page updated 4-24-16
16 May 2014 at St. Aloysius,
Report and Comments by Joseph F. O’Callaghan, VOTF
Presiding. Bishop Frank Caggiano, Msgr. Dariusz Zielonka, coordinator of the Fourth Synod, and members of his Synod Commission.
Attendance. About 200 people, most in the 50–80 age bracket; a few between 40 and 50; and a couple of seminarians, who seemed to be between 20 and 30. Several priests and pastors.
Procedure. The procedure was the same as for Vicariate I. Msgr. Zielonka divided the audience into three sections and invited those who wished to speak to use the mobile mikes offered by aides. One half hour was devoted to each of three questions: (1) The strengths of the diocesan ministries are… (2) I would like to see the new diocesan outreach in… (3) The diocese should improve the ministry by… Bishop Caggiano announced at the end that there were 97 interventions, but several people had spoken two or three times. Comments were limited to one or two minutes. An audio recording was made for the later use of the Synod commission.
Question 1. Strengths of the diocese. The response seemed sluggish to me and I think Msgr. Zielonka shortened the time for comment on this question. Topics: Recovery House; Permanent diaconate; Catholic education; St. John Fisher Seminary; marriage preparation; welcoming parishes; quality of Fairfield County Catholic; Bishop Caggiano’s willingness to listen to diverse groups.
Question 2. New diocesan outreach. Topics: Special needs children; lay involvement in leadership; contemplative prayer; absence of young families at church; Where have they gone? How to engage them in parish life? need for respectful dialogue; service programs for teenagers; care of divorced families; relieving the administrative burden of pastors; isolation among clergy; need for greater socialization among clergy; social justice issues (gun violence, immigration, etc.); Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (ordination of women); adult spiritual development; more Third Order groups; prison ministry; non-practicing young adults, their nonrepresentation at Vicariate meetings; centralized retreat center; faith formation of families; RCIA; Emmaus retreats for teenagers; Theology on Tap; St. Catherine Academy for retarded children; alliances of parishes; outreach to marginalized (poor and needy, divorced and remarried); exposure to heretical teaching at Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University as a cause of alienation from the church; proactive response to the Common Core curriculum; outreach to other faith groups; Should we reach out to the alienated? evangelization; polarization; attitude toward those who have left; How can they experience the Joy of the Gospel? need for listening ministries in each parish to listen to those who do not feel welcome or have been driven away or have not experienced compassion in time of need; to conduct exit interviews; greater involvement of former priests and nuns; lapsed Catholics.
Question 3. Improve ministry. Topics: Training of priests in dealing with end-of-life issues; youth ministry, a diocesan Catholic Service event; parish interview of prospective pastors and associate pastors, review of personnel files, and recommendation to the bishop to appoint or not appoint; priest ought to see personnel files of parishioners; Do we want a smaller church focused on the 25 percent of active Catholics and ignore the 75 percent who are inactive? Need for a doctrinal seminar perhaps quarterly; more activity by the bishop in the public square promoting religious freedom; Catholic identity; homily training; importance of institutional memory of parish, tendency of new pastors to ignore that; dialogue with the secular world; outreach to other Christian churches; financial burden on pastors; financial transparency; failure to utilize financial expertise of laity in Fairfield County; sexual abuse, the elephant in the room, the reason why the faithful have lost respect for the leadership of the church.; the Catholic Church is universal and inclusive and cannot dismiss the 75 percent of Catholics who are inactive or have walked away.
What I found important. Concluding the session, Bishop Caggiano thanked everyone for our willingness to speak our minds on issues of common concern. He also emphasized that the Synod would follow a process of discernment in which the Lord will lead us. He encouraged us to listen to the Lord’s voice. Certain themes were common to both Vicariate I and Vicariate II Listening Sessions. The ones I want to comment on are three: (1) Where Have They Gone? (2) Financial Transparency and Accountability; (3) The Appointment of Pastors.
2 June 2014 at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Gymnasium, Fairfield
Report and Comments by Jamie Dance, VOTF
Presiding. Bishop Frank Caggiano, Msgr. Dariusz Zielonka, coordinator of the Fourth Synod, and his Synod Commission.
Attendance. About 200 people, again most in the 50–80-age bracket, a few between 40 and 50, and very few younger persons. Several priests and pastors.
Procedure. The procedure was the same as the two earlier vicariate sessions. Msgr. Zielonka divided the audience into four sections and invited those who wished to speak to use the mobile microphones offered by aides. One half hour was devoted to each of three questions: (1) The strengths of the diocesan ministries are… (2) I would like to see new diocesan outreach in… (3) The diocese should improve the ministry by… While there were close to a hundred interventions, several people spoke as many as four times. As before, speakers were limited to one to two minutes, and an audio recording was made for later use by the Synod commission. Bishop Caggiano said that the final topics to be studied by the Diocesan Synod would be announced on June 29.
Question 1. Strengths of the diocese. Topics: Responses got off to a slow start. Topics mentioned were: Diocesan education programs, youth programs, Catholic Charities, Fairfield County Catholic, vocation programs, the clergy, Safe Environment program, Marriage program, and outreach to people with special needs.
Question 2. New diocesan outreach. Topics: Outreach to divorced, separated, and remarried Catholics; greater effort to involve teens and young adults in Church; outreach to immigrants and to mentally ill and disabled and also to veterans; more parish interaction with other parishes; welcome former and lapsed Catholics; religious education for families; outreach to other Christian denominations; revival of parish liturgical committees; better use of social media; spiritual support for the unemployed and home-bound; more after-mass programs to encourage community; return of small Christian communities; more training for CCD teachers and lectors; standardized program for RCIA; “best practices” commissions on specific issues; better outreach to CCD kids of divorced parents; outreach to public school students; outreach to recent college grads to keep them involved in the parish; a children’s component to the Annual Appeal; better job of filling seats in Catholic schools; more education on Natural Family Planning.
Question 3. Improve ministry. Topics: Moral credibility of the diocese in the wake of abuse cover-ups, and embezzlements; RCIA guidelines for child catechumens; better diocesan outreach to ethnic groups, help with language and job skills and to promote education; help with priest shortages in the diocese; better cooperation among parishes, especially between those with great financial disparity (a wealthy parish might “adopt” a poor parish); CCD should be “fun”; diocese should be more aggressive politically and in public relations especially regarding parochial schools; more adult education (e.g. the Share program); more emphasis on prayer; better use of homilies, so that Catholics will be better informed about Catholic doctrine; Fr. Colin McKenna (the only speaker to overrun the time limit) asked for ongoing formation programs for priests and an “inner forum” for priests to discuss issues; improve the quality of preaching; bring life back into mass with music and liturgy (exemplified by the wonderful baccalaureate mass at Fairfield); more access to Catholic schools; request that the diocese better reflect the idea of mercy encapsulated by Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?”
The meeting at St. Thomas was different from the previous two Vicariate Listening Sessions in tone and emphasis. The most striking example was a young woman’s statement that she did not understand why girls were encouraged to be altar servers when they could not be priests. She asked for a formation program that would help girls decide whether to be nuns or mothers. While definite response patterns, common to all three Vicariate sessions, did emerge, I was struck by how a few attendees dominated this question period. The end result was that fewer voices were heard than in the two previous sessions. Those who spoke repeatedly obviously were active in their parishes and felt comfortable in their orthodoxy. But by aides’ allowing them multiple opportunities to opine, the tenor of the session’s comments was skewed toward their opinions. I wondered at the time if this in some way curtailed and thus affected the general audience’s ability or inclination to share their own perspectives. Because these listening sessions have been billed as the diocesan laity’s chance to speak, I believe it was important that as many voices as possible be heard. Unfortunately, this was not the case at St. Thomas. The end result of this session probably will not affect the final determination of the Synod topics, but I am hopeful that listening sessions for Vicariates IV and V will be more representative of the entire audience.
17 June 2014 at St. Catherine of Siena Parish Hall, Trumbull
Report and Comments by John Marshall Lee, VOTF
Attendance. The program was well attended, I am guessing over 200 people and 109 contributions (or “interventions”) to the three sections for comment. The procedure was as described for the previous listening sessions.
Question 1. Strengths of the diocese. Topics: Strengths of diocesan ministries….provide work for people to do, they are willing to support / Catholic Schools doing good work (2 comments) / Adoration opportunities available / Catholic Charities and Thomas Merton are good efforts / Vocation program is a highlight / Pro-life ministry at St. Theresa / Cremation guidelines (though another comment was that they are not followed by families) / Fairfield County Catholic, Diocesan website, Facebook & Twitter, and Women’s Conference as positive communication efforts / Dedicated and inspired priests and lots of masses (2) / Economic diversity, with the wealth among the population as a strength / Increase in laity participation / Synod as positive example of ongoing listening (2) / Family Life programs / Lenten campaign for confession / Virtus Training program (but no mention of reason for it) / Outreach to youth and CCD programs as well done / Convivio (The need for more formal and continuing adult education showed up here.) Comments ran out of gas before 30 minutes were up.
Question2. New diocesan outreach. Topics: Revamp CCD and get families to attend mass as part of it (2) / Youth programs and reporting of sports in FCC / Begin campaign to find people and help them come to mass / More for youth beyond Convivio / Make more adoration opportunities available / Encourage daily electronic communication with variety of resources, especially material content offered by National Catholic Register / Fellowship to support caring and justice / Involve young adults in evangelization and update music to help that happen / Better church music / Focus on Jesus and faith journey not just on morals and our mistakes / More Bible study /Outreach to military / Adult catechesis to re-evangelize those in the pews who are not in relation with Jesus / Pray the rosary with Our Lady of Fatima as focus and triumph of her Immaculate Heart / Ministry to parents of gay, lesbian, bi- and trans-sexual youth / Connect men’s programs diocesan-wide / Make Catholic schools available to all who wish to attend / Pro-life as more than anti-abortion / Get people in tune with Pope Francis’s focus on economics and justice and money / Encourage fellowship / More education for youth on “healthy relationships” / Support for corporal works of mercy / A priest requested a necessary culture shift on the part of Catholics from a “service station” mentality with their parish to a discipleship community on a journey of faith / Hope for more open and accountable practices with respect to issues in diocese / Work to offer an alternative for Catholic youths attracted to other Christian churches / Better family tuition plans for schools / Efforts to engage state legislature / More implementation of Catholic social teachings / Address the subject of home schooling by Catholic parents / Seek return of religious teaching orders and have priest or nun as leader of schools / Partner with SHU and Fairfield U. for adult education / Integration of parishes providing services and receiving same.
Question 3. Improve ministry. Topics: More $ for education of youth from needy families / Seek out theologians of national reputation as well as use of art, music, and film to increase adult formation / Use St. Margaret Mary Shrine in Bridgeport to serve as destination for pilgrimages / Need for spiritual direction programs for adults like those offered by SHU. . . Additional comments were made while I was attempting to have my own input recognized. None differed in subject or tone from those that I have listed except for one. A deacon from Stratford in recent years has had significant experience in accompanying “good Catholics” (folks who were in the pews regularly, participated in the sacraments, and who were known as part of the parish by other Catholics) in their final days or weeks of life. He noted that a surprising number were terribly fearful of departing bereft of a sense of the love of a God to whom they had been faithful. They did not look to the final welcome of their eternal reward. It was as if they had held onto a child’s view of religion, which focused on obeying the commandments and rules. Failing a deeper spiritual understanding, the youthful formation was inadequate.
The only comment mentioning the clergy abuse scandal was mine (below). And while there were comments encouraging the engagement of lay persons, there was nothing specific to advancing the respect for and equal responsibilities of our sisters, women, in the future activities of all of the People of God. I offered the following comment, intended for Question 2 but eventually recognized under Question 3 (the distinction between the two questions being somewhat vague).
Catholics and the larger community became aware of the stories of sexual abuse of youth by clergy and the failure to manage these predators by their superiors in 2002. We have subsequently learned that the scandal was worldwide and not restricted to one place or one time and that it was expensive to the institution financially and to the authority and respect it formerly commanded. U.S. bishops have since acted to provide future protection of youth through Safe Environment programs.
As a person who has listened to many people tell their stories, especially victims who have survived with lives that were scarred, I stand in solidarity with those who were harmed as youth by this power abuse. I think that our Diocesan Church community needs to “listen” to the stories, reflect on the tragedy for all parties, and pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit so that our communities may begin the process of serious healing for the wounds suffered.
The wounds are serious and deep. And the victims are not only the youth grown to adulthood, but their families, the predators themselves, and all the People of God, who as adults have a healing role to play in listening and discovering where the Holy Spirit asks us to be. Peace to all.
Only one other person commented (positively) in response to the above.
I spoke to Deacon Tim Bolton after the close and mentioned Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward, which directly bears on the topic of the first and second halves of life. The point that Rohr was attempting to unwrap is that the adult who fails to know himself, to know what he can do as a human, and how that relates, in mature simplicity, to a higher power merely keeps doing the work of the first half of life and is unprepared for departure (and faithful embrace by his Creator). This directly bears on genuine adult formation and thus connects with improving diocesan ministry.
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