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Rules and Tools for Radical Pastors #20 – Priest-less Parishes?

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There was a time when real men, real men with strong faith, real men with strong faith and courage were pastors. This is the pastor I knew in my youth in Ohio: (Click here for the full history.)

Bishop Edward Hoban founded this parish [St. Mary Magdalene] on January 27, 1949 and Fr. Harold Laubacher was pastor from then until he retired on September 10, 1968. During his pastorate the parish grew enormously- from 600 to 4,000 families. There were 196 students during the 1949-50 school year, and by 1968 there were 1,549 children in grades one through eight.

After Fr. Laubacher retired, the new “men” came, the somewhat less admirable men, the men who have somewhat less courage, some of them may be the very same men who are now members of the Ohio-based Association of US Catholic Priests (AUSCP). They were not builders. They were too weak. They could not and did not boldly profess the hard teachings of the Church such as those contained in Humanae Vitae. Inevitably, through their weakness, the parish that Fr. Laubacher had built began to decay. By 2006: (Click here.)

Our day school enrollment had dwindled to barely 200 students while maintenance costs for our large, aging school building required more money than we received from tuition and parishioner contributions.

What a a great irony and a sad commentary it is when we come to the final lines of the current history of St. Mary Magdalene Parish: (Click here.)

Most rooms in our nearly 60-year-old school stand empty and our financial situation suggests that we need to consider repurposing that building. However, we are reminded that our buildings do not define us as a parish. Throughout the past 60 years, the people of St. Mary Magdalene have celebrated God’s love, cared for those in need, shared our faith with children and adults, ministered to each other and participated in parish groups. We have done this together in the past and will continue to do this in the future because we are a vibrant parish.

This is the St. Mary Magdalene I remember. In that sanctuary, arrayed with spiritual murals and scripture, is where I served Mass. On the side of St. Joseph we boys would sit when Fr. Laubacher described and explained the mysteries of the Church and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He was stern and demanding, he was gentle and humorous, he was a father in the Faith, and he would expect nothing, absolutely nothing, less than our best.

The new “men” came, the somewhat less than admirable men, and they tore down the altar; they destroyed the murals, they smashed the very wall behind the altar and built a new entrance to the parking lot. Half way up the main nave they erected a cheap wooden table and called it an altar. They hung felt “symbolic art” banners and they replaced disciplined altar boys with white-robed, distracting, little altar people. They replaced majesty with pretentious mediocrity. Meanwhile, in the nave, they removed the kneelers and arranged the seating to give all a ringside view of the spectacle.

But the greatest accomplishment of these new “men” was when they banished the tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament to a hidden place where the main entrance to the church used to be. Just as there was no room in the inn, there is no room near the altar for God.

That brings us to the present. Today, the new “men” by their own admission are “… mostly older priests who were educated and formed by Vatican II”. On their watch the Church in the US has gone into a steep decline and parishes like St. Mary Magdalene are beginning to turn off the lights and are preparing to close their doors. In their own words the priests of the AUSCP tell us that: (Click here to see the full story.)

  • 30 percent of U.S. Catholics have left the church;
  • Church marriages have declined 60 percent since 1980;
  • “Apart from Hispanic members,” Catholic total membership is declining.

With this as their background of accomplishment the priests of the AUSCP come to us and say: (Click here and here to see the full story.)

The AUSCP Working Group on “Pastoral Care for Priest-less Parishes” has prepared a draft PROPOSAL FOR PASTORAL CARE IN & THRU PRIESTLESS PARISHES, found below. We want and need your input. So please review and comment.

Now that we know our Pastor is probably a member of the AUSCP and we as a Catholic family and as members of St. Peter’s have a stake in this matter, we feel that it is appropriate to provide the AUSCP Working Group on “Pastoral Care for Priest-less Parishes” our comments.

Comment 1: We submit to you that you are the new “men”, the somewhat less admirable men, the men who have somewhat less courage. We submit that parishes like St. Mary Magdalene were, in some ways, already priest-less while you lived in the rectories of those parishes. A real man with strong faith and courage, a real pastor like Fr. Laubacher would have saved the Catholic school under his charge. And a real pastor would have fostered vocations so that there never would be a priest-less parish.

Comment 2: You have already done your harm. You have already spiritually abused your flocks. You have already done what you could to turn the sheep away from the saving grace of the Sacraments. What can you possibly offer in your PROPOSAL FOR PASTORAL CARE IN & THRU PRIESTLESS PARISHES? A close reading of the text shows that you only seek to perpetuate and magnify the shameful destruction you have wrought.

Comment 3: All that we have said to this point applies to St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Willowick, Ohio and the Diocese of Cleveland, but, now that we know our Pastor is probably a member of the AUSCP, we feel that it is appropriate to provide a brief reminder of one small chapter in the history of the Diocese of Arlington:

2014-01-17 St. Charles announces school restructuring

2014-01-28 Parents floored over closure of Arlington Catholic school

2014-01-22 St. Charles parents react to school closing

2014-06-10 St. Charles Borromeo Pastor Gets Transferred, Speaks Out

Our question is, “Is it really possible that the type of thinking that binds AUSCP members together could ever really solve the problem of priest-less parishes?” Our next question is, “Now that we know our Pastor is probably a member of the AUSCP, is it possible that some day in the Diocese of Arlington there will be a priest-less parish?”

As my wife so frequently asks, “How many souls will be saved?”

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!






  1. John Hagarty Hagarty says:

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Please stop and smell the beer and roses on occasion. Life is short.


    • francis01ds says:

      And happy St. Patrick’s day to you! The beer I have on weekends. Tonight I had wine with dinner.Your wine would have been better. My cat attacks the roses. We have to keep them out of his reach. God bless.


  2. Michael A. Cioffi says:

    The Diocese of Arlington already has a priestless parish. It’s Saint Peter, in Washington, Virginia


  3. Fenton says:

    It’s Pastor-less…but as long at the bishop tweets daily all is good!


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