Reasons for center’s closing spur discord

by Stacy Jo

While not commonly spoken, the term “radical egalitarianism” has recently crept into the everyday vocabulary of some members of the Newman Center.
And some the center community members say radical egalitarianism — the belief that all members should have equal decision-making power — is the true reason behind the closing of the University’s 73-year-old Catholic student center.
The archbishop’s appointed corporate board decided May 28 to close the the center and merge it with the St. Lawrence Parish. It claimed the closing stemmed from financial difficulties and a shortage of ordained priests. But members say the real reason lies elsewhere.
“Those reasons were developed to justify a decision that was made for other reasons,” said Bill Rush, member of the the center finance committee and Board of Trustees.
Timothy Anderson, director of communications for the archdiocese, conceded that the members’ belief that radical egalitarianism brought about the closing of the center holds some merit. He added, however, that it was not a critical issue.
“It’s not the reason we made our decision,” Anderson said.
Shared decision-making at the the center calls for all baptized members of the church to be partners in making decisions. This creates a power hierarchy in which community members possess decision-making power comparable to that of ordained priests.
Such a power balance leaves little room for the authoritarian power priests usually retain in the Catholic Church. This, members said, drove the archdiocese to call for a comprehensive solution to eliminate the problem.
“The archdiocese wants to be able to control the decisions that are made at the the center, and by joining it with St. Lawrence, I think they will be able to do that,” said Mary O’Loughlin, Newman Board of Trustees member.
O’Loughlin said the shared decision-making process worked for many years. However, in the last two years, the center priests increasingly wanted more power for themselves and less for staff and community members, she said.
With this quest to shift power to the ordained clergy, O’Loughlin said, difficulties at the center began.
The center member Terry Dosh said the archdiocese’s focus on the center’s power hierarchy is not a recent phenomenon.
“They’ve had their sights on Newman for more than a year,” said Dosh, the center Board of Trustees member.
The center members said they question the validity of the corporate board’s decision because the board’s reasons for the closing do not hold up under scrutiny.
Although members concede that the center operated under budgetary constraints, the center’s fiscal 1998 budget reflects the center operating at a $22,614 surplus.
Members said two open staff positions at the center contributed to the surplus. Also, the budget did not reflect an estimated $60,000 in planned building renovations.
However, members said the archdiocese frequently aided the center in the past when budget concerns arose, as often happened with the center’s student-based congregation.
Further, members said finance committee members did not view budgetary concerns as being any more dire than in the past.
“The only thing they could really say that we were short on … was for major building repairs. It doesn’t make sense to sell the building because of it,” said O’Loughlin.
The board’s other cited reason for closing the center — a shortage of ordained priests — does not satisfy some center members either.
Dosh, a 25-year center member, married priest and church historian, said a lack of ordained ministers exists nationwide. He said the number of Catholics continues to grow while the number of priests continues to decline.
Despite the shortage, members said the center was contractually promised more priests by the Paulist order, which had supplied the center with several priests in the past. But upon the resignation of the center’s director, Father Charles Martin, the Paulists informed the the center that they would be unable to further supply the center with priests.
Although the Paulists said this is because all of their transient priests — about 80 nationwide — are already currently employed, members said the center’s shared decision-making processes actually drove the Paulists away.
“It shouldn’t be totalitarian, but it functions like that,” Dosh said.
Mary Kay McJilton, a member of the appointed corporate board which decided to close the center, said that, as a community member, she did not witness the Paulists’ aversion to the center’s radical egalitarianism.
“It’s a very interesting term. I never saw it practiced there, even among the staff,” McJilton said.
At a July 1 meeting, the center’s Board of Trustees voted to ask Archbishop Harry Flynn and the appointed corporate board to reconsider closing the center. A resolution will be presented to the corporate board following the archbishop’s return from vacation in August.
Five parties have toured the facility and expressed interest in buying the center building. Members said no decisions have been made regarding the sale of the facility.