A reader asks

Would smaller dioceses help our Church?

While the main problem in the clerical sex scandal is moral, there is no doubt that some institutional change will aid in changing the moral environment. This is just a common sense procedure that we would do in any other situation: if there is temptation around, some are going to succumb, so reduce the temptation. Some of the proposed instituional changes are likely to do that: better training and screening of seminarians, restricting of ordination candidates to heterosexuals, review boards that have clear mandates and criteria when accusations are made, etc.

One proposal I have not seen that I think could be helpful is smaller dioceses. In Boston we have an Archdiocese with more than 2 million Catholics. We have 5 “regional” bishops, plus another auxiliary besides the Archbishop. I have started to wonder, as the stories in the press about Bishop McCormack (now of Manchester, NH) unfold, if Cardinal Law was in fact very well informed of what was going on with many of the accused clerics. How well could anyone know the more than 1500 priests that work in the Archdiocese at any given time? Catholic tradition holds that it is an aberration for a diocese to have more than one bishop, although a coadjutor is allowed for a bishop in need because of health or age. Yet we regularly set up huge dioceses that cannot possibly be run by one bishop…he can’t possibly get to know even a representative portion of his flock, and so the bishop is further distanced from his people.

Smaller dioceses would help in practical ways, and would also make the bishops role as teacher much more likely to be effective. And the smaller dicoeses would cut out some of the “middlemen” that I suspect contributed to the breakdown in discipline that has afflicted the Church here.

In the Boston Archdiocese, for example, there are several large cities (Cambridge, Brockton, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Newton, Quincy and Somerville) with populations greater than 70,000 that could benefit from having their own bishop to serve the city and its surrounding suburbs. Keeping in mind that the population of Massachusetts is more than 50% Catholic, and that the majority of recent immigrants (Hispanics, Haitians, Cape Verdeans) arrive Catholic, it’s clear that we need a better way of both organizing ourselves and ministering to the Catholic people.

Makes sense to me. I daresay that in Catholic thought smaller is virtually always better.


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