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
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
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
parish in Weymouth, MA, Archbishop
Sean O'Malley said theparish could stay open. Following the recommendations his
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.