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Parish Watch: Tracking Parish Closings in North America

Biloxi Parishioners Sue Diocese.  In early May, more than 150
members of Holy Family Parish, formerly St. Paul Parish in the
Biloxi Mississippi diocese filed a lawsuit asking for an accounting of
donations made to the church after Hurricane Katrina.  Bishop
Thomas J. Rodi said the suit is an attempt to have the courts order
the Catholic Church to have a church building in a specific place.
Eric D. Wooten, the Gulfport attorney for the plaintiffs, said the law-
suit is not about trying to keep St. Paul Church open:  “We just want
to know what’s become of the money collected for St. Paul Parish...I
don’t file suits unless I think I can win them, and I’m confident
Mississippi law is behind our position. I think it supports our claims.”

Boston Parishioners Celebrate Good Friday on Parish Steps. Parishioners from the closed St. Michael’s parish held Good Friday services on the front steps of the building. St. Michael’s had 800 members with more than $600,000 in the bank before the Boston Archdiocese closed it in June, 2006. “We have a broken heart here. We definitely feel that our ancestry, our heritage, our Polishness has sincerely been attacked,” said parishioner Richard Cushing. Nine churches in the Archdiocese of Boston, including St. Michaels have had their appeals accepted by the Apostolic Signatura in Rome. A Vatican response is expected in the fall. In the meantime, five parishes have continued 24 vigils for over two years and five Boston-area parishioner groups have civil suits pending.

Cleveland FutureChurch Encourages Use of Parish Life Coordinators.  FutureChurch members in the Cleveland diocese personally delivered the Save Our Parish Community resource packet to parish council presidents in over 50 parishes and Catholic organizations in the diocese.  The resource is intended to contribute to discerning next steps in parish clustering, and advocates keeping vibrant parishes open with a parish life coordinator rather than close them simply because no priest is available. In May, the diocese will confirm parish cluster assignments announced in January and issue “challenges” to each cluster. It is rumored that as many as 30 parishes, many in poorer urban areas, could be merged or closed over the next several years.

Cleveland Parishes in Red, Financial Trial Pending.  Officials from the Cleveland diocese are holding regional meetings with priest and lay leaders to review finances and demographics that are driving parish reconfiguration along with the priest shortage. They report 2006 expenses exceeded revenues at 45% of 231 parishes and 80 parishes are behind on their diocesan assessments. By  2030 the diocese projects it will have 151 active diocesan priests. Meanwhile the trial of former diocesan chief financial officer, Joseph Smith has been delayed until August.  Smith and another former diocesan employee Anton Zgoznik claim a full review of diocesan financial documents will exonerate them.  The judge has not ruled on their 40-page motion to open diocesan financial records.

Detroit Priests Meet with Maida about Gumbleton, Clusters. Five priests representing the group Elephants in the Living Room met with Cardinal Maida to express their concern about the removal of Bishop Gumbleton from St. Leo’s parish where he had ministered for decades. Maida said Pope Benedict himself made the decision to remove Bishop Gumbleton because of his January 2006 testimony before the Ohio Legislature on extending the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse. The priests also raised concerns about recent statements from diocesan officials that clustering was merely a temporary step toward merging parishes to accommodate the declining numbers of priests, and predictions that 36 Detroit parishes would be reduced to six and by July 2008. Cardinal Maida stated parishes could remain clustered and arranged a meeting with Bishop John Quinn who agreed to review directives with the Department of Parish Life.  www.elephantsinthelivingroom.com

New York: Egan Locks Out Pastor, Parishioners Sue.  On Feb. 26, while meeting with St. Vilnius’ pastor Fr. Eugene Zawicki, Cardinal Egan stunned parishioners when he secretly dispatched security guards to lock the Church while the meeting was in process. This occurred  right before a scheduled meeting with Lithuania’s consul general, who was set to make a plea to save the ethnic church.  Parishioners have appealed to the Vatican as well as begun a civil suit.  Parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Angels, who were forcibly removed from their Church in February, have also begun a canonical appeal and civil suit. FutureChurch has written a letter of support and supplied resources to Our Lady Queen of Angels parishioners.

Sarnia, Ontario: Parishioners March to Keep Parish Open. About 100 people marched in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in London, ON, in early May to protest the closing of St. Peter’s church — the religious and social centre of Sarnia’s Italian community for almost 50 years. About 35 parishes are slated to close or merge to because of the shortage of priests, aging buildings and declining attendance. “The process has been fair and the decisions, which were made after much prayer, deliberation, and consultation, are final,” the diocese said. Parishioners are exploring canonical appeal.

Rochester Parishes Share Pastoral Leaders. The Rochester Diocese has more than 60 parishes are in cluster relationships in which parishes share a pastoral leader with up to five other parishes. The number of parishes has dropped from 160 in 1996 to 139.  The diocese has closed nine churches or missions since 2001, and believes most anticipated changes through 2015 have been announced.

Syracuse Closing 40 Parishes, Priest Shortage Remains.  The Syracuse diocese will close about 40 of its 170 parishes over the next three years. However by 2010 the diocese will still have only 100 priests to serve the remaining 130 parishes, and 40 of those priests will be 75 or over.  “The saddest thing,” said Bob Dugan of Syracuse, “is that many of these parishes will only stay open until the pastor retires. This puts a lot of pressure on these guys who will have to work until they drop.”

On Feb. 26, while meeting with St. Vilnius’ pastor Fr. Eugene Zawicki, Cardinal Egan stunned parishioners when he secretly dispatched security guards to lock the Church while the meeting was in process. This occurred  right before a scheduled meeting with Lithuania’s consul general, who was set to make a plea to save the ethnic church.  Parishioners have appealed to the Vatican as well as begun a civil suit.  Parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Angels, who were forcibly removed from their Church in February, have also begun a canonical appeal and civil suit. FutureChurch has written a letter of support and supplied resources to Our Lady Queen of Angels parishioners.

Sarnia, Ontario: Parishioners March to Keep Parish Open. About 100 people marched in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in London, ON, in early May to protest the closing of St. Peter’s church — the religious and social centre of Sarnia’s Italian community for almost 50 years. About 35 parishes are slated to close or merge to because of the shortage of priests, aging buildings and declining attendance. “The process has been fair and the decisions, which were made after much prayer, deliberation, and consultation, are final,” the diocese said. Parishioners are exploring canonical appeal.

Rochester Parishes Share Pastoral Leaders. The Rochester Diocese has more than 60 parishes are in cluster relationships in which parishes share a pastoral leader with up to five other parishes. The number of parishes has dropped from 160 in 1996 to 139.  The diocese has closed nine churches or missions since 2001, and believes most anticipated changes through 2015 have been announced.

Syracuse Closing 40 Parishes, Priest Shortage Remains.  The Syracuse diocese will close about 40 of its 170 parishes over the next three years. However by 2010 the diocese will still have only 100 priests to serve the remaining 130 parishes, and 40 of those priests will be 75 or over.  “The saddest thing,” said Bob Dugan of Syracuse, “is that many of these parishes will only stay open until the pastor retires. This puts a lot of pressure on these guys who will have to work until they drop.”

Correction:  The information about a collaborative process in Albany to preserve inner city parishes was accidentally included as current news in our Winter 2007 newsletter when in fact it occurred over five years ago. Unfortunately two of the three parishes ended up closing. We thank CTA Albany for setting the record straight, and offer our deep apologies if we re-opened old wounds. Presently the diocese is in the midst of a “Called to Be Church” process.
(http://www.rcda.org/called_to_be_church/index.html)

Focus on FutureChurch

Spring 2007

 

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