St. Saviour

St. Saviour Too Fractured for Proper Pastoral Planning Council Inductions

In 1 on October 6, 2009 at 9:17 am
St. Saviour Church 10/20/09

St. Saviour Church 10/20/09

On a Friday evening, September the 25th, a group of around 16 parishioners arrived at the Parish Hall at St. Saviour to attend a Pastoral Planning Council meeting. It was the first of two meetings intended to select three parishioners for the PPC and was advertised in the St. Saviour Bulletin on September 13th. The Pastoral Planning Council is defined in the bulletin as “Formed in 2006 through the discernment process, St. Saviour’s PPC conducted one-to-one interviews with many parishioners, held two parish assemblies and drafted the parish’s pastoral plan which was submitted to the diocese and subsequently approved by the Bishop. Working with other parishioners, progress on the various objectives and goals is being made and reported to the diocese on a yearly basis. The next step in the diocesan vision is pastoral plans for the clusters of parishes. St. Saviour is in a cluster with Holy Name, Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Francis Xavier and St. Augustine.”

Parents and Parishioners are concerned with what will become of St. Saviour Elementary School when the transition from a parish school to an academy take place. They are also deeply concerned with the unquestionable fracture of their parish, as acknowledged by both Father Murphy and the remaining members of the Pastoral Planning Council. Considering the untimely firing of St. Saviour Elementary’s Principal, the unwarranted firing of the church music director, and the fact that the new principal was on the PPC and continues to be on the council, Parents and Parishioners felt called to dedicate their time and talents to be part of this important and influential council to their parish and school. The Parents and Parishioners also recognize the key role the PPC could play in healing the troubled parish.

The Diocese sent Ellen Rhatigan to lead the September 25th meeting. By the time Miss Rhatigan arrived, any tensions that initially existed between the parishioners and Father Murphy’s staff had abated and the meeting went smoothly. The next meeting was scheduled for October 2nd, and was intended to be for those still interested in being on the PPC. This meeting would entail a discernment process to select the three parishioners most suited to be on the council as decided by Father Murphy and other members of the PPC. These Parishioners who were willing to commit their time, feeling that they had been chosen by the Holy Spirit to step forward, were surprised to receive an email from Father Murphy on October 1st saying;

Dear Parish Council Nominee,
As you’ll read, Robert Choiniere, Director of Pastoral Planning of the Diocese of Brooklyn, has decided to cancel Friday’s Night of Discernment due to the tension, divisive agendas and polarization Ellen Rhatigan experienced last Friday night.
Fr. Murphy

Attached to the email from Father Murphy was a note from Robert Choiniere, the director of Pastoral Planning Councils for the Diocese. In his letter he suggested that the procedures followed by Father Murphy were not the recommended ones and may have hampered the procedures. Robert Choiniere mentioned that perhaps people who showed up for discernment were lacking in leadership gifts, which stung people who showed up to devote themselves to this group. He suggested that the discernment could take place after a reconciliation of parishioners. Mr. Choiniere mentioned that he has never had to cancel a discernment meeting and felt that our situation was very serious.

As of yet, Parents and Parishioners are left to wonder if they will have a voice in their church. They are left to wonder if their pastor is hoping they will move to another school and parish and they are left to wonder if the Diocese will be able to resolve these painful issues. It seems pretty clear to parishioners that there should be room for everyone’s voice to be heard. As one recent protester’s sign read, “We need to be loved, not ignored.”

  1. October 4, 2009
    Dear Mr. Choiniere:

    Thank you for your thoughtful letter sent to our Pastor, Fr. Daniel Murphy, regarding the postponement of the discernment part of the Pastoral Planning Council meeting scheduled for Friday, October 2, 2009.

    When I first read Fr. Murphy’s cover memo stating “has decided to cancel Friday’s Night of Discernment due to the tension, divisive agendas and polarization Ellen Rhatigan experienced last Friday night”, my first reaction was “they are trying to shut us out” and I truly did feel disenfranchised. Fr. Murphy’s cover memo, independent of your letter, implies that we parishioners who came to the meeting were alone responsible for the tension creating division and the members of the present council are innocent of ill feelings.

    I came to this meeting as an interested life-long parishioner and yes, I am also one of the many people who protested the unfair and truly unjust way that our pastor handled a change of administration in our school, including his method of choosing a new principal and finally refusing to accept the recommendation of the mediation panel.

    Fr. Murphy greeted everyone as we sat down in the circle of chairs and reported that Ellen was delayed in traffic but to start without her. One parishioner did speak out of turn to Fr. Murphy long before our guest speaker arrived. Approximately 25 parishioners were present at this meeting. It was evident those concerned parishioners present, in addition to the current council member, came because of the crisis in the parish. I was quite surprised that Ellen Rhatigan would report on underlying tension to you because neither the pastor or Ellen Rhatigan were present when two of the current pastoral team acted rudely to someone who asked questions at the meeting. For the duration of the meeting with Ellen present, everyone acted in a proper manner, raising a hand to speak, etc. Yes, tension was there, but there was no shouting or improper behavior from anyone in the presence of Ms. Rhatigan.

    When I re-read your letter, I was in total agreement with your discernment “to continue to work towards reconciliation with those members of the parish that have felt disenfranchised” before proceeding to fulfill the nomination process.

    You are also absolutely right that “the root issues that are currently creating discontent may be satisfactorily addressed first” and need to be addressed now before we can heal our parish and move on. This is, unfortunately, something that Fr. Murphy has refused to do from the beginning. It may never have gone this far, if he had met with the parents as they requested when this all started. However, because the rupture of the parish has deepened by so much animosimity and nasty accusations, that job is now much harder to accomplish.

    I am writing to you just to give my impression of the meeting and to reaffirm your decision to postpone the pastoral planning process.

    Very truly yours,

    Gertrude Gilligan
    St. Saviour Parish

  2. October 2, 2009
    Dear Mr. Choiniere,

    Father Murphy forwarded parishioners the note you sent him about canceling the Pastoral Planning Council meeting tonight, I’m sure to the great relief of Fr. Murphy, the present Pastoral Planning Council, and parishioners. You mention that perhaps that if Fr. Murphy had followed the proper nomination process, circumstances may have been different. I can assure you that the parish was ready to nominate those people who showed up last Friday, and so the situation would have been the same. I also believe that aside from one especially agitated parishioner, and Fr. Murphy’s secretary, the meeting was polite.

    Many of us at St. Saviour are still scratching our heads over what has become of our parish. The firing of our successful principal seemed so uncharitable that it has caused everyone to reflect back on many of divisive and hurtful things that have taken place over the past several years. The grand scale of the effects of firing a principal forced everyone out of their private misgivings, and out onto the streets, literally. Looking back, we parishioners should have taken more responsibility for creating the kind of oversight necessary to good governance and fiscal responsibility in our parish especially since school children are directly affected. It is easy to sit back and rely on the Diocese to preside over everything with care and expertise – but it is also somewhat unrealistic considering the state of the church’s finances and shortage of clergy. That is why so many turned out to joing the PPC. It would give that council more transparency and gravity if more than one opinion was voiced.

    There is one parishioner presently on the Pastoral Planning Council who has been sympathetic to the protesters. He’s been asked repeatedly to step down by other members of the Council. I believe that it is the Holy Spirit that gives him strength to stay in the face of such unanimous adversity, and I believe it is the Holy Spirit that is giving us the strength to sacrifice so many hours to trying to bring closure to this intense struggle we’re having.

    Not every parishioner is able to publicly question their pastor, and they are now attending other churches rather than be distracted during mass by their strong feelings about Fr. Murphy. The teachers, who signed a letter asking Fr. Murphy to reconsider his decision in the Spring, never speak out against the pastor or new principal simply due to decorum and propriety. They are strong women (and two men) and keep their suffering to themselves.

    I really appreciate what you do, and the time you dedicate to bringing laity into leadership positions. I’m sure that 99% of the time, the Pastoral Planning Council is beneficial to the pastor and parish alike. And ours will be too, in due time. Thanks for your leadership.


    Cindy Brolsma Gange

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