What to Expect with the Archdiocese’s Regional Planning Process

Over the last 40 to 50 years, we have seen a lot of changes in the Church as the world has changed so much, especially regarding our faith. Eventually, these changes impact our daily lives, where we live and where we worship.

One of the statistics about how things have changed is startling: the percent of baptized Catholics who are active (in the sense that they attend Mass regularly) has dropped very sharply since the Second Vatican Council was implemented in the early 1970s. That percentage has declined from about 75% shortly before the Council to less than 20% now.

Even before the Covid epidemic, the number of people identifying themselves as Catholic, especially among younger people, had started to drop fairly quickly, so that the average age of Catholics has in the pews is much higher.

Somewhat parallel to that, the number of men entering seminary to give their lives to the priesthood has been decreasing as well. In very recent years in our Archdiocese, the number of seminarians has been going up a bit. Still, we are facing a very large “retirement wave” of active priests, so the older priests are retiring faster than new priests can replace them. One startling number for our Archdiocese is that the are currently projecting a net decrease of 23 men able to serve as pastors within just five years.

As the number of priests has shrunk, many parishes (including ours) have been combined under one pastor into parish regions. While the ratio of priests to practicing Catholics has remained about the same, the numbers of active parishioners in many parishes has declined. In our Archdiocese, while the number of parishioners and priests have both declined, the number of parishes has remained almost unchanged.

What does this mean? In short, it means that we have to figure out how to align the parishes so they stay vital and have a pastor to shepherd them.

In our region, we are already used to the concept of sharing a pastor, as we have done so for well over ten years. But with the impending rapid decrease of the number of pastors available, the Archdiocese is looking at a far more comprehensive system to insure that our parishes remain active and spiritually fruitful Christian communities. They are entitling this initiative Beacons of Light. (See their website at catholicaoc.org/beacons).

The central idea is that they will be systematically looking at the parishes across the Archdiocese and realigning them into groups that will work together cooperatively. These groups of parishes will be dubbed families of parishes (or FOPs for short).

What is different about this compared to our existing parish regions? The current regions typically are independent entities which share a few programs or resources, where the pastor has to do “double duty” serving them both. For example, each parish has its own parish council, own activities, sometimes its own office and so on.

For the FOPs the goal of the Archdiocese is ultimately to move toward creating a single canonical entity (one parish unit) even if that parish unit has multiple “campuses” where the existing parish properties are. This is a long term goal and won’t happen as soon as the FOP is created.

The Archdiocese is currently engaged in the planning process to determine which parishes will be grouped together. They will decide that by Thanksgiving of this year. There is a possibility that our FOP grouping will be St. Peter, St. Mary and St. Bernadette, but this is not yet definite.

When will these changes take place? Once the FOP groupings are determined, the initial implementation will be phased in over a couple of years. The first ones will likely kick in in July 2022, the rest in July 2023.

Please watch our parish website, sccrohio.org, for occasional updates, in addition to the one from the Archdiocese.

What changes are you likely to see when the new FOP is created? The diocese is still working on what the standards will be, consulting with parish councils and parish staffs along the way.

However, some of the likely changes that you will see for the FOPs are the following:

  • Changes in terminology. For example, we will be “FOPs” instead of “regions.” We will refer to different locations as “campuses” (St. Mary campus or St. Peter campus).
  • Each FOP will have only one parish office. (We are on that path already in the South Clermont Catholic Region).
  • Parish councils will meet together, either as one combined parish council or gathered together in one meeting.
  • Mass schedules will have to change to accommodate the availability of a priest serving more parishes.
  • Many other activities may be combined, such as adult faith formation, youth groups, and so on.

I have already been talking to our parish councils about how to preserve our parish identities and the best of parish life as we work our way through this process. The Archdiocese has pledged to help as well.

While the process will be challenging, we hope that it will create stronger, more vital parish communities as we pool our resources together.

We ask you to pray for the success of this process in helping to form true disciples of Our Lord and Savior.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me or your parish council members if you have questions.

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