Diocesan “Town Meetings”
March 5th is Town Meeting Day this year in Vermont. I live in downtown Burlington at St. Joseph’s rectory and, while I’ve voted on town meeting day, I haven’t had a chance to attend the town meeting. What I’ve heard from various people who have attended town meetings all over the state is that these meetings are “democracy in action” because any citizen of the town may speak to the matters within the meeting or even propose matters for discussion. Of course, there are restrictions and proposals can be voted down and interventions can be limited in time and number. But the idea is that everyone present gets to hear what others have to say in order to come to some consensus about what the community as a whole should do.
This is why I am calling for our own Catholic Town Meetings to take place in January in six different places around the state (see below). I will come to the meeting, begin with a prayer, offer a few remarks about where we are as a Diocese and the Church here in Vermont, and then I will listen and respond as I can to what other “citizens” of the Church have to say. The meetings will start at 6:00 PM and end at 7:30 PM and they are open to anyone to attend. Please feel free to attend any of the meetings, not just by location. The six sites are chosen based on ease of access and are not intended to be a geographic districting.
All of this is part of a continuing effort to promote full transparency about Catholic matters in the state of Vermont. We are already seeing the fruits of our efforts to be more transparent; for example, the Diocese of Burlington is one of only two dioceses to receive a perfect score for our financial transparency in a nationwide survey of dioceses and archdioceses. In addition, a review committee of seven lay men and women is currently reviewing all clergy personnel files that contain a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy with the goal of publishing a list of the names of priest abusers. This is a significant endeavor as they are reading every file from cover to cover, not just a summary or excerpt. Finally, as the Diocesan Synod is concluding, I want to continue to be open and forthcoming about the outcomes of the synod process and the good direction in which we are moving as Catholics here in Vermont.
The operative frame for our discussion at the town meeting should be Christian charity and respectful listening focused on promoting the work of salvation in and through the Church. I think of St. Paul’s admonition in his letter to the Ephesians, “only the good things that men [and women] need to hear, things that will raise them up.” My hope is that those who come to the town meeting will speak in such a manner and that those who choose not to speak will listen with an open mind, as I will try to do so. I hope you can join me as we engage in this form of “ecclesiology in action.”
God bless and Happy New Year.
2019 Town Meeting Schedule, 6-7:30pm
Jan 10: St. Mary’s Church, 45 Fairfield Church, St. Albans
Jan 22: Holy Family Church, 4 Prospect St, Essex Junction
Jan 23 St. Theresa Church, 44 East St, Orleans
Jan 28: Sacred Heart Church, 238 Main St, Bennington
Jan 29: Christ the King Church, 66 S. Main St., Rutland
Jan 31: St. John Vianney Church, 160 Hinesburg Rd, South Burlington