Saturday, May 31, 2008

In the Northeast, "Grand Closing" Continues

At this weekend's Masses in the diocese of Allentown, the next great wave of Northeastern reconfiguration has begun rolling out.

According to early estimates from the six-county church in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, the rounds of closings and mergers -- slated to begin in mid-July and run through 2010 -- will see the 275,000-member diocese slash close to 50 of its 151 parishes.
At St. Patrick's in McAdoo, congregants cried at the news. At St. Andrew in Catasauqua, they collectively sighed. And at St. Joseph's in Mahanoy City, they applauded.

Catholics attending Mass tonight and Sunday are finding out the fates of their parishes as priests announce which churches are closing and which will survive an anxiously-awaited restructuring of the Allentown Diocese.

The Diocese has not said how many churches will close and is expected to issue a news release of the details Sunday.

"Thank God, the tension is over," Monsignor Anthony F. Wassel told parishioners at St. Joseph's, which is remaining open but being merged with five other churches into a new parish called Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. "We're going to be one parish."

The changes are likely to affect most church-going Catholics in the area as buildings close, parishes merge, and priests -- even at some unaffected parishes -- are transferred.

"You should consider yourselves to be the founders of your new parish as your grandparents and great-grandparents were founders of this parish," Allentown Bishop Edward P. Cullen wrote in letters read at affected parishes.

Fewer priests and declining numbers of parishioners in some areas have prompted the closures. Small ethnic churches and parishes in Carbon and Schuylkill counties are expected to be especially hard hit. Parishes with weak finances and infrastructure also are vulnerable.
Necessitated by decades of significant demographic shift, a future of even fewer priests, and a present of Mass attendance that, in many places, borders on the abysmal, the long-awaited Allentown changes (accompanied by a significant reshuffle of its active clergy, along with a notable number of retirements) are but the latest realignment undertaken in what's become the faded flagship of the Stateside church.

In recent years, among others, the abuse-battered Boston archdiocese shuttered 67 parishes in 2004, New York moved on a relatively pain-free elimination of 31 parishes in 2006 (whilst opening five new churches in its growing northern suburbs, and expanding several others), the diocese of Camden revealed plans to cut its number of parishes from 124 to 66 (keeping several non-parish churches open as auxiliary worship sites) in early April, and this weekend, the Buffalo diocese is completing its announcement of the closing of 77 "weekend sites" (read: parishes).

From the latter, a diocesan YouTube features Bishop Edward Kmiec talks up the changes:

It might not be pretty, folks -- church -- but it's got a name: reality. And for too long in this part of the world, it's either been avoided, or dismissed as some sort of delusional "negativity."

It's not always an easy thing to accept, but it gives us something to work for, and something to build anew.

Remember, the ones who came before us and began the project in this place two centuries ago -- whether traversing hills on horseback or walking miles in dirt to get to a ramshackle church or a Mass-hosting home on the sporadic Sundays a cleric was relatively nearby, or both -- had it way tougher... persecution and prejudice included.

Far be it from us to act or feel more indignant, entitled or "worthy" than they... all we've been is way more spoilt.

PHOTO: Kellie Manier/
Allentown Morning Call