Seven years after a wave of church closings brought upheaval and protests to the Archdiocese of Boston, parishioners yesterday expressed mixed emotions - some dismay, but also some hope - about a plan to streamline church management.
Some said better management could stave off further closings and help the church survive continued financial turmoil. But others worried that churches will be asked to do more with less, undercutting efforts to reinvigorate the archdiocese.
The plan, which Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley will formally unveil to priests today, calls for multiple parishes to share a single pastor. Management of the parishes will be handled by teams of priests, deacons, and lay employees.
These “pastoral service teams’’ will have the authority to merge programs among churches and recommend to the cardinal the closing and selling of churches, rectories, and other buildings.
Archdiocesan officials, sensitive to parishioners who might see this as the prelude to new closings, say the goal is not to shutter churches but to more efficiently share staff and resources so that priests can concentrate on their mission to minister and evangelize.
Many details, such as which parishes will have to share pastors, will not be decided until the spring, when the church plans to launch the new model. The archdiocese is planning to hold 10 regional meetings in February and March to gather parishioner reaction to the changes.
Some parishioners leaving Mass yesterday at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Jamaica Plain expressed tentative support for the plan.
Their church is among those that archdiocesan officials say would benefit under the plan.
The pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Rev. Alonso E. Macias, also works at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Jamaica Plain, and St. Mary of the Angels in Roxbury, where he balances administrative, financial, and pastoral duties, a load that can be stressful at best, parishioners said.
The extra clerical work has left Macias with fewer hours to tend to the “spiritual nourishment’’ of the parish, said Clara Garcia, 63, a parishioner and former office volunteer at St. Thomas Aquinas.
“He’s on roller skates because he’s the only administrator,’’ Garcia said.
Garcia, whose former parish, Blessed Sacrament in Jamaica Plain, was closed in 2004, expressed doubt that the plan would be sufficient to reinvigorate churches like St. Thomas Aquinas that are already stretched thin.
But other church members said that by asking priests to focus less on parish management, the plan could have the benefit of requiring parishioners to get more involved in the life of the church.
“Lay people are more involved, and allowed to be more involved,’’ said Kathleen Forbes, 66. “We have to step up to the plate.’’
Patricia Larkin, 62, said she was dismayed by the changes. “It’s terrible,’’ she said. “It’s a stress on the priests.’’
But, like others, she saw a positive: The church will need lay people to fill skilled jobs, such as bookkeepers and administrators.
“The laity needs to change and realize that the church is in need, whether we like it or not,’’ she said.
Kelly Thatcher, a parishioner at Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, said she hopes the changes put the archdiocese on more stable footing.
“It seems to me it’s a step up from just closing parishes,’’ said Thatcher, who runs a blog called “The Lady in the Pew.’’
“I’m afraid that it’s necessary, and I hope and pray for the best,’’ she said.
The plan responds to some of the same pressures that led to church closings in 2004: declining Mass attendance, financial problems, fewer men entering the priesthood, and fewer men and women serving professionally in parishes.
Those closings, on the heels of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, led to an outpouring of anger and the round-the-clock occupation of some of the churches slated for closure. Several churches are still occupied.
“The goal of this plan is to keep all our parishes open and to reorganize the way we serve those parishes,’’ said the Rev. David B. Couturier, director of pastoral planning for the archdiocese.
“This is not a repeat of what happened in 2004.’’
He said, for example, that several parishes that employ part-time business managers could join together to hire one full-time business manager, freeing up money to hire a new youth pastor.
“The closing issue was the story in 2004,’’ he said.
“The story today is reenergizing how we serve.’’Matt Byrne can be reached at email@example.com. Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.