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.
Maybe that’s the problem.