Bishop Announces Final Decisions on Parish Restructurings

Bishop Joseph F. Martino has announced his final decisions on parish restructurings.

The plan, which was communicated through a recorded message from the Bishop that was played at all Masses the weekend of January 31 - February 1, affects every parish in the 11-county Diocese in some way. Implementation will begin in July.

The plan is the fruit of Called to Holiness and Mission: Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of Scranton, the project designed to foster the spiritual and pastoral renewal of the Diocese, starting with the Diocese’s most basic unit, the parish. It also intends to respond to demographic changes, diminishing financial resources, and the need to assign priests in a more effective way to serve the faithful.

In his message to parishioners, Bishop Martino said we must examine our parishes, schools, institutions, buildings and programs to ensure they are prepared to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ as Jesus intends them to do.

Although some people would undoubtedly prefer to leave well enough alone, the Bishop explained why that is not feasible.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “many of our institutions are not ‘well enough.’ Our society and our Diocese are experiencing changes. Populations are shifting. Financial resources are diminishing. Many Catholics are not actively practicing their faith or supporting the Church. Our priests are serving too many parishes at one time.”

After a long strategic planning process, a restructuring of the Catholic school system took effect in the fall of 2007. Several months later, in January 2008, Called to Holiness and Mission began.

From the start, Bishop Martino directed that the process involve broad consultation beginning at the parish level. Pastors were asked to form Parish Core Teams to perform self-assessments of their parishes. It was the responsibility of the pastors and the Parish Core Teams to ensure that the necessary work was done in each parish and that communication and consultation involved the already established Parish Pastoral Council and Parish Finance Council, and all members of the parish.

The conversation then widened to include Cluster Core Teams, comprised of the Parish Core Teams in a given geographic area, the Pastoral and Finance Councils for each parish in those areas, facilitators who were available to help parishes with the process, parish staff and all parishioners.

In addition, information on the pastoral planning project appeared on a regular basis in The Catholic Light, on CTV: Catholic Television, on the diocesan website at, and through inserts that were sent to all pastors for inclusion in their church bulletins.

After months of evaluation and discussion in the parishes and the clusters, suggestions were made to the Diocesan Planning Commission, an advisory group comprised of priests, deacons, religious and laypersons from the various regions of the Diocese.

The Planning Commission came together for a two-day retreat and made preliminary recommendations that were sent back to the clusters for more discussion and a response. The Planning Commission gathered again to study and reflect on those responses before making its final recommendations to Bishop Martino in October.

The Bishop then entered into a period of study, reflection and prayer and he reviewed the recommendations with his Episcopal Council. Afterward, in meetings over the course of two days, Jan. 19 - 20, he consulted with the Council of Priests regarding all recommendations he received from the Diocesan Planning Commission. This was in accordance with canon 515 2 of the Code of Canon Law.

The Bishop acknowledged that some parishioners would experience sorrow, perhaps even anger, if the church they are used to attending should close.

“I know that you love your churches,” he said. “But I also know that you love God and your faith even more. You want to see the faith preserved and handed down to future generations. And so, I believe you will recognize that changes must be made to deal with the realities of the present day.

“It’s only natural for us to want things to be the way we prefer. But as I said in my pastoral letter four years ago, we must be prepared to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ not as we would have it, but as Jesus intends it. We must be responsible and grateful stewards of the gifts and talents God has given us. We must use them wisely and productively to bring about the spiritual and pastoral renewal of the Diocese. That is the essence of Called to Holiness and Mission.”

Bishop Martino told The Catholic Light that change is a sign of life, and he cited how Jesus prayed at the Last Supper that all might be one.

“Our Lord’s words should inspire us to worship together as one community, not as separate congregations,” the Bishop said.

He added that the state of the economy and demographics are forcing businesses, governmental units and organizations everywhere to seriously examine their structures and devise ways to consolidate and operate more efficiently. Recent local media accounts have encouraged cooperation across the region.

Before closing his remarks to parishioners, the Bishop explained his reason for addressing them through a recorded message. He said:

“Please know that I have no other way of making this announcement if I want to be respectful of you, for whom this information is so important. I have chosen to address the entire Diocese at this weekend’s Masses so that you will not be hearing about the future of your parish after others have heard of it. I ask you to understand my only intention in addressing you through this audio disc is to respect you and show my care for you.”

As parishes and clusters prepare to implement the restructuring plan in the Diocese of Scranton, Bishop Martino encouraged everyone to “pray often for the light and strength we need in order to walk the path that God has prepared for us.”  

Parishes Will Follow Models and Directives for Restructuring  

Every parish in the Diocese will be involved in the pastoral and spiritual renewal of Called to Holiness and Mission. Parishes will follow one of three models:  

Partnership: Parishes that retain their own pastors will enter into a formal relationship of cooperation with one another. This cooperation will involve the sharing of programs and resources such as RCIA, youth group and adult religious formation. Partnerships conserve resources by avoiding unnecessary duplication of services. Partnerships are one way of practicing good stewardship.

Linked Parishes: This model involves two or more parishes sharing the same pastor. Although linked parishes remain distinct, they cooperate even more completely than parishes in partnership. Linked parishes are already very familiar to us in the Diocese of Scranton for they exist wherever one pastor is caring for more than one parish.

Consolidated Parish: This happens when two or more parishes come together in such a way that only one parish continues to exist. That one or new parish then serves the parishioners of those parishes which have closed. In some instances of consolidation, however, a church building of a closed parish may remain open for a limited time. When this arrangement is provided, it will usually be to accommodate a Sunday Mass, funeral or wedding.  

Resources and directives will be provided to the clusters and their parishes as they prepare for the implementation of the restructuring. These are the general directives that every cluster will follow as the implementation proceeds:  

1. The cluster is to develop and implement effective evangelization plans to be welcoming communities, providing engaging adult formation programs and inviting active participation in the liturgical life and mission of the Church.  

2. The cluster is to respond to the command of Jesus to serve by proclaiming in word and action the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and call to social justice.  

3. Parishioners are to be encouraged to cultivate a culture of vocation, or “calling”, be educated to “live their lives as a vocation” to holiness and mission, and support vocations to priesthood, diaconate, religious life and the lay apostolate.  

4. The rich ethnic heritage of the people in the area is to be honored and celebrated whenever appropriate.  

5. A new Mass schedule is to be developed that reflects good stewardship of priestly resources and maximizes opportunities for larger assemblies to provide a more robust celebration of the liturgy.  

6. Each parish in the cluster is to study its facility assessment report and build into its annual budget funding for ordinary and extraordinary maintenance.  

7. Parishes with debt (assessments and loans) to the Diocese and other entities are to meet with the Diocesan Director of Finance and the Director of Called to Holiness and Mission to set up a realistic payment schedule.  

8. Upon reception of the Bishop’s directives for their cluster, a Cluster Implementation Team is to be established to design ways to fulfill the directives.  

The final decisions for the four Pastoral Regions of the Diocese are as follows:  

Final Decisions for the Northern Pastoral Region

Final Decisions for Western Pastoral Region

Final Decisions for Eastern Pastoral Region

Final Decisions for the Southern Pastoral Region