Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley of Boston issued a letter Nov. 13 to all Catholics in the archdiocese, explaining once again the reasons for parish closures. In it, he said that closing parishes is the hardest thing he has ever had to do in 40 years in religious life.
The archbishop noted that several parishioners have protested church closings by camping out at their churches and refusing to leave.
In his letter, the archbishop spoke about the solidairity of the members of the Early Church, who made sacrifices for the good of the whole community. He said the current situation in the archdiocese also requires sacrifice for the good of the the entire local Church.
“The financial situation of the archdiocese is much worse than most people realize,” he said. And it is not because of the settlements for the sexual abuse cases, said the bishop, which have been paid in great part by the sale of the archbishop's residence, the adjacent property, and by insurance.
Committed to financial transparency, the archbishop spelled out the financial situation of the archdiocese.
“We have more buildings and churches than we can afford to maintain. We have more parishes than we need to meet the pastoral and sacramental needs of our archdiocese,” he continued.
He described the decline in the number of priests as a “serious problem.” Five decades ago, the archdiocese was ordaining about 60 priests per year. This year, only seven were ordained. More than 100 of the current pastors are in their 70's or 80's.
“The 50 percent reduction of annual income to the diocese caused by the scandal has dealt a very serious blow to our local Church,” the archbishop added. “At the same time troubles in the stock market that have adversely affected pension plans, and retirement accounts across the country have left us with an unfunded pension liability of $80 million,” he explained.
The archbishop said the archdiocese's operating budget has been slashed by $14 million over the past three years, but it still experiences an annual $10-million deficit. Subsidies to poor parishes suffer and many parishes are unable to pay their bills.
In addition, “$35 million, borrowed three years ago to pay operating expenses, is exhausted and needs to be repaid,” said Archbishop O’Malley. Many communities have sold their land and buildings to keep afloat, he noted. In the last nine years, parishes have sold 150 pieces of property mostly to pay bills.
“I am appealing to all Catholics to be Catholics first. I know that we all have a great love for our parish and parish church, but our first love must be for Christ and the Body of Christ, which is the Church,” he said.
“At times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job, but I keep waking up in the morning to face another day of reconfiguration,” he said. “So when people ask why I am doing this, I can only say it is because I love the Church and want to give my life to the service of the Church.”
“Past generations of Catholics in Boston have made untold sacrifices to establish parishes and institutions of which we have been the beneficiaries,” he wrote. “Future generations of Catholics need our sacrifices so that they can inherit vibrant parishes and institutions in the future.”