I received an invitation on Tuesday by email to enter into a discussion situation on a local website established a few months ago by an anonymous person which is focused on providing a forum for those hurt and upset or disgruntled by the recent structural changes to a number of parishes in our diocese and our bishop and the present administration. The website and the ficticious name given by its author will remain un-named, because they do not deserve any recognition or credibility from me. The forum provided allows people to express their hurts and also their anger, which at times became petty, disrespectful and hurtful to the point that I was shocked at how unchristian these comments were at times.
I remained silent, until last Thursday. I wrote and sent the following to this site:
I wanted to write to you and your readers to express my sincere apologies on my part for deceiving and misleading you into believing that your numbers are a groundswell of popular support for your cause. You see, I, and a goodly number of people that I know, view your web site often, a number of times each day, not in support or agreement with what is presented but to see the lengths that you will go to express your anger and hatred of the bishop and the administration. You efforts to sow discontent and rebellion through half truths, innuendo and name calling feeds upon the hurt and mourning of so many whose long set ways are now challenged, and is blatantly contrary to gospel truths and values. This is the other reason that I write, to voice not only my disappointment with the level of understanding of what it is to be Church but my concern that your efforts are encouraging people along a path that is unhealthy.
The structural changes experienced in this diocese recently are nothing new. For many years, during the administration of the last three bishops, change has happened ... churches have closed as population and needs have shifted ... many parishes have been partnered and are under the pastoral leadership of one priest and new parish formats have developed. Often there was fear or anger or protest, but almost universally the results brought about a more vibrant Church. This is true not only in this diocese, but in even greater ways throughout the Northeast and even in the beloved, neighboring diocese of Pittsburgh which is often viewed on your web site as "doing things right". The decrease in population, the shortage of clergy, the economic challenges to churches and schools is not just a local phenomenon, it is a reality of life. Anyone who expects the status quo to remain unchanged has not faced reality. And for us, the clergy shortage, which we have been warning about for countless years and which is happening, is the major reason for this restructuring, even with the great service, past and present, of the Benedictines.
I write as one who passionately loves the people of this diocese, especially those that I have had the privilege of serving - including three parishes of those in the present restructuring. I believe in my heart that, even with the challenges involved, this will provide for a stronger, healthier Church in those areas. I am confident that given a chance and approached positively, the people will see that the Church in this Diocese has not abandoned them, but given them a greater opportunity to live out the Gospel. I pray that you, and the discord that you foment, will cease. I would remind all who hold hatred in their hearts that the Lord invites us to repentance, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the source of God's mercy and forgiveness. Father Len Stoviak, a priest of this diocese.
Over the weekend this person published my letter, to my surprise. It was under the heading "Local priest invites readers to repent", listed me as a diocesan official, and contained an invitation to them to dialogue with me on line. They even took and used my picture from FB. I responded to the invitation to dialogue this morning in this way:
Thank you for publishing my letter addressed to you and your readers and for your note below.
I will not be engaging in a dialogue with you or your readers for a number of reasons:
* It was never my intention to do so ... that came from you. I was simply stating my feelings on the negative effects that I believe that your web site is promoting.
* I will not because I do not want to give your endeavor credibility or recognition beyond what I have already done.
* Despite your reference to my being an "official" of the diocese, I speak only for myself, and while enjoying a dialogue, I will not do so in the public forum.
* But most importantly, I have had a longstanding position of not responding to anonymous emails or notes. While a number of your readers did mention their first names, the one who leads them has not. I told you and your readers who I was, I challenge you to do the same. Give a face and a name to the cause that you promote.
I firmly believe that your efforts, however well intentioned they may be, are counter productive and damaging to the People of God. Our people are indeed hurting, but I see their pain sustained as you encourage them to focus on their wants as opposed to seeking healing from the Lord. I see no good coming from your "work". I will continue to pray for you, but not for the success of your efforts.
Enough said on my part. I don't enjoy the spotlight. On to the more positive.