The Archdiocese of Cincinnati this week announced plans for groupings of parishes, called “families,” which will greatly reduce the number of parishes in the archdiocese during a multi-year consolidation process.

The announcement follows a period of public comment on the plan, during which the archdiocese says it fielded some 8,000 comments.

In a Dec. 5 letter, ​​Archbishop Dennis Schnurr said the consolidation process, dubbed “Beacons of Light”, is an effort to “ensure that all our resources – human, physical and financial –are properly ordered to missionary discipleship.”

“I am convinced that Beacons of Light, born of great hope, will enable us to form stronger parishes, centered on the Eucharist, that radiate the love of Christ and joy of the Gospel in a world that is frequently indifferent or even hostile,” Shnurr wrote.

Under the plan, existing parishes in the Cincinnati archdiocese— of which there are currently more than 200— have been grouped together into 53 “families”, of between 5 to 7 on average. The archdiocese serves some 440,000 Catholics in 19 counties.

The next stage in the process will be the implementation of the new Families of Parishes, set to be completed by July 1, 2022. The consolidation process could eliminate more than 70% of active parishes.

“Our life in Christ is always a response to God’s initiative. As we continue this challenging but exciting endeavor, may we stay attentive to all that the Lord is doing in our midst,” Schnurr concluded.

“God has abundantly blessed our first two centuries and will certainly bless the next. He has promised to never leave us. May God bless and keep all of us as we journey together toward the celebration of the birth of our Lord with certainty in our hearts that Christ remains with us always.”

In explaining the reasons for the initiative, the archdiocesan website cites problems the diocese and Church at large is facing. The website says that “religious practice is declining nationwide,” also citing “the average Sunday Mass in our archdiocese is only one-third full,” as well as an estimation that by 2026 the archdiocese will have at least 20% fewer priests than it currently does.

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The number of Catholics as a percentage of the population has also decreased. The site says that the number of registered Catholic households in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has declined at a rate of 2.72 per day for the past decade.

“[M]ost of our church buildings are grossly underutilized, our resources are spread too thin, and many of our parishes are not the vibrant communities of faith Catholics need them to be,” the site reads.

Pius VII established the Diocese of Cincinnati in June 1821. The ninth diocese in the United States, it originally encompassed the entirety of Ohio and the present-day state of Michigan, as well as parts of present-day Wisconsin. It was elevated to an archdiocese in 1850.