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To: Pope Francis
Pope Francis, urge the world's bishops to keep our parishes open
Dear Pope Francis,
Please urge the world’s bishops to find creative ways to keep our parishes open rather than closing them.
Countless people throughout the world share your vision of a missionary Church that proclaims the joy of the Gospel in attitude, word and deed. Even more, they live it out in their local parishes -- the grassroots basis of the Church. It is in the everyday life of the People of God that the Church exists.
In Evangelii Gaudium you urged Catholics to remember, “The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach (28)."
In 2007, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, you urged priests to “rent a garage” in order to build local parishes, a spirit of enthusiastic evangelization that you carry forward today.
But today it is precisely the future of our local parishes that is massively threatened.
Pope Francis, we need you. The policy of closing and merging parishes is widespread and is slowly extinguishing the richness of body of Christ in the world today relying on a corporate model of Church administration rather than a pastoral one. We ask you to encourage the world’s bishops to build up the Church and keep parishes open by opening ordination and using new forms of parish life ministry and management that serve and support parish communities rather than shuttering them.
Why is this important?
Around the world, our bishops have increasingly responded to the priest shortage by closing, merging or clustering parishes. According to canon lawyer, Kate Kuenstler, PHJC, JCD, "The parish reconfiguration process used by dioceses . . . can also lead to a business mentality, caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations whose principal beneficiary is not God's people but the church as an institution."
In the United States
• Parishes have been merged or closed in Philadelphia, PIttsburgh, Boston, Cleveland and many other urban and rural places. In New York City, the Archdiocese recently merged or closed more than 70 parishes, often in the face of staunch opposition by committed parishioners. When the Pope visits Our Lady Queen of Angels School, he will learn that the parish was tragically closed in 2007 amid protest. In the following years, two funerals, one for Carmen Gonzalez and the other for Carmen Villegas were held on the sidewalk when the bishop refused to open the doors of the parish. Today loyal parishioners still gather and hold prayer services trying to keep their faith community alive. All of these mergings and closings are a source of tremendous pain and suffering for those who have shared a common Eucharistic life for generations with significant numbers walking away from the Church and never returning. Further, services to the poor offered by these parishes have been, too often, interrupted or extinguished.
The Leadership Team of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) is calling for a reset of the pastoral strategy that relies on parish closings and mergings. It sees the closing of any parish not requested by the members themselves as invariably wounding the Body of Christ. It leaves casualties among the people of God rather than healing. It withdraws the church from various ‘peripheries.’ Such steps betray Pope Francis’ call for the church to function as a field hospital for the marginalized. Other options must be identified and implemented, including the ordination of married viri probati.
• Father Ian McGinnity, Chairman of the National Council of Priests points out, “In Australia, which is a vast land with the tyranny of distance, many rural communities do not have resident priests and only have access to the Eucharist on a monthly basis. In our populous urban areas, parishes have had to be amalgamated due to the shortage of priests, which has not only placed additional burdens on an already overworked pastor, but also has subsumed some churches' unique identity and community.”
• Father Helmut Schüller, spokesman for the Pfarrer-Initiative Österreich, points out that the Catholic Church is at a crossroads and that those in leadership must provide the necessary priests or develop new forms of community leadership. He notes how Bishops' conferences are keeping to their defensive administrative strategy of merging independent parishes into vast, impersonal parish associations stating, "That is pretty much the most unimaginative thing one can do."
• Father Wolfgang Gramer Rottenburg-Stuttgart representing the Deutsche Pfarrer-Initiative remarks, “In Germany I can see clearly that our priest numbers are declining every day. But I also recognise that there is a real chance that a Christian parish will discover the way of the Holy Spirit and see new forms of living the gospel – either with or without a priest. We still possess many members with special gifts, and we must find ways of allowing these gifts to flourish in the service of the community."
• Father Tony Flannery, founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, states that “the problem we have in Ireland is clustering of parishes, leading to added pressure on aging priests, and inevitable amalgamation, and formation of bigger, more impersonal, units"
• Dr. Markus Heil, Deacon and Chairman of Pfarrei-Initiative Schweiz notes, “We have different models of clustering parishes. In the beginning these clusters looked reasonable, but the longer the process went on, the smaller parishes in the cluster felt increasingly neglected. At the same time they began to wonder if they were really part of a future strategy, or whether the real plan was to allow them to starve, merge and disappear. As they are not aware of any clear future plan it is difficult to organise and mobilise. In the end, they just disappear."