Amid all of its teachings — some more controversial than others — many of the Catholic Church’s core beliefs come down, like those of other religions, to treating people with compassion and respect.
Yet, for the second time this year, leaders of the Archdiocese of Boston have shown neither for the people of Gloucester and Cape Ann.
Indeed, the archdiocese’s “pastoral plan” outlining new leadership structures for dozens of parishes — including the two here on Cape Ann — shows an especially heavy-handed lack of respect for one of its most influential local figures by forcing Our Lady of Good Voyage’s venerable pastor, the Rev. Eugene Alves, to submit his resignation within a few weeks after 38 years at Our Lady’s helm. And it similarly shows no consideration for the Rev. John Kiley, the Holy Family pastor who took the reins of that already-merged parish when the Rev. Ron Garibaldi retired as its pastor two years ago.
The archdiocese plan has a context. By keeping all 288 of its churches open, Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s headquarters are looking to address a shortage of priests, as Rev. Kiley’s weekend church bulletin message indicates.
But suggesting that parish “collaboratives,” including one combining Holy Family and Our Lady’s, will allow each parish to retain its own identity becomes almost laughable considering that the pastoral resignation orders will wipe out a big part of Our Lady of Good Voyage’s identity in one swoop. That’s Rev. Alves himself, who has poured 38 years of his life into leading Our Lady’s forward and maintaining its stability, with a hands-on role in maintaining its fishing industry traditions and its Portuguese heritage — from carillon bell concerts to the annual “crowning” ceremony and a important role in St. Peter’s Fiesta.
The merging of parishes across into “collaboratives” offers pastors the chance to apply to head their collaborative when the changes take full effect next June. But Rev. Alves, who is 82, told parishioners last week he would not be applying for any merged role. And a merger of Our Lady’s and Holy Family would seemingly pose all sorts of other issues as well.
Those are rooted in the fact that Holy Family has already been a “collaborative” parish, to use the archdiocese’s term, since 2005. That’s when the archdiocese merged St. Ann’s Parish in Gloucester with St. Joaquim’s in Rockport into Holy Family — a consolidation that also shut down Sacred Heart and St. Peter’s. And this new pastoral plan, reportedly in the works for months, shows no respect for St. Ann’s and the Holy Family congregation, who now stand to see a further erosion of their church’s identity, and have the archdiocese pushing out their current pastor to boot.
Surprised? Don’t be.
Just last spring, the archdiocese essentially forced the shutdown of St. Ann School after 128 years, deciding it could no longer fund it as needed. And while that move also had a context — St. Ann’s enrollment had fallen to around 90 students in grades K through 8 — reports indicated that the archdiocese discouraged local officials from letting parents and others know that the enrollment was about to force a closure.
Had that happened, St. Ann officials and parents may well have been able to give more urgency to a recruitment drive — especially considering that the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School as forced by the state to abruptly shut down in January, leaving nearly 100 students and families looking for new educational homes. Yet the archdiocese never let St. Ann families play an active role — and that dictatorial style has reared its head again.
Most Catholics, like followers of other religions, will, of course, stand by their faith. And the Catholic Church, in general, seems to be regaining lost ground locally and globally through a greater openness under Pope Francis.
But it’s frankly hard to have any respect for an archdiocese leadership that continues to rule by declaration — without a whit of respect or consideration for local residents and its own local church and community leaders. That’s the real shame.