February 19, 2011 – More Church Business

Well as you may have noticed I’m a little late in getting this out today.  I just returned from a Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting in Belleville.  This darned church business always seems to have a way of throwing my schedule off (ha, ha).  Seriously, we had a good meeting with the Bishop and I’ll share with you some of what I can from the meeting.

We first talked about the ongoing sexual abuse case against the Diocese.  Recently as you may have read the appellate court panel of 3 judges handed down a 2-1 decision against the Diocese.  It has been decided to now move the case along to the Illinois Supreme Court.  I’m not a lawyer and will never pretend to be an expert in legal matters, but my understanding is that the Diocese first petitions the court for permission to hear the case, then if/when that is granted, the case itself will then be considered.  The Diocese continues to pursue the case because it is felt that in terms of the law, that the case is on very solid ground, and that a judgement against the Diocese would be contrary of the law as it was interpretted at the time.  This is probably all I can say right now as this would get too deep into the legalities, but to summarize I can say that to this point no money has changed hands, and will not until the Illinois Supreme Court completes its work, which will be many months in the future.

The next item on the agenda was about the future of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.  They are experiencing a phenomenon that other hospitals are going through.  Because more and more procedures are on an outpatient basis, and because of its close distance to St. Louis, they have many empty beds and are finding it more difficult to stay economically feasible.  Nothing will likely happen in the short-term, but there are possibilities being discussed such as moving the campus to an area such as O’Fallon or near SWIC where there would be more room to expand and where the hospital would be closer to the population growth in the area.  There is also discussion of making the current St. Elizabeth’s strictly a place for outpatient procedures and a clinic.  Again, this is not a short-term happening, but something to keep in mind in the future.

The next item of discussion was investigating the possibility of parish re-structuring in the Diocese, whether that be the possibility of closing parishes or merging parishes or other outcomes.  This is a process that is just beginning, and at the moment everything is on the table.  Because of the shortage of priests, limited resources, population shifts, declining attendance, and other factors, the Bishop feels the time has come to look at our 117 parishes and see if the current structure is still practical. 

Many people who have heard about this process may immediately think that the smaller parishes are in trouble and the large parishes will survive, but this is not necessarily true.  All things will be looked at including distance between parishes, parish vitality, etc., etc.  In the city of Belleville for example there are some large parishes and some relatively smaller, but there are parishes that are close together and so the possibility of some of these parishes and even schools merging together will certainly be looked at.  The thought of change is always scary, especially when it directly affects you and your parish.  We identify so closely with our parishes.  Even in my blogs I have talked about St. Mary’s being like a second home.  But change, as painful as it can be, is sometimes inevitable.  Our Diocese has been through many changes in its 125 year existence, and we will continue to evolve and change.

This discussion led to informal conversation about vocations, particularly why places such as Africa are seeing their seminaries overflow, while places such as the United States continue to see a shortage in vocations.  Part of the thinking is that poorer areas which have not seen the secular influence penetrate their society such as we have are more accepting of religion and thus will have more people entering religious life.  It is also a reason that other religions such as Islam are gaining more members – they are so enthralled in their religion that it gives them an escape from the secular life.  It was interesting to hear that religious orders who are actually in better shape in terms of vocations are the strictest orders such as monesteries and religious orders with a strict prayer and life regimen.  Perhaps its because our world has gotten so complicated and so hustle-bustle that these orders provide an “escape” and an attractive alternative lifestyle.

Finally we talked about the upcoming celebration of the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Belleville which will be next year.  The celebrations will be a little bit lower key than a 100th or 150th anniversary because they traditionally are and also because of the economy.  There will be a special Mass to mark the occasion which is tentatively set for April 29th, 2012 at 2:00PM (mark your calendars)!  We have also talked about the Fanning the Flame program which will be a part of it and which you will be hearing more about in the near future.  There may also be other things planned as the time draws closer.  The Bishop does want the celebration to emphasize that it is not the 125th anniversary of Belleville, but of the Church of Southern Illinois as a whole.

This was probably not the most entertaining blog you have read, but I think it is important to let you know what some of the issues are that the Diocese is dealing with and what is on the Bishop’s mind.  It continues to be a pleasure for me to serve on this Council because I feel I’m in the “know” and because I feel I have the vehicle to share what I learn and for people to react to it.  Feel free to leave a comment about anything I have talked about.

Finally, last week I talked about whether technology and the internet may be having a little too much influence on our lives.  This past week I was having a conversation with a parishioner and we were talking about how depressing it can be to watch or read the news and learn of all the bad things happening in our world.  But then the parishioner added that they get a “pick-me-up” when they log on to our website and read all of the good news.  So the internet certainly has its purpose and it made me feel good to know that the website is not just informative but that it can touch someone in such a way.  Thank you again for your support of our website by visiting and spreading the word about it.

Well time to take a short break from church stuff until I, well, go to Mass.  I CAN”T ESCAPE IT!!!! AAAAAAHHHHHH! (kidding of course).  Have a great week.  Peace.

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