More Groups Appeal Parish Closings
Three new organizations are appealing scores of parish closings in Allentown, Camden and New Orleans. Nationally this makes a total of fifteen organized groups and designated websites working to preserve parishes. Peter Borré of Boston’s Council of Parishes is providing advice and organizing support to new groups. (See ParishWatch at www.futurechurch.org)
After the Allentown diocese began closing some 47 parishes, St. Joseph parishioner, Joseph Fuisz organized a group called The Coalition of Churches. Fuisz says: “We believe that any parish that will be responsibly maintained by its parish community should be permitted to remain open.” Newspaper accounts report parishioners from 22 parishes plan to appeal. Fuisz and others were especially offended by a diocesan email describing some parishes as “hot properties” because of their proximity to a popular casino.
Parishioners Win Hearing in New Orleans.
As the New Orleans Archdiocese moves to close 18 parishes, a group called No Church Closings is working to keep parishes open. At least four parishes are appealing. On August 14 the group staged a demonstration at the chancery and unexpectedly won a hearing with Bishop Alfred Hughes who promised to consider their request to use lay people for the administrative functions of parishes including finances and capital campaigns. “Because the Archdiocese is saying there are not enough priests, then we’ll make it easier for priests to only be priests,” said Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioner Cheron Brylski. “There is a national trend, but the national trend also shows that there are creative ways to deal with the priest shortage by involving the laity more in using deacons in different ways, sharing priests between churches, and there have been several proposals that recognize this,” said St. Henry parishioner Robert Morton. (As quoted on wwwltv 7/16/08). Unfortunately on August 16, Bishop Hughes issued a statement rejecting the group’s suggestions. Parishioners plan to appeal.
Camden Bishop Linked To Jailed Land Speculator.
After Camden Bishop Joseph Galante announced plans to close 66 of the diocese’s 124 parishes, a group of parishioners formed a new organization, The Council of Parishes, New Jersey. The group’s website says the Council represents 27 parishes throughout the Diocese of Camden. (http://www.councilofparishes.net)
The situation deteriorated after a July 15 New York Post article detailed Bishop Galante’s link to Raffaello Follieri, who has been jailed since early July on federal fraud and money-laundering charges, in a complicated scheme to buy up Catholic churches with investor money. On July 16, Newsday quoted diocese spokesman Andrew Walton who said that in 2004, “The bishop was contacted and encouraged by the Vatican to use the Follieri group where it made sense - if it made sense locally in our own diocese.” Even so, he said, the diocese never sold property to Follieri, though Galante last year sold his personal home on the Jersey shore to a partnership controlled by Follieri for $400,000, which was $100,000 less than the bishop asked when he put the property on the market.
In response, The Council of Parishes in New Jersey issued a press release demanding a halt to church and school closings saying: “Many Catholics in the Diocese of Camden have been skeptical of the motivations behind the Bishop’s plan to merge 96 parishes into 38 and close many churches in the process... [the mergers] raised questions based on the appearance that churches situated on valuable real estate were particularly targeted for closure, even where such churches were flourishing both spiritually and financially.”
Dioceses List Reasons for Closings.
Diocesan officials in Camden and Allentown say the priest shortage, demographic changes and financial issues necessitated the changes. In addition to the priest shortage, New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Even though it is currently listed as the fastest growing city in the United States, the population is just half of what is was pre Katrina.