The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Clergy has upheld a decision by Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis to close a parish — one of several that had appealed its closure to the Vatican — as part of a major pastoral planning initiative

St. Paul Parish in rural Berger, Missouri, was ordered to be subsumed by Assumption Parish in New Haven effective Aug. 1, 2023. According to the archdiocese, the area where St. Paul is located has a higher percentage of Catholics, a higher Mass attendance rate, and a higher Mass attendance as a percentage of capacity than the archdiocese as a whole. 

St. Paul Parish, with a church building that dates to 1887, had a small but relatively stable congregation of about 120 registered households. The archdiocese reported that the parish is “stable financially with stable offertory and growing reserves.” Assumption Parish was already about twice the size of St. Paul’s. 

Rozanski had announced a year ago that the number of parishes in the archdiocese would be reduced by nearly 50 by way of parish mergers and closures. Rozanski declined to revoke any of the 83 decrees he made regarding the final plans, and so parishioners at a number of parishes announced their intention to send appeals to the Vatican, putting aspects of the mergers planned for the parishes on hold until the Dicastery for the Clergy’s rulings. 

As the Vatican has considered the appeals, a few have been accepted, reversing Rozanski’s decisions. Under canon law, a diocesan bishop has the authority to alter parishes, but only for a just reason specific to each parish. Concern for souls must be the principal motivation for modifying a parish.

In May, the dicastery ordered that St. Angela Merici, St. Norbert, and Holy Name of Jesus parishes should not be merged into a single parish but rather can retain their status as separate parishes while under the care of the same pastor. In addition, the dicastery did not find just cause for St. Martin of Tours Parish in Lemay, Missouri, to be subsumed by St. Mark Parish. St. Richard Parish near Creve Coeur, Missouri, also had its closure decree overturned earlier this year.  

Other parishes that appealed, such as St. Roch Parish in St. Louis and St. Barnabas Parish in O’Fallon, have had their mergers upheld. 

Five parishes in the archdiocese — St. Bernadette, St. Agnes, St. Lawrence, St. Matthew, and Our Lady of Sorrows — still have outstanding appeals with the Vatican as of publication time. 

The St. Louis parishes’ appeals to the Vatican are not unprecedented in the United States. In dioceses such as Cleveland; Buffalo, New York; Boston; and Springfield, Massachusetts, parishioners have issued appeals to the Dicastery for the Clergy to save their parishes after their bishops ordered them closed.

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