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I send below the full text of our media release about the Cleveland parish closings.  It appears that there were quite a few surprises as many cluster recommendations were not followed. Feel free to forward this to your friends.

Click here if your parish was surprised and is wondering what to do next

Click here for resources for managing grief and appealing to the bishop.

For Immediate Release                        3/14/09
Sr. Christine Schenk  216-228-0869 ext.4 (office)  216-513-3647 (cell)
William Wisniewski  330-297-7624 (home) 330-297-4153 (work)
Mary Lou Hartman, Princeton NJ  609-921-9134 (home) 609-915-2258 (cell)

FutureChurch Laments Loss of Parishes, Asks Diocese to Reconsider
Give Struggling Parishes Chance to Prove Future Viability,
 Use Alternatives Approved By Church Law to Keep Currently Viable Parishes Open.
FutureChurch, a national coalition of parish-centered Catholics based in Cleveland, Ohio is asking Bishop Richard G. Lennon to reconsider his recent decision to merge or close 52 parishes in the Cleveland Diocese, including many viable parishes and historic landmark churches.

The organization is calling on the diocese to work with parishioners who are determined to keep their parishes open by assisting them to develop a plan for future viability. The parish should be given a reasonable period of time to demonstrate that the plan is workable before any order to close is issued. It is also asking the diocese to employ alternative staffing models approved by church law, such as the use of parish life coordinators and pastoral teams, to keep currently viable parishes open.  

"Catholics are hurting in these times. People are losing homes, jobs, security.  Now our diocese is closing down their parishes.  These are places where people gather to celebrate, to pray, to console and be consoled. Is the church modeling itself after corporate America?"  asked FutureChurch board member Bill Wisniewski.  

"Too many bishops are treating parishes as if they were Starbucks franchises rather than communities of faith,"
said FutureChurch Executive Director, Sr. Christine Schenk.  "FutureChurch is gravely concerned, when vibrant, solvent and apostolically effective parish communities such as St. Peter's and St. Procop's in Cleveland, St. Mary's and St. Joseph's in Lorain, and St. James in Lakewood  are told they must close or merge, because of the priest shortage. These parishes provide stability and much needed services in needy neighborhoods.  Even sadder is the closing of financially challenged communities such as St. Cecilia's and Epiphany that have given outstanding service to inner city neighborhoods. The dioceses should support them just as they do our mission in El Salvador. We should also do what other dioceses have done and begin an annual collection for inner city parishes."

According to Schenk, "Bishop Lennon is following the same corporate downsizing model used recently in other dioceses dealing with the priest shortage, such as Camden, Allentown and Scranton. FutureChurch's Save Our Parish Community project is providing advocacy support and resources to struggling parishioners all over the country who are appealing to their bishops, and in many cases the Vatican, to keep their parishes open rather than close them because of the priest shortage."
Diocesan statistics project that in just 10 years there will be only 190 diocesan priests for about 200 parishes in the Cleveland diocese. In 20 years there will be just 150 priests for 200 parishes.  

"Closing viable parishes is not a good way to keep Catholics coming to church,"  said FutureChurch board member Mary Louise Hartman, speaking from Princton, New Jersey.  "A 2003 study of eighty-five U.S. dioceses conducted by the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development, found that forty percent of merged parishes lost parishioners.  But parishes kept open with parish life coordinators, as permitted by canon law, were more likely to increase parishioners."

"Rather than shrink parishes to fit the number of priests, bishops should begin now to find creative ways of keeping parishes open," continued Hartman. "The Cleveland diocese once had thirteen parishes led by parish life coordinators, but now there are far fewer. Rather than eliminate this model of pastoral care, the diocese should expand on it."

Because of the priest shortage, U.S. dioceses will be forced to reconfigure parishes well into the foreseeable future. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 75% of the 18,000 active diocesan priests in the U.S. are over 55 years old, but the U.S. is ordaining only about 350 new diocesan priests each year.

In 20 years, presuming numbers of ordinations remain constant, the U.S. could have as few as 11,500 active diocesan priests for18,500 parishes. At the same time, the numbers of deacons and paid lay ministers have increased significantly to 14,000 and 30,000 respectively. Currently, "parish life coordinators" are pastoring an estimated 500 U.S. parishes.

"For 19 years, FutureChurch has said that the Catholic Mass is more central to Catholic identity than obligatory celibacy," said Wisniewski, who himself resigned from the active priesthood to marry.   "Catholic bishops, priests and laity worldwide are now calling for changes in mandatory celibacy rules and expansion of women's ministerial roles to increase the numbers of those who can minister to the Catholic population. In the meantime, keeping vital parishes open will sustain those deep spiritual bonds that nourish parishioners for their vitally important ministries in needy neighborhoods."

In 2006, FutureChurch, in consultation with bishops, priests, lay leaders and national organizations, developed  eight "best practices" for preserving vibrant parishes in a time of fewer priests.. The best practices encourage Catholic laity to take ownership for the financial stability and gospel witness of their parishes; request that bishops use all the latitude provided in canon law for keeping parishes open with deacons and parish life coordinators; and call for valuing ethnic diversity and outreach to marginalized groups equally to size in parish reconfigurations (available at www.futurechurch.org).

FutureChurch also administers a Save Our Parish Community effort designed to provide educational and organizing resources to Catholics discerning an appropriate response to diocesan decisions to close or merge their vibrant, solvent, and apostolically effective parish.  Presently the organization is supporting Catholics in eight other US dioceses who are resisting Diocesan efforts to close their viable parishes. (http://www.futurechurch.org/sopc/index.htm

FutureChurch is a coalition of parish centered Catholics who seek the full participation of all Catholics in the life of the Church. It strives to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. FutureChurch calls for opening ordination to all those called to it rather than lose the Eucharist as the center of Catholic worship and seeks to participate in formulating and expressing the Sensus Fidelium (the Spirit inspired beliefs of the faithful) through open, prayerful and enlightened dialogue with other Catholics locally and globally.

For Official Catholic Directory priest shortage statistics for every U.S. diocese, and a free Save Our Parish Community "Crisis Kit" click here

P.P.S.  If you haven't already, click here to sign up for the FutureChurch local update email list. 

You'll receive a monthly e-newsletter, as well as occasional updates when breaking news happens!

(and remember to put info@futurechurch.org in your address book to make sure you receive your confirmation email and e-newsletters!)