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When Churches Close

posted by awelborn

A look at the fate of some closed RC churches in Buffalo, which is girding for another round – some disputes on how the diocese is handling things (surprise!)

Taking the local angle, there was a piece in yesterday’s Fort Wayne paper about the new use, not of a closed church, but of a closed Catholic school – which has been transformed into apartments for the elderly. (photos included) We go to this parish quite a bit (in fact, went there yesterday), and the pastor is one of the premier diocesan historians, very committed to preserving some sense of the historical import of the buildings – this former school, as noted, is one of the anchors of an attempted neighborhood revitalization which so far includes a newly refurbished (or perhaps totally new, I’m not sure) library branch, a Head Start center, and, they hope, some retail in the near future. That’s responsible stewardship and committment to community.

Another article on the forthcoming Buffalo restructuring, already described as "dramatic."



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Gerard E.

posted August 29, 2005 at 1:36 pm


1. In neither Buffalo News article is there any indication that the parishes which were closed, or soon to shut their doors, served the European ethnic groups of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of whom split for the burbs in the past 40 years. Would go a long way to understand the matter.
2. Many people in many of the older industrial cities, predominantly seasoned citizens, confuse “The Church” with “Their Church.” As though “The Church” should make no effort to adjust to changes in neighborhoods and their demographics.
3. Having said that, dioceses tend to institute these mass closings badly and clumsily. Making it look as though the inner cities are being redlined out of existence. As in Philadelphia of 1992- a half-dozen parishes- including the one that your humble scribbler was born, raised and educated- were shut down with nary a word of suggestion from anyone outside the chancery. Simply the single biggest p.r. mistake of Cardinal Bevilaqua’s episcopacy- for reasons listed above.
4. Amazing how other denominations snap up these old churches, refurbish them, and get them operating for the 8:00 A.M. worship service. Not just because they’re conveniently available. But because these churches look like churches- not suburban office boxes or fast-food restaurants.
5. More pulling and tugging here and in other dioceses in the years ahead. With listed reasons that snif there aren’t enough snif priestly vocations honk. Trotting out that old excuse again- see Michael Rose’s Goodbye, Good Men for the evidence to the contrary- that many solid candidates turned away for lack of ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ zeal.



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John J. Simmins

posted August 29, 2005 at 1:52 pm


Not to mention that Catholics are contracepting at rates equal to Protestants and parents are unwilling to steer their (only) son toward the priesthood.
Not to mention that the 30 years I spent in the Rochester or Buffalo diocese did I ever hear the word “vocation” mentioned from the pulpit or elsewhere.
Here is a novel idea. Why do we have so many dioceses? Most were created when people traveled on horseback. Why have one cardinal in Washington, DC and another in Baltimore 45 miles away? Why have another bishop in Alexandrea, right across the river. Why not combine these dioceses into one or two per state and take all these “staff” clergy and put them to something useful, like saving souls in parishes?



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Father Ethan

posted August 29, 2005 at 2:15 pm


One of the serious issues among the dioceses in the Northest and parts of the Midwest has been the demographic shifts of ethnic Catholics from the urban areas to the suburban areas. Moreover, the lack of seminarians and priests to staff the parishes has not helped at all. In my diocese, we have 22 national parishes out of a total of 96 parishes. Many of the national parishes at one time served French, Portuguese, or Polish speaking parishoners whose children and grandchildren now speak English and no longer live in the neighborhood. I remember Archbishop O’Malley, when he was our bishop, telling the seminarians that he wished that he could pick up the beautiful city parish buildings and move them to the neighborhoods where they are needed.



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Father Ethan

posted August 29, 2005 at 2:22 pm


I sometimes agree with John Simmons’ view to merge dioceses (I think it is going to happen in some areas. On the other hand, it is nice for priests and laity to get to know the bishop well. It would be hard to do if the bishop is responsible for an entire, heavily populated, state.



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Tim Ferguson

posted August 29, 2005 at 2:59 pm


I don’t think there’d be a reason to consolidate dioceses just to get the chancery priests out into parishes. There are only a few full-time priests working in chanceries these days, and even those (in most dioceses) have weekend assignments – many are even pastors of one or two parishes.
I do think, though, that dioceses have to do a better and more thorough job of consultation leading up to parish restructuring, though. Even if (in most cases) you have meetings and “listening sessions” and no one shows up until you announce that you’re going to close up shop – it’s still a good idea to try and get input from the folks who will be directly affected.
I like the idea, proposed some years ago by a midwestern bishop who’s since gone on to God: He suggested (somewhat in jest) closing every parish which, in the past 20 years, had not provided a seminarian to the diocese. Obviously, the plan is impractical and fails to take much into account. Still, it’s a good reminder that the people in the pews have a responsibility to encourage vocations from their midst. A contracepting culture doesn’t make that too easy.



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Nancy

posted August 29, 2005 at 3:14 pm


Not to mention that Catholics are contracepting at rates equal to Protestants and parents are unwilling to steer their (only) son toward the priesthood.
***
Still, it’s a good reminder that the people in the pews have a responsibility to encourage vocations from their midst. A contracepting culture doesn’t make that too easy.

What kind of an argument is this?
Note that this assumes that
(a) the priesthood is an undesirable vocation for one of my sons (yes, I have more than one), and
(b) that mothers of many sons love them each less than the mothers of only sons love their sons, so
(c) we’re more willing to “lose” one to so undesirable a calling as the priesthood.
If the priesthood is a wonderful and graced vocation, one would think that parents of only sons would be delighted if he were so called. Would the parents of an only son who became president object on the grounds that he was the only one they had?



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John J. Simmins

posted August 29, 2005 at 3:21 pm


Nancy,
Many people feel the need to ‘pass on the family name’ or have a overwhelming desire for grand children. Some people would rather have a lawyer or a doctor in the family than a priest. For the record, I am not among them. I would be perfectly happy if my three boys all becam priests and my two daughters became nuns.



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Tim Ferguson

posted August 29, 2005 at 3:24 pm


It’s an argument based on fact, Nancy: contraception = fewer children. Fewer children = fewer priests.
Very few priests are only children. The simple fact is that priestly vocations are born in healthy, living, practicing Catholic families. Families which don’t practice the Catholic faith tend not to produce priestly vocations – if the children don’t see their parents loving and cherishing the faith, they are unlikely to grow up loving and cherishing it themselves. Part of the practice of the faith is to practice the moral teachings of the faith.



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John J. Simmins

posted August 29, 2005 at 3:27 pm


Up until last year, I had never met a bishop (that’s 43 years of being Catholic). I suspect that most people are in the same boat (although, probably not so much for the folks that write here). Reducing the number of dioceses would reduce the overhead of running the church. If a diocese goes from 100 parishes to 50 parishes, they should be able to reduce the amount of staff needed to oversee the parishes or merge with another diosese and reduce head-count that way. Businesses do this all the time and that’s the part of the Church we’re talking about: the business side. That’s the rational of closing parishes. There is a supposed lack of resources and ONE way to face it is to close parishes. Why shouldn’t the same solution work for dioseses?



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Nancy

posted August 29, 2005 at 3:38 pm


What I’m suggesting is the situation John alludes to: the priesthood stands very low in the esteem of most Catholic parents (and children), whether the family has one or several sons.
We could all debate the reasons for this sad situation endlessly. To limit the blame to “the contraceptive mentality” is to limit the blame to lay people. Without denying the influence of contraception, I would suggest that blame might be profitably spread out more widely.



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Caroline

posted August 29, 2005 at 4:05 pm


For what it’s worth–about Protestant churches buying up ex-Catholic churches. The French Church in San Francisco got its start in the 1850′s in an ex Baptist Temple when the Baptist population took off after the Gold Rush petered out. The present Notre Dame des Victoires, rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, occupies the former Baptist land. At least one for our side.



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Claude Muncey

posted August 29, 2005 at 4:09 pm


Consolidating dioceses may be needed back East, but out here in the West, it sometimes feels as if we need more dioceses, not fewer. In my own diocese, Fresno, we have 350,000 Catholics in 84 parishes and 40 missions spread over about 40,000 square miles, on both sides of the Sierra. In the winter, the only crossing is at the far southern end of the diocese, so a drive from the see to some parts of the Eastern Slope can take 8 hours. We continue to grow, and are building parishes as fast as we can afford to. We go years without a substantial visit from the bishop, and we are one of the principal parishes. It’s not his fault — he spends most of his life on the road as it is. Good luck finding him in his office on a given day.
The problem is that we still have to search out ways to pay for the lean diocesan staff that we have. (A couple of years ago the diocesan offices for youth ministry, family life, and lay ministry development were not only headed by the same person, he was the entire staff. And he had other stuff to do as well.) Somehow an arrangement of several dioceses under a real archbishop might work. But then again they might not. (No potshots at any incumbents intended — the current rules and procedures emphasize other kinds of structures.)



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Art Deco

posted August 29, 2005 at 4:16 pm


Having said that, dioceses tend to institute these mass closings badly and clumsily.
I will offer there may be no way to handle these matters well because of the refractory dispositions of many laity. Our friend Bettinelli has been providing periodic bulletins concerning same in Boston over the last three years.
With listed reasons that snif there aren’t enough snif priestly vocations honk. Trotting out that old excuse again- see Michael Rose’s Goodbye, Good Men for the evidence to the contrary- that many solid candidates turned away for lack of ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ zeal.
Did Mr. Rose provide any proper statistics? I have a suspicion that the phenomenon which he discovered may affect the characteristics of the population ordained, but not the aggregate number of ordinations. Surely there are many being ordained now we might wish were in some other occupation.
In my area, it is not difficult to find a Church about 80% empty at the most well-attended Sunday service. To close the parish is a sad necessity.



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Tim Ferguson

posted August 29, 2005 at 5:16 pm


Nancy, that’s why I referred to the “contraceptive mentality” – not contracepting parents alone. Many, many priests I know of embrace a contraceptive mentality and, by doing so, contribute to the shortage of priestly vocations. As a layperson myself, I’m not interested in laying the whole blame on the doorstep of the laity, as I think it’s a problem of the whole Church. All too often, when we look at the issue of closing parishes, we Catholics have the mentality of “what are THEY (that is, the clergy) going to do about it?” When we look at it as our Church and our problem, maybe we can look at finding a solution that satisfies us all.
As to the notion that a smaller diocese would call for a smaller chancery, that’s not exactly the case. Certain offices (vicar general, tribunal staff, chancellor, etc.) are needed in every diocese. Pooling resources may make sense in a business-model mode, but does it respect the notion of a diocese as a “particular Church” in the words of the Code and the Council?
That said, I do think that dioceses, especially the larger dioceses, need to look at how they are apportioning their resources. Keeping parishes open as much as possible should be a priority, and closed parishes should not be sold off quickly (the way demographics go in cities, what is a declining, abandoned neighborhood this year often becomes tomorrows gentrified, yuppified enclave, in need of the voice of the Church).



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Jim

posted August 29, 2005 at 5:41 pm


Can some of these beautiful churches in the northeast be transported to Florida or Georgia ?



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Jim

posted August 29, 2005 at 5:48 pm


I don’t buy the demographic shift argument for closing parishes . Why are the evangelicals and the pentecostals opening churches and temples in the northeast whilst at the seem time not closing them down in Texas or Utah ? I think many people (catholics) just don’t come to mass anymore .
Why not convert one or two of the parishes into evangelization centers and have them has hubs for mission work to re-evangelize the area. This might be a bit to evangelical for some catholic bishops to handle.



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Tim Ferguson

posted August 29, 2005 at 6:00 pm


If you went to the bishop with a credible proposal for how to staff and fund a re-evangelization center in a declining parish, Jim, I can almost guarantee that the bishop would welcome your volunteer effort whole-heartedly. It’s a great idea.
Personally, I think bishops need to think more creatively and offer to turn these declining parishes over to the growing orders and ecclesial movements, much like Cardinal Bernadin turned a dying parish in Chicago over to Opus Dei, who’ve turned it into a bustling parish center, and now Cardinal George has turned St. Gelasius over to the Institute of Christ the King. Would that every diocese treat these movements and orders as opportunities, instead of threats.



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Kenjiro Shoda

posted August 29, 2005 at 6:14 pm


Bishop Kmiec of Buffalo is an old man, one of the rad liberal Bernardin clique that has governed the Church since the late 1960′s.
As such, the disaster in Buffalo should be no surprise.
But in the end, chalk it all up as another example of the modern Catholic Church, brought to you by the “Spirit of Vatican II”.



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amy

posted August 29, 2005 at 6:46 pm


Kenjiro:
Kmiec is 69, and has been bishop of Buffalo for less than a year. I sincerely doubt we can blame the “disaster” in Buffalo oh him.
Well-informed comments welcomed. Others – not.



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Donbot

posted August 29, 2005 at 7:48 pm


Why have one cardinal in Washington, DC and another in Baltimore 45 miles away? Why have another bishop in Alexandrea, right across the river. Why not combine these dioceses into one or two per state?
Well-informed comments welcomed. Others – not.

Let’s leave the Diocese of Arlington (not Alexandria) and the Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore out of this silly consolidation idea, especially since they already meet the criteria of “one or two per state,” being as these are from three different states (counting D.C. as a state). I’ll leave it up to others to find out how many millions of people are living in these three jurisdictions, so as to necessitate three dioceses. But Arlington alone is growing exponentially.



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Septimus

posted August 29, 2005 at 10:28 pm


Baltimore has a Cardinal because it is the oldest see in the U.S.; Washington, because it is the nation’s capital. Cardinalates are granted in that way, not because they are up the organizational ladder a rung.



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cs

posted August 30, 2005 at 8:08 am


This does not address the problem of Buffalo, and all other older diocese: the clergy taught four generations of Catholics (immigrants, 1st, 2nd & 3rd generation Americans) to incorporate the local parish as part of thier identity. Even ein Philly, AFTER the inner city closures in 1992, with the promise of more to come, the archdiocesan newspaper insists on quoting people “I’m live in N. parish. Born and raised there.”
Given the certainty of future consolidations, etc. it makes sense to instruct the faithful to NOT personally identify with the parish they currently belong to. This could save future grief.



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John

posted August 30, 2005 at 2:07 pm


Tim Ferguson: Personally, I think bishops need to think more creatively and offer to turn these declining parishes over to the growing orders and ecclesial movements, much like Cardinal Bernadin turned a dying parish in Chicago over to Opus Dei, who’ve turned it into a bustling parish center, and now Cardinal George has turned St. Gelasius over to the Institute of Christ the King. Would that every diocese treat these movements and orders as opportunities, instead of threats.
This is exactly the point that various segments of the Catholic community have been trying to make to Taliban Ed Egan regarding the closure of St. Brigid’s Parish on the Lower East Side



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john c

posted September 1, 2005 at 12:27 pm


Testing



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john c

posted September 1, 2005 at 12:28 pm


Try this



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john c

posted September 1, 2005 at 12:29 pm


Ok. Sorry



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