The Diocese of Buffalo announced it will be merging over a third of its 160 parishes, calling the move an effort to “reinvigorate the Catholic faith in western New York.”

Buffalo Bishop Michael Fisher said in a May 28 video statement that 34% of its parishes — about 55 parishes — will be merged in a process of “rightsizing and reshaping.”

Determinations about which parishes are being shut down will be made between Aug. 15 and Sept. 1.

According to Fisher, the mergers are necessitated by a shortage of priests, declining Mass attendance, aging congregations, and financial difficulties brought on by clergy abuse lawsuits.

A fact sheet available on the diocesan website says that nearly half — 49% — of parishes in the diocese have seen a decline in registered households, while 60% of parishioners are over the age of 60. Sacraments are also down in the diocese with a 24% decrease in Catholic marriages in the diocese and 52% of parishes performing only one baptism a month.  

Additionally, only 12% of the parishes in the diocese initiated new Catholics into the Church this Easter.

“The Catholic Church in western New York is not the same as it was 50 years ago, not 20 years, not even 10 years ago,” Fisher said.

Though calling the planned mergers “difficult changes,” Fisher said the changes will “allow limited resources to be directed to the greatest needs in our community.”

The changes are part of the diocese’s “Road to Renewal” initiative that began in 2019 and has involved extensive discussions between diocesan officials and parishioners, and the establishment of “parish families,” or groupings of several parishes.  

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The Diocese of Buffalo has been experiencing financial issues for several years. In 2020, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to help pay compensation for victims of clergy sex abuse. In March, it announced the sale of its headquarters in downtown Buffalo after nearly 40 years at that location. 

St. Casimir, a historic Polish parish in Buffalo, is one of the parishes in the diocese with significant financial problems. The parish is renowned for its beautiful Byzantine architecture and elaborate decoration. In 1976 the parish hosted St. John Paul II, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, for two days. The future pope and saint is said to have loved the parish and been “awestruck” by its beauty. Despite its rich architecture and history, the parish is now facing tens of thousands of dollars in bills that it is struggling to pay.

The diocese’s website states that it will determine which parishes to merge based on data about the numbers of registered households, contributions, and sacraments being administered as well as geographic considerations.

The diocese said that “the reorganization, along with the Renewal [initiative] will help us to continue the mission of the Diocese of Buffalo and its parish families, to share the good news of Jesus Christ as robustly as possible, and to continue to be responsible stewards of our available resources, including people.”

There are approximately 557,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo, which spans 6,500 square miles of northwestern New York and includes the cities of Buffalo, Niagara, and several others.