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Developing the Role of Laity in Catholic Churches: Plans and Goals

The Catholic Archbishop of southeastern Wisconsin, Jerome Listecki, issued a declaration shifting priorities within the archdiocese, according to an article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The declaration states that local bishops will work to support social justice issues that strongly affect minorities, including poverty, immigration, and gun violence.

The article explains:

The declaration envisions a local church in which a growing number of Catholics return to weekly Mass and the Eucharist. They would go to confession regularly; enroll their children in Catholic schools; encourage them to become priests, nuns and lay leaders; and reconnect with ancient devotional practices, such as praying the rosary and Eucharistic adoration. The driving force for it all would be local parishes.

Listecki’s blueprint comes at a pivotal time for the church in southeastern Wisconsin. The archdiocese is attempting to emerge from a grueling, nearly 4-year-old bankruptcy that has cost it more than $13 million — a bankruptcy prompted by its mishandling of clergy sex abuse cases dating back decades. Parish membership is declining, despite the growing number of people locally who identify themselves as Catholic. The archdiocese also is bracing for the retirements of dozens of full-time priests in the coming years.

Still, there is room for optimism, said Mark Gray, senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, which has been conducting a demographic study for the archdiocese.

“We actually predict that the self-identified Catholic population in the archdiocese, looking on toward 2040, will be quite stable,” he said. “These are people who still see themselves as Catholic, and they are. They’re the lowest-hanging fruit for the new evangelization — the people easiest to bring back.”

Such evangelization is a major focus of the declaration, along with enhancing Catholic identity and stewardship.

To further those goals, the church would:

■ Place a renewed emphasis on Mass and devotions, and develop instructional materials that explain their structure, symbolism and purpose.

■ Embrace the church’s cultural diversity by encouraging parishes to collaborate across racial and ethnic divides, as well as by studying and addressing the pastoral needs of the archdiocese’s Latino, African-American and Asian-Pacific communities.

■ Bolster service opportunities that promote Catholic social teaching on care for the poor and marginalized.

■ Provide training across the archdiocese — in parishes, schools and homes — on how to teach and form Catholics in their faith.

■ Expand pastoral programs and resources for couples and families, “especially troubled marriages, single-parent families, those who’ve experienced divorce, families with mixed religious traditions, and couples dealing with infertility.”

This archdiocese done a good job at 1) recognizing one of their particular problems and 2) setting goals that pertain to that goal. The Archbishop recognizes that their diocese is in need of greater evangelization, particularly to the “Cultural Catholics” who already identify as Catholic but fail to attend Mass. Putting an emphasis on Mass, in particular by developing materials to explain not only WHAT is happening but WHY it is happening is key to translating the language of tradition to the unfamiliar. The archdiocese is also putting greater focus on being intentional with a wide variety of groups — racial and ethnic minorities, the poor and marginalized, and those struggling in marriage and in families. Finally, the archdiocese wants to focus on faith, creating training resources for people to better understand themselves as religious people.

In what ways can this example relate to your own religious congregation? Perhaps you have plans you would like to achieve, but need to break it down into goals? While the Archdiocese’s goals aren’t incredibly specific, they do outline the areas in which the church wants to make inroads. More detailed explanations of outcomes can be a good next step to recognize when the archdiocese has or has not achieved these goals.

 

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org