“No parish is safe”

The Apostolic Signatura affirms the closing of parishes by a bishop. From CNS’s English translation of the May ruling:

(Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston) considered not only the condition of the parish, the focus of this case, but in truth also the entire archdiocese, so that he could provide for the salvation of souls in the entire archdiocese in the best possible manner

Not surprisingly, lay people protesting and resisting parish closings are soldiering on.

The parish is a vehicle by which the Gospel is preached, spread, and lived out in a particular community. It’s one structure that, in the US and other places, has proved to be fairly effective. Probably more effective than most other forms. Though monasteries and clubs and associations each have their advantages.

Rome has confirmed that a bishop has only to consult the clergy before closing parishes, and have the best intentions for “salvation of souls.”

A parish closing can be brutal, direct, and even dumb. One hopes it will be at the end of a persuasive and collaborative process. But this would seem to be irrelevant to the greater good. Between the readers and me, I’m not convinced that ham-handedness is a good tool for salvation. But there we have it.

I can appreciate the religious (as well as the political and social) attachments to a parish community–it goes beyond the bricks and mortar. I can also appreciate good leadership and careful diplomacy. These parish protests have continued for six years now. Maybe nothing can prevent them from going for sixty. But other dioceses have closed other beloved communities with some sort of process that involved people and evolved from resistance to acceptance.

Why didn’t that work in Boston or Cleveland? The finger points at leadership. In Church circles, no one questions a bishop’s power to shutter a parish. But we can question the leadership. Effective leadership makes sacrifices, demonstrates by example, and manages to convince people to change their minds and head on a new path. A leader concerned with the salvation of souls might consider that alienating said souls is not part of that salvation.

Maybe the time to meet with parishioners is long before the closure is considered. What does a parish have to accomplish to be an agent of the salvation of souls? A tireless outreach to the unchurched? A commitment to serve the poor? A devotion to liturgy with great music and inspirational art? We seem to have a standard by which a parish may or should close. We seem to have few standards by which a parish should open–other than a sprawling suburb with lots of school-age kids and an open few acres of land.

Huh.

Maybe that’s the problem.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to “No parish is safe”

  1. Liam says:

    Just to clarify:

    The 2004 Boston closures did involve consultation with the laity, and not pro-forma consultation. Parishes were clustered and laity and clergy within each cluster were tasked to making recommendations about reorganization of resources within the cluster.

    Now, the participants often felt that this was a set-up for forced choice, and of course forced choice is going to be involved somewhere along the line where expenses chronically outpace collections and there are long-term issues of overhead, PP&E and personnel (with insurance costs spiraling out of control). Also, there are practical consideration of which set of PP&E is best suited to accommodate an enlarged parish family – it’s not always the most vibrant or solvent parish that is capable of assimilating a merger.

    But the real kicker is that Boston pulled its punches in 2004; some parishes were spared that eventually will need to be closed, barring some miracle that has yet to be revealed.

    And the result of these parish protests is that open consultation is *much* less likely in the future. You can bet that planning will necessarily involve exercising control over the announcing of parish closures and over parish facilities so that occupation protests cannot arise in the future (keys and utilities will be tightly controlled, and security/police will be involved). And to my mind that is a cost of protesting closures in this manner. It’s a great news story, but lousy for the church.

    Moreover, with fewer priests, that militates in favor of *larger* and fewer parishes. The parishes with the biggest facilities to accommodate that reality are likely to remain open. The physical reality will dominate even more.

    • Mike K says:

      Liam, I believe the biggest problem is the people who can’t let go of “their” parish, despite logical signs that it’s time to close. They’ll invent many reasons (e.g., the “Chancery” or “The Cardinal” didn’t like what their pastor was doing) in an attempt to justify their parish’s existence.

      I experience this in my career as an operations planner for a northeastern US commuter railroad. Every time we need to reschedule a train (we operate over numerous segments of other railroads) or eliminate a train for budget reasons, people can come up with all sorts of excuses why their train should remain and someone else’s train should go, even though their train might have 300 riders and other trains might have 1000+ riders.

      The same thing exists in the Church. People can find reasons why someone else should be affected by a parish closure and not themselves.

      IMHO, it comes down to something really simple: people resist change that affects them. It’s all about “me”. How do you affect “me”? Don’t harm “me”, harm “him” – the latter being said, of course, without thinking that more “hims” may be harmed than “me”s.

      (Of course, the sexual abuse scandals in Boston have something to do with this resistance to Church closures as well. But I thinking the “my church” and “me”-ism is a greater, more universal problem.)

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    The idea that salvation of souls depends on location of parishes or availability of priests is, at best, laughable.

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