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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Each year on the First Sunday of Lent, we hear about the three temptations with which Satan challenged Christ after his baptism. These temptations, though apparently different, essentially asked Jesus to decide whether to trust the Father or attempt to carry out his mission, relying solely on his own resources. The temptations of Jesus confront us as well, as individuals and as the Church. Just as Jesus experienced temptation, our journey through life brings us to ordeals that test our faith in God.
This Lent, the parishioners of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Knightstown and Our Lady of Providence Parish in Brownstown are grieving, because their parishes will be closed on July 1, 2016, in the wake of decisions I made in the most recent round of the Connected in the Spirit planning process. The parishioners of Holy Family, St. Andrew and St. Mary parishes in Richmond also are experiencing sadness and loss, since their parishes will be combined into a single new parish with a new name.
In addition to the merger of these parishes, other parishes are being asked to link and share a pastor. All of the linked parishes will also be establishing joint pastoral councils to coordinate planning, programs and outreach. All of the parishes in the Bloomington, Connersville and Seymour deaneries will establish partnerships to enhance their ministry and avoid an unnecessary duplication of services.
Like so many other dioceses throughout our country, we have had to make some difficult decisions regarding the structures of the Church. Fifteen months ago, pastoral leaders and lay representatives from the 31 parishes in the three deaneries began a process of evaluation, planning and recommendations. You probably recall that the Terre Haute, Batesville and all four Indianapolis deaneries have already gone through this process, leaving two deaneries, New Albany and Tell City, still to conclude Connected in the Spirit.
Jesus is the same “yesterday, today and tomorrow,” but the Church always has needed to adapt its structures to a changing world. Factors such as demographic shifts in Catholic populations, density concentration of parishes in a limited geographical area, a history of declining Mass attendance and sacramental activity, increasing economic challenges that threaten sustainability, a decrease in the clergy needed to staff parishes and a review of facilities were studied and taken into consideration in the Connected in the Spirit planning process.
Before making my decisions, I consulted with the Archdiocesan Planning Commission, a group of 16 ordained, religious and lay leaders who are broadly representative of the archdiocese, as well as representatives of the parishes, the Council of Priests and the senior managers of the archdiocese. I am confident that the decisions will contribute to the growth and health of the archdiocese.
I can well understand that some of these decisions are difficult to accept, especially those regarding the parish communities that will be merged, and parishioners may wonder how and to whom they might appeal. Those who are affected have the right to seek recourse against my decisions. When I announced my decisions, I also communicated in some detail the process of appeal as governed by the proper law of the Catholic Church.
The coming months will bring changes that touch all the faithful of the Bloomington, Connersville and Seymour deaneries, as well as a particular grief for the members of the parishes that will close. I truly regret the pain these decisions will cause.
But no life is spared pain and loss—not the lives of families, parishes, its pastors or an archdiocese. While we know that none of us can avoid losing those we love to sickness and death, we believe that death does not have the final word. Because of Christ’s victory over sin and death, hope glimmers amid the pain of life’s journey. With the help of God’s grace, we can move beyond our pain and sorrow to new life. As we work to grow more like Jesus this Lent, let us search for the will of God that will lead us to even more faithful discipleship of our risen Lord.
I ask all the parishes in the archdiocese to remember the faithful who have taken part in Connected in the Spirit and need our prayerful support. All parishes must be especially attentive to those brothers and sisters who come from a parish that will close, offering them a warm and compassionate welcome, while showing great respect for their former parochial community and its history.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to continue to accompany the planning process of Connected in the Spirit, so that all the members of the communities of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis may be loving disciples who give eloquent witness to the love of God that is manifest in Jesus Christ.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Indianapolis