January 28, 2019
Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta
2401 Lake Park Drive
Smyrna, Georgia 30080
Dear Archbishop Gregory,
Thank you for coming to St. Thomas More earlier this month to meet with the Parish Council and to listen to our concerns.
We are encouraged to hear that you are continually fighting the battle against clericalism, which we agree is a large contributor to many of the problems the Church is facing today, including the abuse crisis. We are also pleased to hear that you recognize the importance of transparency and of lay involvement in church leadership. However, while we recognize your good intentions and acknowledge the steps you have taken to-date to address the crisis, what we currently have is not enough.
Many Catholics have lost faith and trust in the Church and its leadership. Even while some Catholics take solace in their local parishes, they are ashamed of the larger “corporate” Church. For many it will only take one more grand jury report or one more news story for them to abandon the Church altogether. This loss of trust and exodus from the Church will worsen as more states undergo investigations like those in Pennsylvania.
It will not be the past actions of priests that will compel faithful Catholics to leave; it will be the current actions or inaction of Church leaders today.
We are convinced there are things you can do, as the leader of this archdiocese, to help restore trust and faith among Catholics in north Georgia — to demonstrate that it is not “business as usual” in our local Church, that you are committed to addressing the concerns of your people. We shared a few ideas with you when we met, and we have other suggestions on ways you could increase transparency, increase lay involvement in meaningful leadership positions, and better connect yourself to your people across this archdiocese:
- Reconstitute the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council so that it is lay-led; reasonably independent of clerical control in terms of its membership, agenda and voice; and on par with the Priests’ Council in terms of authority and influence.
- Include laity on the Priest Personnel Board.
- Critically review the formation of seminarians within the archdiocese to identify ways that creeping clericalism might be mitigated, including a review of the theology of priesthood that is transmitted to seminarians.
- Establish an independent task force comprised of lay persons, theologians, clergy, and behavioral health professionals to study rigorously the issue of clericalism: how it has contributed to the present leadership crisis, what we do in our archdiocese to contribute to clericalism, what we can do to counter it.
- Connect more with your people by increasing your unannounced appearances at parishes. Show up and listen to parishioners.
- Develop a broader communication strategy that goes beyond the Georgia Bulletin. Not everyone subscribes to the Bulletin, and not all who receive it read it consistently. This communication strategy might include
- A video message shared during Mass in each parish; if the faithful were to perceive that you place as much importance on their knowing that you hurt with them and are committed to caring for them as you place on your Annual Appeal, it would go far toward restoring their trust.
- A weekly e-newsletter; many parishes use such a format to complement their Sunday bulletins. An electronic newsletter, shorter than a bulletin, summarizes key messages and important information.
- Establish standards for disclosure of objectionable activities by clergy, church employees, and volunteers (including but not limited to abuse), and establish a lay committee with oversight.
These are just some of the ideas we have, and we believe that all are within your power to execute. We have other ideas, too, and would like to work with you on bringing some meaningful change that people can see and feel. The people in your archdiocese need to know that you care.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
St. Thomas More Parish Council
Steve Carney, Chris Harvey, Richard Joseph, Jim Logan, Patti Paulino, Anh Phillips, Steve Siler, Mary Swartz, and Maggie Whitcomb