Thanks for your patience, understanding, and support this week after the tough announcements of parish mergers a week ago.
Thanks, too, for the good questions, and even the criticisms, at least those thoughtfully and civilly expressed.
The major question I receive, understandably, from our people, and the media, is, why?
Why do we have to reduce our numbers of parishes from 368 to about 305? Why are these mergers necessary? Fair enough questions…
Most people then offer a reply to that question: because of shortages. They observe that a looming shortage in the number of priests and in the financial resources of the archdiocese – we’ve given $362 million to parishes and schools in need over the past ten years alone – are the main reasons for the decision.
And, yes, they have a point. Shortages in the number of priests and in the available money to support struggling parishes are, indeed, a part of the answer to the question; Why?
However, a perceptive journalist laser-beamed the real shortage: “Seems like you have a shortage of people!” Bingo!
She was right! Simply put, our people aren’t coming anymore. True, some of the shortage in older parishes is due to the fact that our folks have moved. The people that do come are as committed as ever. But, we still have to admit our numbers of committed, consistent churchgoers are down.
It hurts me to say that, and I’d rather deny it and offer less troublesome reasons, especially since I also must admit that part of the reason our people aren’t showing up anymore in their parishes is because they’ve lost confidence in some of us bishops and priests.
I’m quick to point out that, unlike a lot of other dioceses, the Catholic population of the archdiocese of New York continues to rise, and has not sunk below its 2.8 million membership, mostly due to the ongoing gift of immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.
Still, though, we have to admit, our people aren’t coming anymore. On any given Sunday, the stats tell us that only somewhere between 15 and 28% of our folks show up!
One parish slated to merge reported in the study phase of our planning process that, on a given Sunday, maybe 500 people are at the Masses. Yet, 3,000 signed a petition to reverse the decision! Where have they been! If even half of them had been part of normal, expected parish life, the decision would not have been foreseen.
We Catholics are not alone. My Jewish and non-Catholic Christian colleagues and neighbors tell me they are experiencing the same shortage.
The experts at the Pew Research Center document the decline, not in believers, but in belongers.
(The same is true, by the way with our beloved schools. When we made the painful decision two years ago to merge our 220 schools into 160 stronger, more robust ones, a lot of reasons were given: high cost of education, competition from other schools, for instance.
The main reason? Our Catholic parents – - 70% of them, to be exact, – - choose not to send their children to our excellent schools.)
So, now our sacred responsibility is to win our people back! That’s what Pope Saint John Paul II called the new evangelization! That means asking why they no longer come, how we can attract them back, and what we’ve done wrong, a strategy Pope Francis is encouraging.
As one savvy priest remarked, “Let’s stop closing parishes and start filling them up!”
With, yes, fewer, but now stronger, fuller, more vibrant parishes, better served by more available priests, in new communities no longer straitjacketed by demands of maintenance of huge, half-empty, in-need-of-repairs buildings, we can unleash a new evangelization! The best is yet to come!
Let’s go from shortages - – of priests, resources, and people - – to a surplus!