The diocesan assessment

Below this editorial are the remarks which Pope Francis delivered last Sunday when he prayed the Angelus with the crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square. During that prayer they recall weekly how the Blessed Mother said to the Angel Gabriel her fiat (“Let it be done unto to me according to Your Word”), how she said yes to God’s plan for her and gave her entire life over to God.

In his speech the Holy Father was praising the generosity of the famous (thanks to Jesus’ pointing her out) widow who gave her two mites to the temple treasury. At the end of his discussion of that Gospel passage, the pope pointed out Mary’s similarity to that widow (and that, actually, Mary was even more generous than that lady).

This past week we have become aware at Mass, parish meetings or via the news media of the assessment (or “tax”) which we will be paying to keep the diocese functioning. This assessment will be determined according to the income of each parish, which will then be charged a percentage of that income in a bill which will be sent monthly. 

It is not “pay-to-pray” as the Attleboro Sun Chronicle entitled it in a headline last Saturday. In response, Lucille Stewart, a parishioner of St. Mary’s Parish in Mansfield wrote to the paper, saying, “I take issue with your front-page sensational headline. No one, absolutely no one, has ever had to pay to pray in the Diocese of Fall River or any other diocese in the United States. We as members of a parish have been asked to financially support our parish and now we are being asked to help support our diocese, which is done in most of the dioceses in the United States.”

Stewart summarizes well our responsibility to work together for the good of the Church, be it on the parish or diocesan level. Both are the Church. Both are composed of the people of God, made God’s children by Baptism and called upon to spread the Gospel. The parishes need the diocese so as to coordinate our joint efforts to carry out our baptismal call. As Father Jon-Paul Gallant, pastor of St. Theresa’s Parish in South Attleboro told the Sun Chronicle, “We’re all in this together.”

Parishioners will not be taxed directly, but they can help in this process through their gifts of their time, talents, and treasure, as Pope Francis says below. If someone can help by donating more money to their parish, they will be helping the parish to meet this responsibility. If someone can volunteer more of their time and talents to the parish, they might be helping the parish to save some money, which will help in paying the assessment. We are not “paying to pray,” since prayer is free, as Stewart reminded us, but we are putting our prayer into action.

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” tells us at No. 2043, “The fifth precept [of the Church] (‘You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church’) means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability. ”

Father Mark Hession, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk, explained in his bulletin last weekend the need for the assessment. “[Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.] let all the priests know, last week, that he needs our help in maintaining — and growing our local Church.”

Father Hession told his parishioners, “I am asking for the ‘widow’s mite’: a prayerful increase in your weekly offertory gift — enough to share our support for the diocese, and what exceeds it to stay here for our own continued capital improvements.” He ended his remarks by quoting Elijah’s promise to the woman from whom he asked for bread and water, “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry” (1 Kgs 17:14).

Father Hession made an allusion to a theme about which Bishop da Cunha has often spoken — our need to move from being a Church of maintenance to that of mission. Our mission, the one given to us by Christ, is to grow the Church. To do that, we do need a central coordination (the diocese) to help us in our individual neighborhoods or towns (the parishes). May we be generous in carrying out this mission with our time, talents and treasures.

In another editorial we will address here the financial needs of The Anchor itself. Without a diocese, there would be no newspaper. Without the generosity of the parishes, there would be no diocese. Without Christ’s infinite generosity to us, where would any of us be?

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