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Article published March 8, 2013
Diocese’s tactic flawed
Michael Bagdes-Canning Cherry Valley
A recent New York Times poll of American Catholics identified several issues of concern among the faithful: “Bring people back to church, modernize the church, unify the church, and do something about sexual abuse.” As a lifelong Catholic, that poll mirrors my own thinking. The poll, conducted just prior to the gathering of cardinals in Rome preparing to select Pope Benedict’s successor, seems particularly relevant in light of something that is happening right here in Butler County. St. Alphonsus Parish, a single entity with three worship sites, has before it two propositions that will see either the shuttering of two of those worship sites or closing one and keeping the second open only during summer months. The propositions may or may not reflect the will of the majority of parishioners, but they were birthed in such a heavy-handed and arbitrary way that it has ensured that many parishioners’ feelings will have been trampled upon and a community needlessly shattered. The Diocese of Pittsburgh and its apologists will claim that this decision was reached after consultation with the parishioners. The diocese and its protectors will claim that the plan had its origins in the Pastoral Council. The diocese and its defenders will claim the process was transparent. Each of these statements either is patently false or a deliberate obfuscation. These inconsistencies can be explained by two statements. The Pastoral Council, a hand-picked group chosen by the administrator, is not representative of the parish as a whole. The concerns raised during a town hall-type meeting facilitated by the diocese were never addressed. I make no judgment on the merits of the closings of one or both of the buildings. There are compelling reasons to do so. What is reprehensible is the fashion in which this process was carried out. The people of the parish have been treated shabbily, the diocese and the St. Alphonsus administrator promised much but delivered little, and they will blame the resulting discord on an unwillingness on the part of the parishioners to change. What happened was, indeed, the result of an unwillingness to change but it was not the parishioners who were unwilling. Instead of entering into genuine dialogue, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, through its administrator, chose to impose a solution from on high, driving people from the pews, creating an atmosphere of disunity, and driving out any semblance of family.