A pastoral plan to go forward, together
By Bishop W. Shawn McKnight
The preparation for my ad limina visit to the Holy See is well under way.
In July, I submitted to Rome a 137-page report, which covers the activity of the Diocese of Jefferson City since the last report by Bishop John Gaydos in 2010.
The Latin phrase “ad limina” refers to one of the primary reasons for the visit, to pray at the tombs (the “thresholds”) of Saints Peter and Paul.
The other primary purpose for the trip is to honor the Holy Father’s responsibility of calling us to be in union with the Pope and the rest of the Church.
To do that, I will be meeting with the heads of various offices in the Holy See and Pope Francis in January to report on the state of our diocese.
While my report includes quite a bit of statistics, it is also informed by the four listening sessions we conducted in the diocese last April and May.
In reflecting on those listening sessions and in reviewing the material compiled by the diocesan staff, I will be reporting several key observations to Pope Francis and his officials.
I could sum up these observations in two words: Better Together.
In other words, in facing the challenges before our local Church, the Diocese of Jefferson City, it is my firm belief we can overcome attitudes of scarcity and decline by increasing our collaboration and encouraging a missionary mindset among our Catholics.
It’s been my experience that If we think change is something negative and to be delayed or avoided, we often assume resources are scarce and no one is available to assist us.
For us as a Church, this attitude often results in parishes and dioceses that are inward-oriented, not missionary — or outward — focused.
Mission and renewal
It will take us some time, but I hope to build on the good work begun by Bishop Gaydos to strengthen the ecclesial culture of our diocese.
How do we go about doing that?
First, we consider the realities around us. There are many benchmarks to consider, but the ones highlighted in the ad limina report are most relevant to our efforts to become “better together” as a missionary diocese, including:
•People are moving from rural to urban areas. Our small towns are seeing declining populations, and our larger cities are growing.
•Along with the rest of the United States, we are seeing young people less engaged in parish life. Our registered Catholic population is therefore growing older. Overall, the Catholic population has declined slightly in our diocese in the past 10 years.
•There is a decreasing number of active priests.
•The twin crises of clergy sexual abuse and the abuse of power have wounded the presbyterate of the diocese (the priests of the diocese as a whole) and strongly discouraged the faithful, jeopardizing their relationship with the Church and their trust in her leaders.
People’s trust, confidence and belief in the sacrament of holy orders has been shaken, risking their faith in our entire sacramental system.
•The celebration of the sacraments has declined slightly in relation to our total population, except for Mass attendance.
While our percentage of Catholics who attend Mass on a weekly basis is higher than that of other parts of the country (we are about 45 percent), we have seen a 27-percent decline in Mass attendance since 2001.
•The number of Spanish-speaking Catholics in our diocese has risen from 4 to 20 percent of the total Catholic population.
•We are one of only a couple of dioceses in the United States that does not charge active and tithing parishioners tuition for their children to enroll in our Catholic grade schools.
•Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri was founded in 2011 by Bishop Gaydos, making it one of the newest Catholic Charities affiliates in the United States.
•The practice has been to ignore parish boundaries, allowing people to participate in whatever parish they choose. I support giving people the freedom to choose the parish in which they want to belong.
However, this practice over time has had the unintended consequence of allowing parish leadership to ignore the people and institutions (hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) within their parish territorial boundaries.
If we focus only on our registered parishioners, what does that say about our missionary character?
How do we address these realities?
Scripture tells us “without a vision the people will perish” (Proverbs 29:18). We can’t move forward unless we know where we want to go.
My vision for our diocese includes four priorities:
•addressing the impact of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis, including its effect on the local presbyterate;
•creating a culture of co-responsibility between the clergy and laity, in accord with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council;
•raising awareness of the spirituality of stewardship as essential for all disciples, including formation for evangelization; and
•helping parishes become recognized centers of charity and mercy.
Any renewal in the Catholic Church must include the parish. As Pope Francis explains so eloquently in his encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel,” the parish is where people experience God and His people.
In response to God’s generous blessings, the intention is that we — clergy and laity — embrace our responsibility to witness the Gospel and thereby increase our parishes’ presence as centers of charity and mercy in the local community.
The promotion of all vocations beyond baptism (matrimony, religious life, diaconate and priesthood) will be given additional attention to assist our young people to discern how they are called to a life of sacrificial love.
Everyone is called by God to love; it is the responsibility of the Church to provide an environment in which our young people can hear God’s call to a specific vocation and to help them respond joyfully to their call.
This year, I have asked our communication team to integrate our communication platforms and networks, within the diocese and between our parishes and schools. This will allow us to be more responsive to the expectations of digital natives, leverage the economy of scale, and eliminate duplicate tasks by our staffs.
This is an enculturation process, reaching out to those immersed in the digital culture.
A Diocesan Pastoral Council has been established to assist me with the development of a new pastoral plan, which will entail the participation of all the clergy and faithful through periods of recollection and discernment in the liturgical seasons of Advent 2019 and Lent 2020.
“The Joy of the Gospel” will serve as a principal guiding document for that process.
I believe the present difficulties of the Church, both local and universal, provide an opportunity for everyone to reflect anew upon the pastoral vision of the Second Vatican Council with regard to the active participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church.
The Lord continues to provide His Church with an abundance of resources, both spiritual and material, to accomplish its mission.
Let us discover together the many ways God has indeed provided us with all we need.