for the diocese: the cathedraticum assessment from offertory collections and the Annual Catholic Appeal. He said there should be two more: income from affiliated organizations such as the Catholic cemeteries, and foundational assistance like “Faith in the Future.” He said we need these to support our mission, to be financially stable, and to give aid to poorer parishes.
Patrick Turner took the floor to discuss the Comprehensive Pastoral Planning Process, designed to create a mechanism by which every aspect of parish life is intentional, mission driven, and open to periodic evaluation and improvement. Once again there will be a template for gauging success that all parishes will follow. He also announced that there are fifteen pilot projects underway (in five high schools, eight parishes, and two universities) toward the establishment of the Catholic Service Corps. Open to youth and young adults, this Service Corps will focus on fostering and guiding parish- and diocesan-wide opportunities to realize justice, peace, and charity.
Patrick next noted that staffing for the various commissions is underway. Among them are the Leadership Institute, the Council of Religious, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and the Presbyterial Council. Most will be fully staffed by mid-April.
The final part of the program was dedicated to an explanation of the changes to the Marriage Tribunal and an update on the new annulment process. Msgr. Dariusz Zielonka, Adjutant Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Bridgeport, announced that there are several changes that apply to the general procedures of the Tribunal. First is the removal of the automatic appeal to the Second Instance Tribunal, meaning that the decision of the First Instance Tribunal becomes executable after 15 days if no one appeals. The second is the removal of the fees for annulments. Third, the new law changed or added new grounds for a marriage nullity process. These changes were urged by Pope Francis to promote a faster, more pastoral process.
The Post-Synod meeting closed at noon and lunch was served to the attending delegates.
Report on the Second Post-Synod Session - April 16, 2016
Bishop Caggiano called the meeting to order at 8:15 a.m. and began with morning prayer. Bishop announced that much has happened and that what we envisioned in the Synod process is coming to reality. He is particularly anxious that we delegates continue our role as consultants so that honest, frank, and respectful dialogue may continue and help the diocese as it moves forward. Bishop said that three words animate the Synod process: Discernment, Patience, and Perseverance. He envisioned a living process of implementation, not a static mandate. Discernment requires us to be obedient and open to the Holy Spirit, while doing things that are coherent with what the Synod determined. Patience, he said, was not one of his strong points, but it is important that what we do be done right, even though it may take longer. Perseverance is a gift of the Holy Spirit and allows us to be focused, attentive, and firm in the process. Bishop Caggiano likened this process to creating a mosaic, not a road map, saying that each piece has its own character and beauty. These initiatives will require tweaking as we progress so that, in the end, we will have created a harmonious mosaic picture, what he described as “a springtime of renewal for the Diocese of Bridgeport.”
Patrick Turner, Director of Strategic and Pastoral Planning, led the rest of the meeting, as Bishop had a Funeral Mass to celebrate. Patrick then introduced Rose Talbot-Babey, the new Office of Faith Formation member in charge of Elementary Formation for the diocese. After visits with 69 of the 82 diocesan DRE’s and CRE’s, she has identified seven needs: (1) educational formation for DRE’s and CRE’s; (2) establishment of faith formation and sacramental policies, procedures, and standards; (3) creation of a Diocese of Bridgeport information directory; (4) creation of a yearly calendar for the diocese; (5) re-introduction of the Faith Formation Board; (6) special needs ministry and training in regional or vicariate parishes; and (7) regional training sessions and spiritual enrichment for catechists.
Patrick Turner then introduced Kim Quatela, Coordinator of Family Formation. Among her duties are the Marriage Prep Program, Sacramental Preparation, Youth Ministry, and World Youth Day (Krakow 7/22 to 8/1). After listening and assessing the current programs, she said that her biggest challenge is revamping our faith formation programs. Kim pointed to marriage preparation as one area that has already been revamped. There were three tasks involved in this: finding the best program and training, “rebranding” and standardizing the program, and recruiting couples. It was important to update this program and make it relevant to couples, so that the main objective, “sharing Christ’s vision of married love with engaged couples, including the theology of marriage, communication, intimacy, and married spirituality,” would be central to the formation program. This new program will be an all-day (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) marriage conference focusing on formation and education. The day will include three meals, Mass and confession, and beautiful study materials. The cost per couple is $200 and each session will accept 50 couples. In January, there will be a program for Spanish-speaking couples. Kim finished her presentation by announcing the programs that Faith Formation will be offering in the future: Women’s Conference (11/12), Men’s Conference (Spring 2017), Ministry to Divorced and Separated Catholics, Parenting Resources, NFP and Fertility Awareness, and RCIA Formation and Resources.
Evan Psencik, the newly named head of the office of Faith Formation’s Youth and Young Adult Formation and the Catholic Service Corps, was unable to attend the meeting.
Patrick Donovan, head of the Diocesan Leadership Institute, is also the new chairman of the Catechetical Task Force, and will be coordinating the catechesis programs across the diocese and identifying concrete ways to reform our catechetical methods and programs. There are four groups on his committee: Assessment (survey), Research (what’s working), Encounter (also called “Dreamers,” the 10–15 things parishes can do to encounter Christ), and Accompaniment (also called “Travelers” with one another in the journey of faith). Patrick says that his job is to ask questions relating to catechesis for the very young to the very old. There will be a full report issued in June.
The Catholic Service Corps had its charter document approved on March 8, 2016. Its mission statement reads: “The Catholic Service Corps of the Diocese of Bridgeport provides opportunities for all the faithful, especially young people, to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and broaden their faith by inviting them to embrace a life of Christian service and the call to be a missionary disciple.” Among its purposes are to help participants make Christian service an enduring life-long choice, to connect young people with the Catholic Church and its teaching in a meaningful and relevant manner, and to engage in work that seeks to bring about a more just society. Patrick said that the next steps are to implement the approved communications strategy, begin the search for a part-time coordinator, and plan for the inaugural Mass and Day of Service on September 9, 2016.
Under Patrick Donovan, the Diocesan leadership Institute is focused on liturgical ministry, youth leaders, and clergy, and hopes to clarify what each brings to the table. Patrick identified four steps in the path to active ministry: the call to ministry, initial formation, authorization for ministry, and ongoing formation (necessary to maintain authorization). He made clear that formation at any level must be rooted in hospitality, recognize local experience, and be manageable and relevant. All are called to ministry, but each must determine how to serve Christ and others by discerning his or her personal gifts. The Institute has identified five ways in which to educate catechists: online, individually, in person, in groups, and in a variety of languages.
Next, Patrick Turner introduced Fr. Michael Dogali, vicar of the Strategic and Pastoral Planning Commission, who explained its four areas of study: Communications, Procurement, Information Technology and Database Management, and Human Resources. The commission has four objectives: to foster servant leadership in the work of the curia; to allow the curia to be more efficient, responsive, and cost effective; to oversee pastoral planning; and to position the curia to respond more efficiently to needs of parishes as they implement the Synod recommendations. Area experts have been asked to serve on the study committee, and their investigation will begin with the Catholic Center. What the Commission is striving for is to put forward a long-term plan (2+ years) for parishes. To assist in this plan each parish will be asked to perform a self-assessment and evaluation.
Patrick Turner continued the presentation on the Pastoral Planning Process, describing the four major steps necessary to make planning an integral part of our diocesan and parish life: (1) data review of sacramental and financial trends, (2) parish self-assessment and evaluation, (3) “Disciple Maker Index” results, and (4) creation of a pastoral plan. Pastoral trends are especially relevant to this study as they entail Mass counts, sacramental trends, faith formation trends, parish registrations, engagement in parish and diocesan life, and Annual Catholic Appeal and parish giving. For the parish self-assessment and evaluation, the commission has identified four areas of study: Parish life (liturgy, worship, family life, evangelization, leadership development, catechesis, and education), finance, buildings and facilities, and community life.
Patrick also gave us an update on the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal. It is fully functional and new forms are in downloadable files. There are currently about 100 open cases before the Tribunal. He also announced that the Diocesan Pastoral Council is up and running, as is the Presbyteral Assembly.
The meeting was adjourned at noon.
Report on the Third Post-Synod Session - November 19, 2016
Bishop Frank Caggiano welcomed delegates and outlined the agenda for the day. The three main areas to be discussed were the Catechetical Task Force, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, and the Pastoral Planning Process. Bishop first gave a scriptural context for his overview in order to elucidate where he believes the Lord wants from us. He reminded us that we had chosen the vine and the branches as the context for the Synod. In order to see the fruits of the Synod and bring life to our parishes and diocese, we must focus on the parable of the seed and the sower; the seeds abide in our parishes and communities, and it is up to us to bring these seeds to fruition.
Bishop Caggiano then introduced a series of his ideas to further the goals of the Synod. Among them were creating an annual pilgrimage to the Holy Land for young people, parishes addressing needs and outreach to their communities, a forum for sharing pastoral plans, and the creation of a deanery structure for the diocese. At the latest Presbyterial Assembly, Bishop announced that he has given permission for any pastor who lives alone to move to another rectory if he so chooses. In January, the diocesan deanery structure will be completed, including regional planning for the whole diocese. Bishop also announced that in January Brian Wallace will publish snippets from parishes about how they are fulfilling the Synod goals. This is part of a greater plan to make people more aware of what is happening in our diocesan churches and thus to encourage greater involvement in ministries. Interestingly, Bishop ended his presentation with a short reflection on one’s personal relationship with Christ, based in Scripture and experience. He recalled that he had once heard from a nurse that Catholic priests would not minister to non-Catholics in a hospital setting. Such refusals, he said, demonstrated the need for priests to receive ongoing education. Bishop then said, “Where is there room for personal witness, as in AA? Not in the Church. But there should be. First, the homily, then personal witness.” This is a very encouraging sign for inclusivity and the spiritual health of our diocese.
Patrick Turner then introduced Patrick Donovan, head of the Leadership Institute that will be launched on January 11, 2017, at Assumption Parish in Westport. The event will include evening prayer, reflections by Chris Padgett, and a reception. The Institute will provide ongoing education for religious and laity through a three-part program: Encounter, Formation, and Discipleship. It is open to all who are interested and will feature personalized learning paths based on the participant’s experience of faith, life, and ministry. The study modules include Scripture, morality, creed, prayer, evangelization, sacraments, and spiritual life, to name a few. Digital badges will be issued to indicate accomplishments, skills, qualities, or interests in many environments. Mr. Donovan also gave a report on the Catechetical Task Force Survey taken in August 2016. The primary finding was that there is no typical parish or formation program in the diocese. He also noted that the survey showed that youth ministry, early childhood formation, and clergy matter. Forty-five percent of parishes reported decreased enrollment. However, where enrollment is increasing, it is a direct result of the parish taking action to revise programming. Additionally, nearly 60 percent of parishes that have preschool programs report that more than 75 percent of preschool families attend Mass regularly.
Among the challenges identified through this survey were widely differing Confirmation programs; parent engagement; more training for DREs, youth ministers, and catechists; more visibility of diocesan support for DREs and their work; and the need to develop an electronic facility where catechists can share ideas and resources. Recommendations included early childhood formation, improved communication, diocesan curates’ resources, engaged families, renewal of youth ministry, and catechist formation.
Evan Psencik, Coordinator for Youth and Young Adults, reported on four programs that are up and running, but noted that youth ministry across the diocese is experiencing a wide variety of results in the parishes. World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland (7/22–8/1), was a huge success for the youth of our diocese. Bishop Caggiano has praised the group for their heartfelt response to this experience. CONNected Catholics is a new young adult ministry in the diocese that is having some success through group outreach, Masses, and New Covenant Center meal making. Finally, the C4Y Concert is the result of the Youth Choir organized last year at this time. They will perform a Christmas Concert on December 18. To aid in the development of these ministries to youth and young adults, a diocesan task force will convene in June to determine the best model. The Leadership Institute will help support formation and provide resources for parishes addressing these needs for youth and young adults.
The diocesan Coordinator of Elementary Formation, Rose Talbot-Babey, announced that there will be a Formation Day on January 28, 2017, co-sponsored by the Faith Formation team and the Leadership Institute, whose theme is “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own.”
Michelle Smith, Coordinator of the Catholic Service Corps, reported on an inaugural Service Day and Mass at Sacred Heart University on September 24. Another is scheduled for February. Twelve chapters made up of high school– and college-aged students are up and running. It has been noted that youth and young adults want value-driven outreach and engagement with others. But the main reason that service to others is such an important factor in forming Christians is social: How a society cares for those on the margins is an indicator of faith practice and will have residual affects for many years to come.
Patrick Turner, Director of Strategic and Pastoral Planning, next took the podium. He described the Strategic Planning Commission as having eight members with four areas of study: Communications, Procurement, Information Technology/Database Management, and Human Resources. It has four objectives: to foster servant leadership; to allow the Curia to be more efficient, responsive, and cost effective; to oversee pastoral planning; and to position the Curia to respond more efficiently to the needs of the parishes as they implement the Synod recommendations. As part of the pastoral planning process, the diocese has taken two major steps since April: the Disciple Maker Index results from 29 parishes and communities have been received, and prioritization has begun for the Pastoral Plan for the next two years. Several priorities have been identified: catechesis and education, buildings and facilities, liturgy and worship, evangelization, family life, finances, community life, and leadership formation. At least three of these will become formal goals. The first-year evaluation is slated for September 2017.
Patrick Turner also announced that several events marking outreach to groups on the margins have occurred or are planned. Among them are a prayer service for victims of clergy sexual abuse (11/2/16), a prayer service for racial peace and healing (11/22/16), and events for lesbian and gay Catholics and their families, and diocesan addictions support and Healing (DASH).
The meeting ended at noon. The concluding Post-Synod Session is scheduled for April 29, 2017. On a personal note, I would like to commend Bishop Caggiano for the fine team he has assembled to lead our diocese. Everyone is first-rate and highly qualified. It is obvious that the Catholic Center has become a very fine place to work.