Sunday, November 20, 2005

Diocesan downsizing

This may seem like a small thing, but the diocese of Rochester in New York is closing four parishes, merging them into others, evidently due to a shortage of clergy.

I realize that sometimes parishes have to be closed because the church--that is, the people--no longer live there. But to close parishes because of the shortage of priests is wrongheaded, especially when parishes have sufficient people and resources to support a Christian community. As has been pointed out elsewhere on this blog, lay people are picking up most of the slack; a parish with 200 families could certainly continue with a paid lay pastoral administrator. That would leave what priests there are to serve as sacramental ministers, freeing them up to do what they are ordained to do anyway. You may need a priest for eucharist, but you don't need one to have a parish.

Of course, there are many Protestant congregations with far fewer families; they manage to continue, with clergy at that. What have they figured out that we Catholics haven't? Oh yeah, they don't require clergy to be male and celibate.

One elephant in the living room, however, is the massive number of decaying physical plants that many parishes have inherited. At one time showpieces for ethnic communities, many are falling apart, too old to update. One predominantly poor Mexican parish in Chicago is stuck with a massive church built by Germans two generations ago. The archdiocese recently had to spend $2 million to secure the exterior facade--money that would have gone a long way in keeping the much-needed parish school going, which it still is, though its continued existence is financially precarious.

What stops us from selling these properties and moving in to more modest digs appropriate to our needs and resources? Though many of these old buildings are beautiful to some and historically significant to others, they are hardly more than museum pieces, built for a liturgy that doesn't exist anymore, and few communities, especially in urban areas, don't even have the money to heat them, much less repair, renovate, and maintain them.

Better to let go of at least some of our past, as painful as it may be.


At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In many cases, though I'm sure not all, it's still cheaper for the parish to fix the current building then find or build a new one. As for selling the buildings, I doubt there's much of a market for those big gaudy churces, so I don't know how well they would sell anyway. But I guess we'll see when dioceses have to start liquidating parish assets to cover the payout for the sex-abuse scandal.


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