The Visitor

Members of the Presbyteral Council heard reports March 8 about the Festival of Forgiveness and Bishop Donald Kettler’s recent pastoral letter on mercy, and gave their approval for a draft 2016-2017 budget for the offices of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

  • The council, which is comprised of priest representatives from around the diocese and serves in a consultative role to the bishop, also heard reports about the Bishop’s Annual Appeal and a priest task force charged with making recommendations in light of an expected decline in the number of active priests in the diocese.
  • The priests said turnout for the Festival of Forgiveness March 4 was generally very good. The initiative, held in conjunction with the Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, featured the sacrament of reconciliation being offered for a 12-hour period at designated churches throughout the 16-county diocese.

    Father Scott Pogatchnik, rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, which was one of the designated churches, said close to 1,000 confessions were heard there. Another site, St. Louis Parish in Paynesville, had more than 400 people coming for confession that day, Father Glenn Krystosek said. In light of the turnout, it’s an event the diocese should consider repeating in the future, said Father Greg Paffel, pastor of St. Paul and Our Lady of the Angels parishes in Sauk Centre and St. Alexius in West Union.

  • Reaction to Bishop Kettler’s pastoral letter, “Be Merciful, Just as Your Father is Merciful,” has been positive, the priests said. Father Paffel said priests in his area thought the topic was very pertinent to the Year of Mercy and liked references the letter made to Scripture. Father Matthew Crane said it was appreciated that the letter addressed difficult issues such as immigration and the environment and offered a program for things to do during the jubilee year.

    A few members of the council reported that Lenten programs were already in place when the letter was published in late January but that study groups around the letter might be formed in the future. Father Robert Rolfes, vicar general of the diocese, said he heard from some pastors that a few “Why Catholic?” groups were studying the letter during Lent.

  • The council voted to receive the draft 2016-2017 budget for the offices of the diocese. The $5.5 million budget “is essentially a break-even budget,” Joseph Spaniol, director of the diocese’s Finance Office, said in a report to the council. The budget includes a 6 percent increase in diocesan assessments and accounts for an expected increase in health insurance rates. The budget must still be approved by the Diocesan Finance Council and Bishop Kettler.
  • Spaniol reported that the 2016 Bishop’s Annual Appeal is doing well in the first few weeks since its launch. His office will continue to monitor progress toward the appeal’s $1.2 million goal. Several council members had suggestions for possible improvements in the materials parishes use for the appeal’s launch. Those suggestions will be communicated to the Development Office, which oversees the appeal.
  • Father Crane, who chairs the priest task force charged with recommending a pastoral response in light of the projected decrease in active priests, said the committee will make recommendations to Bishop Kettler by mid-May. He noted that in 1944, the diocese had 137 active priests serving 139 parishes; today, it has 68 active priests serving 131 parishes. By 2030, the number of active priests “will be just shy of 50,” he said, given expected retirements and ordinations.

    The task force, which was formed last fall, includes priests, religious, lay people and Deacon Mark Barder, director of the diocesan Planning Office. Task force members are discussing how parishes might be staffed and configured as well as the impact of current trends on priests’ health, the need to relieve the administrative burdens on pastors, and the need for more education for lay leaders to assist pastors and minister more effectively in their communities.

    Several Presbyteral Council members suggested consulting broadly with pastors to discuss responses that might be well suited to the parishes and areas they serve. After the task force makes its recommendations, Bishop Kettler said he would bring them to the Presbyteral Council for discussion.

  • Father Paffel noted that priests’ health is an important topic needing attention. Council members discussed the stresses priests face and the possibility of getting more lay assistance especially in areas such as administration and human resources, the importance of having a support network, and praying for brother priests. Some council members said further discussion on the topic could happen in the context of a committee appointed to examine priestly life as well as through the Spitzer initiative — an effort the diocese launched last year for the diocese’s priests and lay staff with the goal of improving workplace and ministry cultures.