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No Priest, No Parish?

Bishops around the world are employing a variety of strategies to deal with the priest shortage. Some make preservation of viable parish communities their first priority. Unfortunately others are apparently taking the decidedly un -Vatican II position that where there is no priest there can be no parish.


Cardinal Suggests Ways to Keep Parishes Open

England’s Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor believes the integrity of the parish community has priority. O’Connor recently said: “Over the next 10-15 years, the Church in Westminster will need to move away from the idea that the viability of a parish is contingent on its resident priest,” Westminster’s “green paper” consultation suggested full time lay ministers could live in rectories and preside at daily communion services. Parishes are being asked to consider whether they wish to be closed, merged, or “clustered.” By 2015 Westminster anticipates it will have only 471 priests to serve 500,000 Catholics compared to the 843 priests it had in 1990.


Toledo’s “United Parishes” Resists Decision to Close Viable Parishes

Unlike the Westminster approach, many U.S. Bishops, like Toledo’s Bishop Leonard Blair, are closing viable parishes rather than valuing the integrity of the worshipping community and empowering lay ministers. Blair closed 19 parishes in July following the recommendations of a task force appointed by his predecessor. Toledo is a largely rural diocese that in 2003 had only 114 priests to serve 159 parishes.

Many small parishes were built by German farm families and had served as a locus of spiritual and social activities for over 100 years. Most were financially solvent (one had over $100,000 in the bank) and had minimal attrition over the years. Some parishioners begged to have a parish administrator but to no avail. According to leaders from United Parishes, a new organization founded to resist the closures, (www.unitedparishes.org) there was little to no consultation with involved laity. Parishioners from St. James in Kansas, OH are conducting a 24-hour vigil to keep their parish open and have joined members of Holy Rosary parish in appealing to the Vatican.


Boston’s O’Malley Reopens Parishes

The vigil in Toledo may work. Ten months after Boston parishioners began their around-the-clock vigil at the St. Albert the Great parish in Weymouth, MA, Archbishop Sean O'Malley said theparish could stay open. Following the recommendations his lay
advisory panel, he also modified decisions to close seven other parishes, many of which had also been conducting prayer vigils.


More Closures on the Horizon

Meanwhile, the New York Archdiocese recently pushed its reorganization process into high gear. Cardinal Eagan has asked vicars of 19 regional groupings to analyze more than 400 parishes and recommend those to be closed or consolidated by September. Portland, Maine also recently announced a five year plan to group its 135 parishes into 27 clusters with each cluster having one pastor. Plansfor parish closings are underway in St. Louis, Detroit, Steubenville, Cincinnati, Burlington, Vermont and numerous other dioceses.


FutureChurch To Address Parish Closings

In July, the FutureChurch Leadership Council voted unanimously to undertake a new project to educate Catholics about appropriate criteria for closing parishes (recognizing that some parishes should close) and their canonical and legal rights in this regard. The new resource will include strategies for encouraging appropriate participation by laity in decisions about closing parishes. A position paper is planned to address the value of keeping a faith community together rather than assume that if there is no priest there can be no church.

Summer 2005



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