By Fr. Pat Callahan, Seattle
I was active in launching our local chapter of Call To Action several years ago when I left the CORPUS Board. Then a few years ago VOTF began, and with the P.R. they got nationally, a local group was also formed. Right from the beginning I predicted that it would not survive because of the preoccupation of the VOTF to "color inside the lines" and not challenge the pivotal issues in the Church ... especially the need to end the restrictions on ordained ministry and include men and women, married and single.
I was correct in my prediction in that the local VOTF group has now disappeared. Our CTA chapter is very vibrant with a strong Board, a healthy treasury, and will be sponsoring a visit of Bishop Patricia Fresen in early November.
On a more personal level I came to a greater understanding of the deep seated need for many Catholics to be docile and not "buck the system" when my own wife Julie was terminated from her position as Pastoral Assistant for Adult & Family ministry this spring. She had served at a local suburban parish for 22 years and was 2 years away from retirement.
Julie is a tremendous pastoral person, very dynamic and greatly loved and respected by the people of that parish and directed 22 vibrant programs serving a wide spectrum of parish families. She was a very prominent person among her fellow lay ministers and served as Chair for their archdiocesan organization. The current pastor at the parish where she served had a fixation on starting a school there, although there are Catholic schools available at adjacent parishes. He rammed this $2 million project down the throats of the parishioners, ignoring his own surveys showing their opposition. When many left and income dropped, he used that as an excuse to "reorganize" and cut Julie's position from fulltime to 2 days a week, no benefits.
Initially I was confident that the parishioners, a well educated somewhat affluent group who had the benefit of many years of excellent adult ed programs on collegial Church, etc. would certainly rise up and protest this radical shift in parish priorities and the dismissal of a very gifted and popular lay minister.
Not so. It was quite a lesson to me in the depth of "Catholic Conditioning".
Although I interacted with a number of parishioners who were very disturbed and frustrated by the pastor's actions ... there was a numbing resignation to it and an unwillingness to resist. I suggested a number of tactics, but no one or no group was willing to take action.
Meanwhile the pastor opened his new school which cost $1 million for initial facilities, with 40 students and a first year budget of $600,000 with only $200,000 in income, despite the highest tuition in the Archdiocese at $6,500 per child. No one knows at this point how he raised the $10,000 per child subsidy needed. $400,000 in subsidy to provide a private academy for 40 upper middle class kids, meanwhile slash the 22 programs for the hundreds of families benefiting from the adult and family ministries.
I gradually came to grasp the huge reluctance in these parishioners to any kind of organized resistence to an arbitrary shift of parish direction and terminating a dedicated and charismatic lay minister after 22 years of service and just short of retirement. This is a parish community of highly educated, professional people. But when it comes to Church, the old "parent/child" syndrome drops into place. A huge barrier on the gut level to confront and deal with conflict within the parish family. Given Julie's popularity and the vitality of the 22 programs she directed, I was initially convinced that there would be a backlash against the pastor ... but not so.
This was the case even when he forced her to leave early because he was unhappy with a letter she wrote to her volunteers explaining the reorganization. He himself had no contact with her prior to the announcement of the reorganization, after her position was reduced to part-time, or after she indicated that she was not interested in applying for the radically reduced position. A complete absence of any pastoral care.
I share this scenario as a case in microcosm of the "compliance syndrome" that I believe enables a pastor or bishop to keep doing "business as usual" no matter what's going on around him. 80% of parishioners don't have a clue as to the real inner dynamics of their parishes. As long as Mass is available and they aren't hassled too much during it, they come, drop their money on the plate, and leave. There just isn't the interest or energy to get involved and certainly not to confront.