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FutureChurch Supports Parishoners

FutureChurch’s new Save Our Parish Community (SOPC) project is providing education and advocacy resources to parishioners in Detroit, New Orleans, Cleveland and New York City.

Cleveland:  In January, FutureChurch sent the best practices statement “Do Not Stifle the Spirit!”, to all priests and pastoral ministers in the diocese and invited them to hear Jesuit Fr. Bill Clark’s February 27 lecture at John Carroll University on “The Authority of the Local Parish.”  Also in January, FutureChurch leadership met with Bishop Richard Lennon to discuss, among other things, the best practices statement. FutureChurch raised concerns about findings from a 2003 national study showing that 40% of merged parishes lost parishioners, whereas parishes kept open with parish directors were more likely to increase parishioners.  Bishop Lennon felt FutureChurch’s materials were too focused on the priest shortage. In his view Cleveland parish reconfigurations are based more on finances and demographics than on the priest shortage. On February 9, after a four year “Vibrant Parish Life” process involving widespread consultation with laity, the Cleveland Diocese announced parish cluster configurations in order to enhance ministerial effectiveness.

Detroit:  At their December meeting, a group of  Detroit clergy and laity called Elephants in the Living Room approved and sent FutureChurch’s “Do Not Stifle the Spirit!” best practices statement to every parish in the Archdiocese. Detroit’s priests are retiring, dying or leaving  the ministry significantly faster than they can be replaced. Today’s 311 parishes are led by 262 pastors. In 20 years there will be less than 90 priests available for these parishes. The “Elephants” group is also sponsoring a March 19 event featuring preeminent canon lawyer Fr. James Coriden and FutureChurch’s Emily Holtel-Hoag.  Organizers are distributing the SOPC resource packet to interested parishioners (see ad on opposite page).

New Orleans:  FutureChurch supplied organizing resources and consultation to parishioners from St. Francis Cabrini Church who are struggling to keep their parish open after the Archdiocese secured a deal to use the church’s $5 million insurance reimbursement without their knowledge.

New York:  After the NY Archdiocese announced it would close ten parishes and merge eleven others, Our Lady Queen of Angels parishioners began a 24-hour prayer vigil to keep their 400 member East Harlem parish open.  Diocesan security agents entered the Church and called the police to disband the vigil. Six women were removed in handcuffs. Parishioners had tried to present their financial plan for staying open but were rebuffed by diocesan officials even before they reviewed the plan. An apparent factor is Archdiocesan policy that every parish must have a priest, and the Capuchin fathers could no longer staff the parish.  FutureChurch supplied consultation and discernment resources to New York members of Voice of The Faithful and parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Angels (For a full account of OLQA vigil see http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/post/index/777/The-vigil-ends-badly#cmt).

Parish Closing Watch

Albany Preserves Inner City Parishes, Consolidates Rural Churches. Three inner city parishes are staying open after Albany’s Bishop Howard Hubbard accepted a proposal from the Franciscan community to promote a collaborative ministry model with the Daughters of Charity. A rural parish in the Albany Diocese, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, has appealed to the Vatican to stay open after Hubbard accepted the recommendations of a representative body to consolidate six churches into three “worship sites” for the newly established Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.

Boston Parishioners Vigil, Continue Suits.  Five Boston churches continue 24-hour vigils to keep their parishes open. Surprisingly all nine Boston-area appeals were accepted and are pending with the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court in the Catholic Church.  Boston’s Council of Parishes presented a Friend of the Court brief arguing that Bishops as trustees have a fiduciary responsibility under civil law to safeguard the parishes entrusted to their care, and cannot use parishes as a means of balancing diocesan books. Six Boston-area parishioner groups have filed civil lawsuits against the Archdiocese in Massachusetts’s courts.

Buffalo: Soon, Bishop Edward Kmiec is expected to announce the first of three waves of Church closings, mergers and other actions to deal with a shortage of priests and demographic shifts in the Buffalo diocese. Some members of the diocese’s Strategic Planning Commission believe as many as 100 parishes could be merged or closed.  With retirements, deaths and new ordinations, 142 diocesan priests will be available to staff 259 parishes in 2015.

Camden Priest Shortage Leads to Reconfiguration. In mid- January Bishop Joseph Galante announced a parish reconfiguration process for the 124 churches in the Camden Diocese. Galante said he had no choice because more than half of the 171 priests could be retired in ten years making it impossible for each parish to have a full time pastor. Committees from groups of parishes and schools are being formed to work out the plans. Galante said he would make the final decisions.

Manchester, NH: State Rep. Fran Wendelboe is trying to raise $10,000 to take her case to the Apostolic Signatura after the Congregation of the Clergy upheld Bishop John McCormack’s decision to merge three New Hampshire parishes. Patrick McGee,
a spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester, has said the decision to merge the Churches was needed to deal with the serious shortage of priests and the movement of New Hampshire Catholics from urban to suburban parishes

Marquette, MI: The diocese is consulting with parishioners and considering closing at least five rural churches because of the priest shortage. “In 1950 we had 150 priests...Today we have 55. We have too many parishes and missions to serve with the priests we have,” said a diocesan spokesperson. The diocese plans a final decision by Spring.

Will Los Angeles Be Boston, West?  News that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will soon pay $60 million to settle 45 clergy sex abuse lawsuits, prompted widespread speculation that the Archdiocese will be forced to sell land holdings to cover an estimated 500+ suits that are still pending. FutureChurch member Tom Honore was quoted in the LA Times article: “Before schools, parking lots should go,” he said.  “I am very concerned. Families and communities are built around parishes.”

Toledo Parishioners Sue for Parish Property.  Parishioners from the closed St. Joseph and St. James (Kansas, OH) parishes are suing for ownership of parish property and bank accounts held by the diocese. For over 100 years the parishes were the center of spiritual and social activities for vibrant rural communities. On January 16th, Judge Sumner E. Walters decreed that the Toledo Diocese’s motion to dismiss the St. Joseph suit, based on jurisdiction, is overruled. The case will now move on to a consideration of the issues.  (see full details at www.salemstjoseph.org)

Wilmington, DE: On January 18, Bishop Michael Salterelli accepted seventeen recommendations made by Wilmington priests for addressing priest shortage.  The recommendations address collaboration among parishes, distribution of priests and deacons and improving priests’ image, and developing “strategies by which deacons and laity can fully assume their roles and responsibilities.”

In addition to the dioceses listed here, FutureChurch plans to track diocesan parish closings throughout the U.S.  Visit www.futurechurch.org for periodic updates and links to media stories.

Focus on FutureChurch

Winter 2007

book review


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