Springtime! US diocese to eliminate 70% of its parishes

Speaking of the Diocese of Black Duck, I saw this in the fever swamp…

Ah, springtime in the Church. New breezes wafting in through the opened windows.

How about them high-falutin’ names these chancery types come up with, along with glossy brochures and posters, videos to be played at Mass (not that that’s a distraction from the reason for being there…).   Program after program to “Make Us All Be Smaller”, or perhaps, “Nostra Autem Minui“.

In Black Duck’s neighboring diocese, Libville, Bp. Fatty McButterpants copied what his old buddy Bp. Antuninu “Dozer” Ruspe over in  Pie Town was doing to his parishes.  Not called “Dozer” for nothing, he was consolidating.  “It’s The Only Way”.   Rather like his 5th c. North Africa namesake, “Dozer” then sold off the beautiful architectural elements, statues, windows, etc., at a huge profit.    Hence, Most Reverend Fatty initiated his own program of consolidation, “That They May Be One”, which made Archbp. Rossi over in Red Bird a little irritated, because he had wanted to use that slogan.

One of Bp. Mc’s first moves was to create a couple of merged clusters called the “Sing A New Faith Community Into Being Faith Community” and the “Engendering Togetherness Community of Welcome”, appointing Fr. Bruce Hugalot, the pastor at St. Idealia, over the whole shooting match.

You will remember Fr. Hugalot, who struggled a little with the recent presser in Black Duck.  He was there to cover it for the diocesan paper of Libville and, frankly, to stick his nose in where it didn’t really belong, a long-standing practice which sometimes created comments about “boundaries”.

Lest you think that the Bp. Jude Noble wasn’t open to the idea of merging faith communities in Black Duck, he was entirely open to the proposal from the pastor of St. Ipsidipsy in Tall Tree Circle, Msgr. Zuhlsdorf.  Msgr. Z and SSPX Fr. Rocco Firm raised an idea during one of their Suppers For The Promotion Of Clericalism.  Perhaps His Excellency might combine the the SSPX chapel, St. Joseph Terror of Demons with St. Ipsidipsy.  They could call the new cluster, “Through My Fault My Fault My Most Grievous Fault Catholic Community”.  Other highly clerical participants eagerly suggested alternate names including, “Mournful Mother Weeping”, proposed by Fr. Fidel Jose Maria de la Cruz, also of the SSPX – several of their group were present as usual – and “Loaded Down With Opprobrium” by the newly confirmed Provost of the St. Philip Neri Oratory of Mary Cause of Our Joy, Fr. Janusz Włotrzewiszczykowycki-Brzęczyszczykiewic.

As the evening went on and the cigars were burning low, they all pretty much agreed that trying to make everything that belongs to God smaller wasn’t the best idea.  Other changes were needed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. dahveed says:

    I’m in the aforementioned archdiocese (though Black Duck is looking pretty good now). I understand the numbers employed. Older priests are retiring. New ones are coming along. But though they’re in numbers better than the archdiocese has had in a long time, they won’t be sufficient unto that end. More FSSP, some SSPX, more Byzantine Catholic priests would be wonderful. Heck, bringing the Personal Ordinariate would be great. At least, it’d be better than closing and selling off churches. Not to mention what it’d do for the faithful.

  2. Rich Leonardi says:

    Worth noting that Cincinnati’s TLM parish, Old St. Mary, has gone from 150 weekly attendees at the mid-morning Mass to over 400 since pandemic began. Meanwhile, the progressive hothouses in the diocese are imploding, recovering less than 25% of their pre-pandemic worshipers by some estimates.

  3. Gregg the Obscure says:

    the Polish name above reminds me of my favorite Polish joke.

    a Polish gentleman is at the eye doctor. the doctor says, please read aloud the smallest line that you can see clearly. the gentleman replies “read it! back in 1980 i dated his sister!”

  4. majuscule says:

    More of this please! I love it!

    There is so much weighing heavily on my mind and spirit these days that I enjoyed the opportunity to escape and immerse myself in this prophetic (I can hope…!) fiction.

  5. anotherphilothea says:

    If this is one tenth as much fun for you to write as it is for us to read, you must be having a really great day. Thank you Father!

  6. Buffalo is doing this too. They call it Road to Renewal. 162 parishes into 36 families. And no idea how it will actually work in practice.

  7. BayviewBadger says:

    Detroit just wrapped up “phase 1” of 2 “phases.” It’s all supposed to be done by July 1, 2022. Vocations lower than ever. It’s just a sad place.

    Meanwhile, the TLM’s are booming and men discerning vocations are not looking to be diocesan priests.

  8. TonyO says:

    Meanwhile, the TLM’s are booming and men discerning vocations are not looking to be diocesan priests.

    I am curious about something: since TLM puts the kibosh on newly ordained priests saying the TLM without the bishop’s OK, I have to assume that this is going to make some seminarians want to ditch their seminary (and bishop) and go shopping for another. Assuming they can’t find a bishop who take them in, what chances are there that some bishop (like one of the SSPX bishops) might ordain them WITHOUT their entering SSPX? What would that look like, and would they be a priest without being incardinated into a diocese, and not a member of an order? Is that do-able? I know that a bishop is forbidden to consecrate another bishop without approval from Rome, but I haven’t heard anything about that extending downwards to ordaining priests, so, it is still against canon law? Just thinking outside the box, here.

  9. TonyO says:

    Sorry, I meant “since TC puts the kibosh…”

  10. Zach says:

    Pittsburgh had 188 parishes in 2018 and will be down to 48 by the end of next year. The name for this? “Mission of the Church Alive!”

  11. Zach says:

    My question is, when will the Bishops vote to consolidate diocese? Surely Pennsylvania doesn’t need 6 anymore. Maybe we could do with only half the bishops we currently have.

  12. Zach says:

    My question is, when will the Bishops vote to consolidate diocese? Surely Pennsylvania doesn’t need 6 anymore. Maybe we could do with only half the bishops we currently have.

  13. tgarcia2 says:

    @zach: it’s all about job security. Why consolidate dioceses when a Bishop would lose power?

  14. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Yes, this is my archdiocese, too. And the worst thing is that, frankly, I think we were turning the corner before all this. We’ve got more seminarians getting ordained, we’ve got a lot of enthusiastic and faithful young people, we’ve got said young people getting married and having kids. The people want MORE Catholicism, not “less Mass and farther away.”

    I really need to go read this piece of bad news. Especially since there’s apparently no provision for Catholics who walk to church or ride the bus, and don’t have cars.

    Since I attend a chapel at a university, it’s apparently unaffected by this “KFC bowl” consolidation plan.

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I went and read the tentative plan. The way the “parish families” are joined up is literally ridiculous, and the idea that eventually all those parishes will vanish away into a single parish is basically saying, “Oh, yeah, you rural Catholics should drive fifty miles of bad road in the winter ice and snow, up hill and down dale, and like it. And the same thing for you urban Catholics who have no good way to get from here to there.”

    They want us all to die, or to never go to church again, or to livestream everything forever. It’s ridiculous. And it’s insulting to the priests, nuns, sisters, brothers, and laypeople who pioneered and built this archdiocese and its parishes, with their own two hands and the help of the Holy Spirit.

    It is thinking too small, by five zillion percent, and distrusting God and His providence.

  16. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Mind you, I think the archbishop we’ve got is a good man, and he is trying. But he should have just overruled this whole committee, and thought big like his pioneer predecessors. They did better than this. And we’ve got members of the archdiocese in Heaven who could intercede for us, and a lot that could be done.

    People want to be asked to do big important things, to be heroes and fighters for the faith. They don’t want to be kicked to the side of the road and asked to be passive.

  17. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There is a comment period during October. It’s not much time, but go on the Archdiocese of Cincinnati website for Beacons of Light. Go to the map of proposed “parish families.” There’s a comment form on the right hand side of the map.

    I commented a lot. I’m going to comment some more. Not spam, not nastygrams, but solid commentary.

  18. prayfatima says:

    I will have to read this again whenever I need a laugh.
    “So” many “quotation” marks, this was very funny.
    And what about Fr. Janusz W?otrzewiszczykowycki-Brz?czyszczykiewic? We need to hear more about this fellow!

  19. TRW says:

    In my diocese, they are calling this kind of consolidation ” Families of Parishes”. Not many being closed outright, but they are trying to streamline administration and such by grouping parishes so that they share priests. Somehow, our new “family” ( formerly 2 separate parishes) now has more employees/ positions than previously, as they have hired someone full-time to look after Music, Liturgical formation (probably not the good kind) and R.C.I.A . Pretty sure we are now paying more staff, as we have retained both of the Pastoral Ministers from the two original parishes. Some folks have new titles. Same staff. Moreover, it hardly feels like a family when they are constantly shuffling around the priests. Hard to have a family when there’s alway a new Father. It does also appear that fewer people will be returning once the covid madness has ended here. Social distancing is still required even though anyone who wanted the vaccine had it long ago and cases are low. When they cut the number of Masses at our church, they said it was because some polling had showed that up to 50% of churchgoers might not come back after the covid restrictions were lifted. Good grief. Maybe wait until you actually see the number of people returning? Sadly, what they anticipate is probably true. Thankfully we have a diocesan TLM. The priest who says Mass will be speaking with the Bishop in a few days to find out how(and if?) TC will be implemented. Hopefully, they will leave the TLM alone. We’re one Mass on Sunday at one church in a small town outside of the main city. A fairly docile bunch who just want a reverent Mass.

  20. Son of Saint Alphonsus says:

    When I was a lad my home parish had 5 priests, 2 or 3 weekend externs, and 7 Sunday Masses, some with standing room only. There were 3 daily Masses each with 100+ people. There were 3, sometimes 4, simultaneous Midnight Masses in the upper church, lower church, school auditorium, and school gym. Confessions were heard for about 5 hours on Saturday with 5 confessors constantly busy. That changed drastically with one pastor whose goal was to “Build the City of God”— how I hate that song! In six years Mass attendance dropped by over 50%, Masses were “consolidated”, and hardly anyone went to confession. The grammar school closed and the high school became regional (it’s now closed). They are down to three Sunday Masses with less than 150 at each Mass. Confession is by appointment. They are a “model modern parish.” I won’t go near the place. It’s the same everywhere in the Archdiocese. The why? Effeminate bishops and clergy who HATE Tradition and authentic Catholic teaching. In fact, Tradition is the only thing they stand against. Just like a certain religious congregation I know of.

  21. L. says:

    My former parish Priest used to talk about how the sexual perverts who ran the diocese had detailed plans on closing parishes with different variables affecting the rate of closure but had no plans for growth. The Priest was rather conservative, taught the Catholic faith, and worked hard. Of course he was forced out.

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  23. L. says:

    This may apply to the Catholic Church more than to other organizations:

    “The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.”

    ? Robert Conquest

    In our case, there is evidence supporting more than an assumption, and the cabal is not secret.

  24. Sportsfan says:

    The hatchet job in the archdiocese of Indianapolis was dubbed “Connected in the spirit”

    It reminded me of a homily or talk I once heard by a priest. “Not all spirits are holy”

    Also I would like to host a “Supper For The Promotion Of Clericalism.”
    I wish that was a thing.

  25. Reporting from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati here…

    The assertion that “70% of parishes” are “closing” is very misleading. In church (canon) law, a parish denotes a legal entity, and when that legal entity is combined into another, that is “closing.” For everyone else, “closing a parish” means a church is boarded up and sold off.

    There are places in the archdiocese where, sadly, that latter is likely to happen. Cities empty out everywhere, including in Cincinnati, Middletown, Hamilton, Dayton and Springfield. As it happens, from the look of the plan, many parishes in Cincinnati get kid-glove treatment, despite being mostly empty — and they have been for a long time. Meanwhile, there are rural parishes that are doing just fine, during and after Covid.

    The legitimate idea here is that administration can and should be combined. The Archbishop has said no one will be forced to see their beloved church close, and I believe him, because that approach is stupid. If people want to keep a church open, they can do it. But, yes, smaller churches probably won’t have Sunday Mass. I’m not sure how else you manage it when you don’t have enough priests — and yes, the numbers in the seminary are up, but it’s going to take time to get enough.

    Meanwhile, what’s happened up till now has been patchwork fixes every time a pastor retired or died or otherwise departed; very new priests have been thrown in as pastors, and that has been very difficult. It happened to me 16 years ago, and I simply would have done much better with more experience as a priest. This arrangement will ensure experienced priests are pastors and they will have 1, 2 or 3 vicars, many of whom will be those new priests. Also, some older priests, God love them, are just not cut out to be pastors. Believe me, you don’t want to know. (That doesn’t mean they are bad men; just not gifted that way.)

    Not to deny all the problems that got us here, or that still remain. But truth is, I’m actually cautiously optimistic about this. I think this may well prove to be very good for our priests, who were treated extremely badly in prior “clustering” efforts — expected to act as if they were 3 pastors, and if they made any tough decisions, they’d be undercut from downtown. We lost a number of good priests who were so deeply demoralized. They just left. Not saying it was *all* about the past clustering/pastoral regions approach, but it was to some extent, I am certain.

  26. Here’s a statistic from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati:

    Of 110 pastors in place right now, 58 of them are over 60. Twenty of them are over 70. That means the latter 20 could already retire, and even if they don’t want to, they are likely to have to. To have a majority of your pastors due to retire in the next ten years — again, even if you can persuade them not to — is inherently unstable.

    So, yes we are ordaining more men now; but it will take a long time to overcome this reality.

  27. Sorry … and “retiring” doesn’t mean they don’t help with Mass and confessions. It means they step down as pastors. Hence the consolidation of administration.

    A lot of Catholics have very little idea of what being a pastor adds to being a priest.

  28. Jim says:



    “They want us all to die, or to never go to church again, or to livestream everything forever. It’s ridiculous. And it’s insulting to the priests, nuns, sisters, brothers, and laypeople who pioneered and built this archdiocese and its parishes, with their own two hands and the help of the Holy Spirit.”

    – the kufu may yet take care of that. From the saying “it’s the Mass that matters”, to depriving Catholics in good standing of the Mass (that is not a reference to the “Top Cat” motu proprio BTW) has been a very short step. But if the Mass can be so readily refused to Catholics – what does that say about its value, or about the basis of the requirement to attend it ? What sort of precedent has the behaviour of the bishops, for the reasons they had, in denying the Mass to Catholics, set for the Church ?

    Maybe the Church will have to become a string of house churches. At least within cities, that may be the way forward. The offering of the Mass may, by pressure of realities such as the shortage of priests, have to become infrequent (though still regular). The Church in Japan had to manage for 200 years without clergy – if it could nonetheless survive, so perhaps can the Church Universal.

    “It’s ridiculous. And it’s insulting to the priests, nuns, sisters, brothers, and laypeople who pioneered and built this archdiocese and its parishes, with their own two hands and the help of the Holy Spirit.”

    The Reformation was in many ways a bad thing. Yet God allowed it to happen. To this day the breach opened up then has not been healed. Nor is there any likelihood, humanly speaking, that it will be (fake ecumenism, of which there has an abundance, does not count as healing.) Horrible and deplorable and heartbreaking things happen, such as the aftermath of Vatican 2: with the destruction both material and spiritual that took place; but they can’t all be healed or prevented or reversed. However objectionable and painful they may be, they have to be lived with. There is no way of escape from them, however impossible and unthinkable they may be according to pre-V2 Catholic theology.

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  30. Charivari Rob says:

    Father Martin, thank you for shedding some light on various angles of the situation.

    Like several other readers, I’ve had some experience with similar situation here in Boston.
    Besides the challenges of things sometimes seeming to be imposed arbitrarily from the diocesan level, and the ability & availability & willingness (or lack of any of the above) of priests – we laypeople do have a part to play.
    Sometimes, sadly, it’s been the role of stumbling block. Near-absolute parishioner intransigence to any notion of change (gasp!) or.. or… compromise (gasp!!!) with things like schools or programs or Mass schedules – especially while there’s the illusion of headcount or offertory still being “pretty good” or “better than any of the neighboring parishes, so leave us alone!” – does little to promote a unified “body of Christ”.

  31. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If that’s how it is, and how it’s been, why haven’t they been publicizing these numbers for years and years? Why haven’t they been saying to young men, “We need X many priests, so please think about applying? We now have X many priests, so we’re getting closer to our target, but we need at least Y more, so please ask God if you are called?”

    I know this archbishop has been trying to get vocations, and doing well. But if it’s all about a numbers game, why don’t we ever get numbers until it’s just about too late?

    And yes, of course it’s a vast improvement over the grudging acceptance of seminarians that used to occur. But… it’s just so ugh. They don’t want to hear from laypeople or ask them for help, and then all of a sudden, it’s “We’ve got this plan, please go along with it, hope you aren’t going to have to walk ten miles uphill but send us a check!”

  32. JakeMC says:

    The scary part of all this is, if they’re closing 70% of the parishes in the diocese, that’s going to put some people out of reach of a church altogether. Moving to be closer to one isn’t always possible. This move sounds like sheer insanity. I realize that the shortage of available priests makes it difficult to keep parishes open, but closing that many is truly frightening.

  33. Charivari Rob says:

    JakeMC, please re-read Father Martin’s comment above.
    The expectation is that (perhaps similar to how it has been done in other dioceses) it will be reorganization, with literal “closing” of very few churches.

    One form it has taken in some places is suppressing two existing parishes, and erecting a new parish with some or all of the physical assets of both prior parishes.
    Another variation is groups of canonically separate parishes, with same pastor over each parish in the group.
    One of the crucial challenges in such arrangements is making sure that one of the previous parish groups isn’t relegated to second-class status.

  34. JakeMC:

    I will say it again — and I’m saying this from the diocese we’re talking about — the Archdiocese is not “closing” churches. It is not “closing” parishes. It is proposing to re-organize approximately 200 independent parishes into 60 parishes. That refers to administration.

    Consider a fictional, mostly rural County of Harrison, in which there are eight independently administered parishes, one in each township. Once upon a time each had its own pastor, but that was ages ago. Today, there are two priests, each riding a circuit around to four parishes. Each is obligated to meet with four pastoral councils, four finance councils, preparing four budgets every year.

    For simplicity’s sake, let us look at the life of Father Patientius, the pastor in the first grouping. He is paid by St. Placidus, where he keeps his office, but the other three parishes reimburse St. Placidus for their share of his compensation. They also reimburse St. Placidus for a portion of that parish’s office expenses. Father lives at St. Commodus, so reimbursements are paid, again by the other parishes, to that parish, for those expenses.

    Three of the four parishes have offices, and Father travels regularly among them to keep office hours and supervise his employees; he spends a lot of hours in his car every week and does a lot of his work on his cell phone; not safe while driving, but it seems unavoidable.

    Two of the parishes have religious education classes, with the other two parishes contributing volunteers and students, and also funds to help with the budget. Every year there is an ongoing argument among the four finance councils, because the parishes all vary in size, and no one can agree on what’s “fair.” This comes up a lot at the pastoral council meetings, everyone complaining to Father Patientius that he needs to “do something.” He shuttles back and forth trying to keep peace.

    On Saturday evening he has Mass at one parish, then on Sunday he has Mass at each of the others, often driving from site to site wearing his vestments.

    Do you have the picture? We haven’t talked about the other four parishes in the same county, but some things are similar, others are different. What is common in the entire county is that the two priests are constantly on the run — PAY ATTENTION NOW — because they are expected to act as if each parish is independent. These priests basically are asked to be four pastors for four different parishes. They know of priests who put up with this arrangement elsewhere for awhile, until they quit.

    So the bishop, reacting to the problems, does the following:

    – Reorganizes the administration of all parishes in the whole diocese, including in this county.

    – Mandates that parishes below a certain size will be combined with nearby parishes, and their administration will be shared, no longer independent.

    – Mass schedules will be evaluated based on priest availability and how full the churches are.

    In this county, the following takes effect:

    – The eight parishes are combined into one parish; one of the priests is pastor, the other is the assistant. This is well received especially by the younger pastor, who was ordained only a year before, and found being pastor overwhelming. The two priests plan to share a house together, rather than live separately.

    – The eight pastoral councils and finance councils will now all work together, framing a budget for all sites. They have to agree among themselves on what’s “fair,” rather than putting that expecting the priest to solve this.

    – Various funds are created so that some money is focused on each campus, other funds go to the things the parishes do in common.

    – Due to size of churches and locations, Sunday Mass is maintained at six of the eight locations; but every location has Mass at least on weekdays. ALL the parish churches are kept open in *some* way, because the people of the parishes want it so and are ready to pay the expenses involved or volunteer time and skills needed.

    You tell me: how many “parishes” are “closed” in this county? Feel free to answer both from a canon-law perspective, and from a person-in-the-pew perspective.

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