By Doug Bean
Catholic Times Editor
The diocese’s Real Presence Real Future campaign initiated last year by Bishop Robert Brennan will move forward in earnest despite the announcement this morning that he will be leaving Columbus at the end of November to lead the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.
“We started this process called Real Presence Real Future and we need to continue on that road. That’s essential,” Bishop Brennan said before the announcement of his appointment was made official Wednesday morning by the Holy See.
When Bishop Brennan received news last week of the new appointment from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s representative in the United States, he expressed concern to the papal nuncio about the continuation of the Real Presence Real Future work that he started here in Columbus.
“(Archbishop Pierre) was very clear and said that (work) should continue – that you should go down that road,” Bishop Brennan said. “And as I think about it, where we are now is in that process of consultation. It’s not a part of the process that depends on the bishop, but what you’re doing is you, as a diocese, are making your voices heard.
“Please continue to participate. If you haven’t already participated in some of these parish sessions, please continue to be part of this process because we’ll be able to give the next bishop a wonderful gift. He will be able to come in and hear what the people of this diocese are saying are the needs, and some of our ideas for the ways the church in the 21st century can function and meet the needs of this new century.”
Bishop Brennan will remain in Columbus through the end of November as the diocese’s apostolic administrator before leaving for Brooklyn. But as the Diocese of Columbus awaits the appointment of a new bishop, the crucial Real Presence Real Future fall consultation sessions for every parish that started in September will proceed through November.
Father Michael Hartge, the Moderator of the Curia who is overseeing the Real Presence Real Future process, can’t stress enough how important it is for every Catholic in the diocese to become engaged and informed in this critical planning process.
“We’re already a few weeks in and we’re really getting some good responses,” Father Hartge said. “But we want to get even more from everybody around the diocese.”
Parishioners are encouraged to check with their parishes or go to www.realpresencerealfuture.org and search for times and dates for the sessions, which are scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on weeknights and 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday.
If you missed your parish’s sessions, email and you will be sent recordings of the Zoom meetings that took place and a link to offer feedback.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re very publicly following up on our previous sessions and we’re doing what we said we would do, which, to Bishop Brennan’s desire, is to really consult with as many people in the diocese as possible, to hear their opinions,” Father Hartge said.
“The sessions that I’ve facilitated myself have gone extremely well so far. People have been very patient and understanding. In some cases, people were surprised with what they heard, maybe not fully knowing or understanding all the facets of Real Presence Real Future, but by the end of the session they had a more complete and clear picture about what we’re doing here.”
While much of the emphasis of Real Presence Real Future to this point was placed on evangelization, the next step in the process is presenting models on how parishes might look in the future to better utilize resources and the shrinking number of active priests. Parish clusters, resource sharing and closures are all on the table.
“Some things as I’m facilitating these sessions that have come up in people’s comments is that they’re unaware that there’s talk of parish mergers,” Father Hartge said. “We’re just in the planning stage and talking about the draft models for parishes. We’re hearing from the parishioners to see if we’re getting potential groupings of parishes right.”
Four proposed draft models for grouping parishes to foster collaboration include:
- One parish/one pastor – May occur through extinctive union or merge of multiple parishes into a new parish
- Collaborative – Each parish maintains distinct canonical identity but has one pastor, one staff and joint programming
- Multi-parish pastoring – Each parish maintains distinct canonical identity, separate staff, separate programming but shares clergy.
- Deacon administrator – A parish or parishes administered under Canon 517.2 with sacramental care provided by neighboring priests and overseen by a priest moderator.
“Some common theme that we were hitting pretty hard early on in the process was that no decisions have been made,” Father Hartge said. “And that’s absolutely true. I want people to know that decisions about your parish have not yet been made. But I do want to give people a very realistic understanding that decisions will eventually have to be made. And as to Bishop Brennan’s point, we don’t want to do this without you. And as we say in the consultations, no change is not an option.
“We all have to change in some way or another, whether that’s a big suburban parish that we don’t see as being grouped together with anyone else because of geography and of size, but they still have to get the idea in their minds about changing maybe the way they do outreach, just being evangelization and mission oriented, that type of thing. And then for other parishes, it might be more structural.”
Assessments determined that the diocese has experienced about an 18 percent decline in Mass attendance.
“All of this is being done understanding the amount of people we have in the pews right now and just trying to live in current reality,” Father Hartge said. “We might be tempted to look back and see my parish where it was 20 years ago, which could be a far different picture than where it is now. Current reality is a critical, critical part in this because we can be very protective of our parish.”
Some of the criteria for determining the future of parishes will include Mass attendance, number of registered families, programs and geography.
“Another thing that I’ve been hearing in some of these consultation sessions is that people have been saying we don’t know the parishes well enough around us to be able to comment on them,” Father Hartge said. “It’s probably a good time to take a little road trip and maybe visit a different parish on the weekend and have a little fun with this. Hear a different priest and pick up a parish bulletin and see what kind of ministries are going on in this parish.
“Just get familiar with our parishes. We’re not islands. We are very parish focused, and we should be very proud of our parishes, but we’re very interdependent on each other. And we are the Diocese of Columbus, no matter if we live two hours from Columbus or right in the center of the city. We’re one diocese.”
At the conclusion of the fall consultation sessions, feedback from parishioners will be assessed and draft models for parishes will be further developed during the winter.
“Think in such a way as we’re renewing the church in Columbus, and kind of everything’s on the table as far as possibilities and what we might do,” Father Hartge said. “The priests are getting together to talk in person about how this impacts them – how it can be managed.”
Questions about how the new models could eventually affect priests have been raised in the fall sessions.
“We already see the clergy stretched thin and people are seeing models grouping two or three parishes together with one priest, maybe two priests,” Father Hartge said. “They’re concerned that this isn’t helping them much.”
Priests also will be called upon to share their input privately.
“How do we grow the faith, but at the same time how do we do that productively the best way possible?” Father Hartge said. “We’re shifting people around. We’re not getting people to identify with the parish that’s sustainable. That’s going to be able to grow have the resources to be able to really evangelize and flourish and be vibrant. What we want is vibrancy.”