“Thanks for asking, Bishop Malooly.”
That’s the implicit response of more than 1,000 people who have participated in diocesan consultation meetings during the last three months.
Bishop Malooly launched the consultation in February by asking priests, parishioners and diocesan office heads to share their ideas on the future of mission and ministry in the Diocese of Wilmington.
Their thoughts on the next five years in the diocese have resulted in more than 600 comments, comprising of 23 pages, on diocesan priorities.
The bishop said in February that he had priorities in mind, but was interested in hearing the ideas of priests and the faithful.
The eight topics for consideration at the deanery meetings — sustainable faith communities, new models for lay leadership, evangelization, Catholic formation of all age groups, cultural diversity, recovery and healing, plans for leadership and business practices, and support for priestly life — came from suggestions by 83 diocesan priests at a meeting in February.
All eight topics were affirmed as worthy priorities by 82 percent or more majorities, but they also drew comments from participants, who also shared ideas that weren’t included among the topics.
The hundreds of comments are from consultation discussions by some 300 parishioners at seven regional deanery meetings that were held after Easter. Those 300 people had already attended 57 parish meetings that drew more than 1,000 people to discuss what parishioners were interested in seeing the diocese in the next five years.
Sister Suzanne Donovan, director of the diocese’s Human Resources Office who has facilitated the bishop’s ambitious consultation, said May 7 that the verbatim comments from the deanery meetings are being shared with diocesan priests this week. She said she had “really good conversations” with priests in deanery meetings before this issue of The Dialog went to press. “I think the men are grateful to get the information,” which includes a summary of ideas from the priests’ deaneries.
The 600 comments have also been forwarded to the members of the Diocesan Consultation Committee, 16 clergy and lay people, who are doing personal evaluations of the comments that they will forward to Sister Donovan.
The Consultation Committee is scheduled to meet May 21 to begin to hone its insights on the comments into a report to the bishop.
Bishop Malooly is scheduled to announce the consultation’s results in June, Sister Donovan said.
The report that the committee has is a “verbatim report” of comments from the seven deanery meetings for parishioners, Sister Donovan emphasized.
“Everything they said is reported to the committee. We didn’t take anything out.”
The following is a small sample of the comments of parishioners who attended the regional deanery consultation meeting.
Comments from the Silver Lake deanery consultation session on building sustainable and vibrant faith communities included:
“Each parish is isolated. Tear down the walls between parishes.” A City Deanery parishioner suggested, “study long-term viability of city Catholic schools.”
On the topic of new models for lay leadership at parish and diocesan levels, parishioners in the Central New Castle deanery reported, “collaboration and accountability should be priorities.” The group also said, “Respect and value lay leaders. Provide training for lay leaders and pastors.”
For evangelization in the near future, Silver Lake Deanery participants suggested the diocese “address difficulties of passing along the faith in light of the prevailing culture” and giving attention to separated Catholics. Iron Hill Deanery parishioners wrote, “Catholics don’t understand evangelization. It needs to be defined and people need to be educated.”
In discussing Catholic formation through schools, religious education, adult faith formation and youth ministry, Eastern Shore participants suggested this topic be combined with evangelization efforts. They also stressed the need for “more resources and education. This is essential.”
On cultural diversity efforts, including outreach to all immigrants, Ocean Deanery parishioners said, “cultural diversity is not limited to nationality” and asked, “How do we deal with what appears to be the church being against gays and lesbians?” Eastern Shore parishioners suggested, “The title is too narrow. We must specifically address ethnic, racial and cultural diversity to include divorced, the homosexual, the mix/blended family.”
On the issue of recovery and healing in the diocese, Silver Lake parishioners reported, “There needs to be disclosure, including financial disclosure as we renew trust.” One respondent asked, “Is it time to move on?”
A Brandywine parishioner suggested, “Focus on transparency, accountability and openness.”
On the talking point of developing a succession plan for diocesan-level ministries, and improving the diocese’s ability to function as a business, Brandywine parishioners suggested the diocese “give more responsibility to lay people for business plans, as well as succession plans.” The City Deanery report said, “There are good retired people who could offer transparency in business decisions and in handling money. Priests should be freer to minister to the people.”
On support for priestly life and ministry, someone in the Eastern Shore parish suggested this goal should include religious life and orders. A Silver Lake parishioner suggested retired priests could educate youth on the call to religious life. A suggestion from the Central New Castle region said, “Reduce isolation of priests, look at different models of priestly life.
New concepts for consideration are also included in the report from deanery meetings. The Central New Castle Deanery suggested “service to the poor, vulnerable and needy,” also advancement of married life.
The Ocean Deanery suggested diocesan priorities should be ranked. An Eastern Shore parishioner wrote, “Ministry to the elderly and the aged need to be added.” A new concept from City Deanery was “consider a men’s acolyte program for men who do not want to be deacons but do want to do more in ministry.” Ideas from Silver Lake Deanery included “expand women’s role in the church” and “seminary needs to get real with focus on practical information.”