Since the announcement of my new appointment as pro-grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem (and eventual departure from the Archdiocese of Baltimore), there have been many questions asked about how this news impacts my plans and priorities, specifically those related to the reorganization of parishes.
While much is unknown about the timetable for naming my successor one thing is very clear: the work we have begun to address the many challenges facing our parishes and thus the mission of this local Church, must continue. They are too great and too numerous not to act. I appreciate the enthusiasm of so many to address the urgent challenges that face us.
You will recall that I first wrote a column about the need for planning following a spontaneous and animated discussion at our priest convocation last fall. It was then that I asked for your careful attention to the issues that were of such concern to our priests, namely the rapid dwindling of their numbers. I also argued that now is the time to also address the other pressing matters that have been creeping in the ongoing development of our Archdiocese: the rapid growth of many of our Catholic parishes and the shrinking population of others; the plethora of half-empty churches (at best) and the need for facilities improvement; and the challenge of the New Evangelization, reclaiming disengaged Catholics and attracting new ones.
As I considered how best to proceed, based on the urgency of the needs before us, a preliminary consultation stage quickly emerged, with priests, lay parish leaders, Archdiocesan boards, committees and other groups being asked to weigh in with their thoughts about what should be the goals and process for parish planning.
Along with our auxiliary bishops, I traveled around the Archdiocese this summer meeting with lay parish leaders at regional consultations at parishes in Baltimore, Columbia, Frederick and Fullerton. We were so very impressed both by the substance and by the passion expressed during those candid discussions. We continue to be buoyed as we, your bishops, develop an outline for how we can move forward together, including how the laity can play an active role in the parish planning process.
Among many messages I heard was the absolute need for better information and data to serve as the foundation of our planning. It is clear that research has to be a key area of focus if we are to better understand: