By JOANNE FOX
Two years ago, a pastoral planning process – Ministry 2025 – was initiated in the Diocese of Sioux City with the hope of using limited priestly resources as wisely as possible while creating and sustaining vibrant parishes.
Since that initial presentation, the proposal has changed several times due to the input of the laity, women religious, permanent deacons and priests.
A change in defining the terms parish, church, worship site and oratory has been added to the other adaptations.
In January, Bishop Walker Nickless sent a letter to Cardinal Beniamino Stella, the Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy in the Vatican, updating him on Ministry 2025 and asking for any guidance he might give to the process.
One of the suggestions the cardinal offered – considering the congregation’s experience with these matters – was that the diocese clarify the terminology used to define the status of a “church,” a term used to describe anything from a building to a civil corporation.
According to Father Brent Lingle, director of the pastoral planning, the cardinal’s recommendations were brought before the Presbyteral Council during its April 12 meeting.
“The updated terminology will be used in the degrees that will be issued for the parishes that are making changes this summer,” he said. “The first of these decrees will appear in the May 10 edition of The Catholic Globe; the remaining decrees will follow in the May 24 edition.”
The revised terminology in defining a church include:
- Canonical parish
- Merged secondary church
- Merged worship site church.
A canonical parish is one established by the bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City and has been – or is in the process of – a civil incorporation in the State of Iowa.
A merged secondary church – formerly referred to as a worship site – is an entity that was previously a canonical parish, that has been merged with a distinct nearby parish, but is no longer a canonical parish nor a civil corporation.
For example, Holy Cross Parish in Sioux City is a canonical and civil corporation. It is made up of Blessed Sacrament and St. Michael, which previously had been their own canonical and civil corporations. With their merger, those two churches were suppressed and given the status of “worship sites,” Father Lingle stated.
“Since ‘worship site’ is no longer a valid, canonical term for these churches and now that we are implementing different terminology, Blessed Sacrament and St. Michael will be called ‘church’ and not ‘worship site,’” he said. “The pastor still remains responsible for the care of the souls, as well as to assure that Mass is offered on Sunday and, if possible, holy days of obligation at the merged secondary churches.”
To make the words easier for everyone, the term “merged secondary church” will be used only in “official” proclamations, Father Lingle noted.
“In conversation, it will be easier to refer to them simply as churches,” he said. “However, worship site is not a preferred designation.”
A merged worship site church – formerly referred to as an oratory – is an entity that was previously a canonical parish but was merged with a distinct nearby parish. It no longer exists as a canonical parish nor as a civil corporation, nor will Mass be routinely offered at the site, Father Lingle pointed out.
“In July 2017, parishes were assigned the status of oratory, as this was the custom of the diocese since 1988, according to particular law promulgated by Bishop Lawrence Soens regarding parish alteration, linkage or closure,” he said. “With the clarification from Cardinal Stella, we better understand the term oratory should only apply to a chapel, such as one in a hospital or a nursing home.”
The initial Ministry 2025 draft, which was created with the input of diocesan priests and the help of the consulting firm TeamWorks International, called for 40 of the 108 diocesan parishes to go to “oratory” status, under the auspices of a nearby canonical parish, Father Lingle stated.
“The parish itself is suppressed, but the correct term when defining the status of the building is ‘merged worship site church,’” he said. “The church building remains a place of prayer; however, no Sunday Masses and all existing programs like religious education and faith formation become part of the assuming parish. The only thing that exists is the church building, which might be used for weddings, funerals and other special events.”
The members of the canonical parish will come up with a plan as to how they will take care of the merged worship site church. In some cases, the local communities may decide it is best to close the church, as in the case of the former Sacred Heart in Laurens and St. Benedict in rural Kossuth County.
Bishop Nickless acknowledged that while buildings hold significant meaning in parishioners’ lives, resources should be focused on ministry to people rather than on buildings.
“Even if we have fewer parishes, we want them to be more vibrant and more active,” he said. “Individuals can come together in a larger community and not experience just a few people in a half-empty church.”