By JOANNE FOX
Joleen Klocke, a native of Willey and St. Mary’s parishioner, felt she had exhausted all options in expressing her concerns about Ministry 2025 – pastoral planning for the Diocese of Sioux City – at the local level.
“I am sending articles from The Catholic Globe and letters I sent to Bishop Walker Nickless to Pope Francis,” she said. “All of these church closings should not happen, and until the pope is made aware of what’s happening in the Sioux City Diocese, I will not rest.”
According to Father Brent Lingle, diocesan director of pastoral planning, Klocke certainly can send her concerns to the Holy Father, but he emphasized, “We are not operating in a vacuum here in Northwest Iowa. Rather, we have done our due diligence in making sure our planning is being communicated to the larger Roman Catholic Church; for example, we sent correspondence to the apostolic nunciature indicating how our pastoral planning would proceed.”
The apostolic nunciature is the Vatican’s diplomatic mission to the United States, with the rank of an embassy. The apostolic nuncio is also the point-of-contact between the Catholic bishops in America and the Holy Father.
Additionally – every five years – a bishop makes an “ad limina apostolorum” (translated from Latin ‘to the thresholds of the apostles’) visit to Rome. Each bishop must present a report that indicates the state of the diocese, which the Holy Father does review.
Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, a native of Hospers and priest of the Diocese of Sioux City – who himself was a former member of the nunciature staff – confirmed the importance of clear communication, especially with the people and priests of the diocese and the nunciature.
That was the case for the Diocese of Sioux City, Father Lingle affirmed, and added that in all correspondence on Ministry 2025, “it was indicated we were proceeding fully within the parameters of what the bishop could implement.”
Father Lingle explained that when individuals write to the pope or other officials, the matter is often referred back to the local bishop.
“It’s important to note that bishops are not acting unilaterally in these matters,” he said. “Dioceses have pastoral councils, presbyteral councils, a college of consultors and chancery staff; bishops seek input from these groups before embarking on any pastoral planning.”
Archbishop Schnurr, who was awarded a doctorate in canon law from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., agreed that a bishop does have the authority under the framework of canon law to carry-out decisions for the diocese.
“That falls under the ‘teaching, sanctifying and governing’ role of a bishop,” he said. “But most bishops would seek input and invite dialogue on pastoral planning from the priests and laity.”
Father Lingle acknowledged that even the optimum pastoral planning procedures and implementation cannot take away the pain experienced by parishioners in the changes – and perhaps closing – of a parish or parishes.
“The church may have been the only remaining building in the town, after the school, the grocery store and the lumber yard were gone,” he said. “So, that closure can be demoralizing to the entire community.”
The situation faced by the Diocese of Sioux City is not unusual, as the lack of vocations to the priesthood is “a crisis” experienced all over the United States, Father Lingle pointed out.
“Very few dioceses have an abundance of seminarians studying for the priesthood,” he said. “I would say prayer is our greatest need right now to change things.”