Calling it a “pivotal moment in the history of the archdiocese,” Archbishop of New Orleans Alfred C. Hughes announced on Wednesday a major reorganization of the archdiocese that will position to Church to improve despite a shortage of priests and a Catholic population diminished by Hurricane Katrina.
Seventeen of the parish communities, which were damaged by Katrina will be shut down while others in undamaged areas will also be closed or merged. This will result in a reduction of the number of parishes in the archdiocese from the pre-Katrina count of 141 to only 108, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.
Some of the churches to be closed are historic, such as the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish where Louis Armstrong was baptized.
While some churches will be closed outright, others will be reduced in status to missions—second churches in a single parish where the sacraments can still be celebrated.
Population changes helped motivate the plan to reconfigure the archdiocese. At least 20 percent of the area’s 385,000 Catholics left after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. Many others were forced to move within the archdiocese.
The need to accommodate a declining number of priests was another factor driving the changes. According to figures released by the archdiocese, the number of active and retired diocesan and religious order priests fell from 545 to 334 between 1980 and 2008.
Financial concerns were also pressing. The uninsured damages to archdiocesan property totaled over $120 million. When asked about the archdiocese’s financial state, the archbishop said he hopes to end the fiscal year on June 30 in the black for the first time since the 2005 storm.
“The losses in the Katrina and post-Katrina experience have been a very difficult cross for the people to carry, and the last thing I want to do is to complicate that for people, Archbishop Hughes said, according to the archdiocesan newspaper The Clarion Herald.
“I know how much people look to the Lord, to his Church, and to their local churches for strength and support.
“My greatest concern was [what would happen] if we were to keep the status quo and diffuse the limited resources we now have in ways that focus on maintenance,” Archbishop Hughes continued. “This would lose sight of the God-given opportunity that is ours to make some sacrifices for the present so that the future may be built on a smaller foundation – smaller but stronger.”
Some parishioners at the parishes chosen to be closed have announced they will try to appeal Archbishop Hughes’ decision.
According to the Clarion Herald, the archbishop told the area’s Catholics, “I don’t claim infallibility with any decision.”
“Obviously, every decision is a prudential judgment, but the attempt has been honestly made to apply objective criteria with regard to the vitality of parishes.”
The archdiocese reportedly has no plan to sell any of the churches. According to the Times Picayune, Archbishop Hughes said he prefers to find another ministry-related use for them, followed by some civic use “for the common good,” with sale for commercial use left as a third option.
The archbishop also announced that no parochial schools will close, but neither will any open in the foreseeable future.