Monday, June 22, 2009

Fewer Priests = Closed and Merged Parishes

Catholic New Service is featuring an article by Dennis Sadowski about parish closings and mergers that are taking place around the country and what it means for the parishioners of these parishes. The article is titled "When parishes close, there's more to deal with than just logistics"...

As we are certainly aware here in the Diocese of Richmond, there are rumblings and grumblings going on as to when and how the clustering of our parishes will take place. Obviously, some parishes are already sharing resources with each other, but that is only the beginning.

What happens to smaller parishes who face the uncertainty of and the possibility of being swallowed up by larger neighboring parishes? Will they lose their identity completely? Will their Catholic presence be lost in their communities? Will their outreach programs be taken over or even discontinued? Will the smaller churches be closed altogether? Are the parishioners even prepared for any of this?

Sadowski attempts to address this issue by citing research done by Charles Zech and Robert Miller in their recent book, "Listening to the People of God: Closing, Rebuilding and Revitalizing Parishes."

Zech recognizes how traumatic the closing or merging of a parish can be: "'Our parish is a family and when our parish is closed we feel like we've lost an important part of our family.' We have to treat it that way. Diocesan officials need to treat it as if there's a death in the family."

Read the article and tell us what your thoughts are about the future of our clustering parishes in the Diocese of Richmond.


Anonymous said...

What other options do we have?

Robert Dibdale said...

Clustering parishes is necessary now that we've lost so many priests/vocations to Arlington and other dioceses/religious communities but it would be helpful to be direct by explaining that these parishes are really being downgraded to mission status.
Perhaps we could ask other dioceses (Atlanta, Arlington, Lincoln) for missionaries - even temporary ones to come to our diocese for a six year term. The bishop is wise to import foreign priests to assist us in our need.

Mark said...

I think that rather than addressing the symptoms of our sick diocese, it would be more beneficial to properly diagnose the nature of the disease.

It is not entirely true that few men from this diocese are interested in the priesthood. I personally know a few who chose to pursue their vocations in the neighboring dioceses (which, by the way, are not experiencing a priest shortage). Just two weeks ago I said goodbye to someone who left us to study for priesthood in another diocese. I wished him well. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, but it does suggest that this diocese sometimes repels rather than attracts men.

I don't see any willingness on the part of the lay leadership of this diocese to engage in any introspection or open discussion of the serious situation we are facing. The deepening shortage of our priests is presented as almost a natural phenomenon, like an approaching hurricane - the best we can do is hunker down. The fact that not all dioceses have this problem is conveniently glossed over.

Common sense suggests that clustering may be followed by parish (and possibly school) liquidations, since seldom used buildings are financial burdens to maintain and insure. There will likely be fewer parishes with possibly larger populations. I hope that SCAPs will not become the norm, since they will destroy any hope for vocations. Perhaps in the future some of the neighboring dioceses will pick up our pieces.

Depressing, no?

standing maryanna said...

Mark said: "It is not entirely true that few men from this diocese are interested in the priesthood. I personally know a few who chose to pursue their vocations in the neighboring dioceses"

I think you are right, Mark... Why are some of the people interested in the priesthood leaving the diocese? Why is the diocesan priestly leadership not reaching out to those potential priests? Is there something wrong with the attitude of the priests in diocesan leadership positions? Do they discourage even priests who are in the diocese by their actions in particular matters?

I must say though that Fr. Renninger's website Behind the Collar for recruiting young men for the priesthood is a fine one. You can see the site here:

I am actually grateful for SCAP people who are at least keeping farflung parishes together when they cannot have a priest every Sunday.

Mark said...

Standing Maryanna:

I think it would be a step in the right direction if the leadership of this diocese (both lay and ordained) contacted these young men and in a nonjudgmental and friendly way just listened to their stories. It may be difficult for some of these leaders to accept certain aspects of these young mens' journeys - however, I believe such a step may generate a lot of good will within this diocese among those who are contemplating a similar move.

As far as SCAP is concerned, some worry that in the absence of priests, this celebration may permanently displace the Novus Ordo Mass. This may become a reality in those parishes that will rarely see a priest, but will remain open for some reason. Just as today we no longer see sisters on a regular basis (if ever), in the near future our children may no longer see priests when they go to Church on Sunday.

In other words, the concern is that while today SCAP is used in emergencies, people may become accustomed to it and view it as a permanent solution to the "unsolvable" priest shortage. The precedent is certainly there - how many things since the Vatican Two Council were introduced on a trial basis, but very quickly became the norm? Besides, we already have a small army of married Deacons on standby...

Anonymous said...

Not to be overly cynical....but...let's face it. The leadership in this diocese is all about going through the motions. Business as usual is the name of the game. When we have a diocesan liturgical director more interested in building an impressive resume than taking this diocese in a different direction by addressing some of the common liturgical malpractices that are the routine around the diocese, you just get more of the same. Why would Liturgy Training Publications contract someone from a diocese known for its liturgical deviance to write a sourcebook? Are not Benedict's writings on liturgy at least as good as Combier-Donovan's? The Richmond Diocese is the antithesis of Benedict XVI when it comes to liturgy.

standing maryanna said...

I was under the impression that Ms Combier-Donovan had written articles for the Liturgy Training Publications sourcebook in the past; thus she wasn't an unknown quantity.

LTP certainly wouldn't have offered her that important task without recognizing her work as liturgically correct, would they?

Anonymous said...

LPT is not the standard for correctness.

Stu said...

Dioceses get the vocations they deserve and Richmond is no exception. While such has necessitated this short term strategy, it appears that the long term approach is somewhat of a siege mentality in hopes that the problem will somehow rectify itself.

Even the "behind the collar" approach misses the mark. By going to great lengths to portray "Father Mike" (I always wince when priests feel the need to have everyone call them by their first name) as just a regular guy like everyone else, it sends the message to young men considering a vocation that being a priest is in fact just like being a regular guy. But in reality, that isn't the case. Being a priest is a calling from God to live a special life that is challenging and requires sacrifice. Young men will respond and even die to such a calling. They won't to something that is just another job.

The diocese would be better served to embrace solid orthodoxy in all of its parishes, true reverence for the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament and obedience by the clergy to the Bishop and ultimately the Holy Father in all things. Holiness attracts. Wishy-washiness...not so much.

Interesting how the traditional parishes and dioceses don't have such problems to deal with, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

We are a people gathered unto ourselves and as such we should have a sense of community. We are a faith-family with or without a priest-celebrant. To be honest, we really do not need a priest for us to celebrate. Every time we celebrate eucharist, we are really celebrating our stories and experiences in spite of the priest. It is time for all of us to sing a new church into existance and stop clinging to the old ways. We celebrate! We believe!

standing maryanna said...

Dear "we celebrate; we believe": It's been awhile since you have been on the scene. I bid you welcome.

However, in response to your words that we have no need for the priest, then we might as well go to one of the many storefront churches that are easily found in the South and elsewhere.

There is a definite sense of community among their members... why else would they break from an established church except to bond together in their particular beliefs.

As a Catholic, I definitely need the sense of community, but I need something else too.

Stu said...

No Eucharist.

Pretty simple. One can see why Satan attacks the priesthood.

Anonymous said...

If We are christ to one another, then We are eucharist too. Come into the era of Vatican 2!

Stu said...

Stay with orthodoxy and a reading of the Second Vatican Council that takes into account ALL of the Church.

No Eucharist. Pretty simple. One can see why Satan attacks the priesthood. And that includes denying the need for priests.

Mark said...

The Vatican Two Council certainly did not redefine or de-emphasize the Holy Eucharist along the lines of the fake “spirit” some cite as an excuse for their own ideas. On the contrary, it strongly reemphasized the centrality of the Holy Eucharist in Christian life, as these three quotes from three separate documents of this Council testify:

Sacrosanctum Concilium:
“From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a fountain, grace is channeled into us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their goal, are most powerfully achieved.”

Lumen Gentium:
"Each must share frequently in the sacraments, the Eucharist especially, and in liturgical rites. Each must apply himself constantly to prayer, self-denial, active brotherly service, and the exercise of all virtues. For charity, as the bond of perfection and the fulfillment of the law (cf. Col. 3:14; Rom. 13:10), rules over all the means of attaining holiness, gives life to them, and makes them work."

Presbyterorum Ordinis:
“No Christian community, however, can be built up unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist. Here, therefore, all education in the spirit of community must originate. If this celebration is to be sincere and thorough, it must lead to various works of charity and mutual help, as well as to missionary activity and to different forms of Christian witness.”

It is important to actually read and understand the Vatican Two Council documents, to quickly realize that it did not authorize, in letter or spirit, many things some claim it did. Thus, let the buyer beware when another dubious idea floats by and claims this Council as its cover.

Anonymous said...

It would be helpful if you would keep your partisan politics out of our theological discussions.

Mark said...

Dear July 13, 2009 10:03 AM Anomymous:

By "partisan politics" do you mean my observation that this diocese is run by lay progressives?

Or the Vatican Two quotes?