.- Boston’s massive parish reorganization is necessary to advance the mission of the church, said Archbishop Sean O’Malley at a press conference yesterday.
At the end of a six-month process, which included consultation with thousands of lay people, the archdiocese decided to close 70 of its 357 existing parishes. Five new parishes will be created in parish mergers. In the end, there will be 65 less parishes but only 60 less churches, since five of the former parish churches will continue as worship sites.
The archbishop assured that in no way would the sale of the churches be used to finance legal settlements with victims of sexual abuse by priests.
“The sale of the Brighton property of the former archbishop's residences and surrounding land has raised the $90 million dollars needed to do so,” Archbishop O’Malley said. “No money from the future sale of parish assets will be used to pay for the settlement.”
The bishop said the funds from church sales would be used to support remaining parishes and schools and to recapitalize the archdiocese’s pension and medical funds.
“This process of reconfiguration is directed not toward the past, but toward the future mission of the Church,” he underlined.
Though the recent decision may seem radical and quick, the bishop said, parish reorganization has been discussed for many years.
The closures are necessary due to changes in population, the movement of people from the cities to the suburbs, and the decrease in the number of active Catholics, he said.
In addition, more than one-third of Boston parishes is operating in the red and parish buildings and churches need major reparation – to the tune of $100 million in the city of Boston alone, the bishop pointed out. There is also an aging priest population – 130 pastors are over the age of 70 – and a shortage of new vocations to the priesthood.
The alternative to closing parishes would be far worse in the long run, said the bishop.
“We would experience a continual decline in some areas of our archdiocese, closing parish after parish, school after school, out-reach program after out-reach program, all because the archdiocese would be unable to subsidize these entities,” he said.
“Furthermore, the archdiocese would be faced with the serious reality of not being able to meet its pension and medical fund obligations for its employees. This we cannot allow to happen,” he addedParish closings can bring ‘new life’ to diocese
The bishop said he is “profoundly aware of the emotion the announcement of the closing of a parish evokes.”
He said he and his priests' council “agonized together over parish closings.”
The council, he explained, “tried to distribute closings across all regions of the archdiocese so that we shall be able to ensure the Church's presence in all areas … in the future, especially in the inner city and in rural areas.”
Archbishop O’Malley said he understand how difficult a church closing can be for parishioners. “It means the loss of a spiritual home, the place where so much time and resources have been invested, the house where so many important moments in people's lives, from birth to death, have taken place,” he acknowledged.
But the bishop added that parish closures could also mean new life in other areas and parishes in the archdiocese.
“As one church is closed, another church is waiting to welcome its people to a place which can become more alive, more spirit-filled, and more able to proclaim the good news of our faith because of the talents, treasure, and time its new members will bring,” he said.
“Closing a parish does not mean an end to the book, just a chapter in the story of life and faith that is being written every day of our life as a Church,” he comforted.
The bishop said the reorganization and upcoming closures “will challenge all of us to move beyond a parochial mindset and realize that we are Catholic, which means universal.
“I appeal to every Catholic in the archdiocese to accept these changes in the spirit of faith,” he said. “To lay aside their anger and disappointment, to cast off their sadness and work with each other to build a stronger Church.”