Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Part of the Case Against Closing Churches

April 24th, 2012, Promulgated by Diane Harris

One of the COMMENTS on an earlier post  (a blog post by another staff member) was the statement:  “Parishes that do not have priests should close.”  I began to write a few sentences in opposition to that statement, not to attack the commenter, but got carried away and it became so long that Annonymouse made the reasonable suggestion that it  should be made into a separate post.  I agree.  Here it is.  And the moderator can feel free to delete the prior post or to link it here, whatever seems most appropriate.

I am going to leave my response just as I wrote it, to save those who already read it the necessity of re-reading, except for a few clarifications in square brackets.  Then I will add at the end (in blue) some possibly historical archive which  I hope will amuse, astound and perhaps appall the reader, all at the same time.  First, the original comment:

“No, they should get priests, and keep a local presence, hold a congregation from leaving, and truly serve the flock. I know just a few priests who don’t count their Masses, who do what is necessary for the people, and in turn the people love them. Go other places in the world and see (in the rural areas of Africa, for example) how people’s faith is growing even if they can’t have Mass each week, and how the priests will do 10 or more Masses in a weekend to bring Christ to the people.

Years ago, we brought to the attention of this diocese that there are plenty of English speaking priests in Malta in menial non-Church jobs because there are TOO MANY PRIESTS there. Unless one had an agenda of closing churches, it would seem such an opportunity would be seized! We offered money from our church treasury to secure such help. We were ignored, and the treasury snatched anyway by diocesan edict. Those men are still in Malta and, yes, they do speak English.

Instead, the powers-that-be seem to be seeking ways to close churches. Priests should stop messing around with pastoral planning and dragging out decisions for years until people are too exhausted to say ‘no’ anymore. We need priests for the sacraments of course, but also for spiritual direction, catechesis and faithfulness to Church teaching, and for modeling joy of vocation to young men. We need care of souls. We don’t need their holding dozens of meetings each month to TALK-TALK-TALK. Nice to have input but we all know the Parish Council has no decision making capability anyway; it all stops with the pastor!

We don’t need wannabe priestesses lording it over priests and strutting their stuff. They interfere with the priest’s role; they don’t facilitate it. They are barriers, not doorways.

Stop the “make-work” for priests. Can anybody explain to me why months are spent on “carefully crafted” mission statements for each parish and why each parish has to have a different one? Isn’t “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty…..” etc. enough of a Mission Statement? We can see how all this silly activity exhausts a priest and diminishes his effectiveness, impacting souls including his own. Give me a Holy priest any day, one who is truly a servant of God and a shepherd of souls. Give me one who LOVES to say the Mass, and one who speaks from the heart rather than reading a “purchased” homily. Give me one who spends more time teaching the good news than poring over a balance sheet. Give me one who loves the people and they can love and respect him for his faithfulness, rather than one who pleases the political agenda of the diocese, or tells people what they want to hear.

The enormity of clustering, planning, closing churches, dispositions, and dealing with the resultant anguish has sidetracked good priests from their purpose and from what originally attracted them to a vocation. Many churches in the area were founded and tended by priests on horseback for Pete’s sake; and those little churches thrived and grew. Now someone can’t drive in an A/C car for 15 miles to say an extra Mass? And new parishes of clustered churches need more new names that nobody can remember anyway? How is that saving souls?

We need to pay attention too to the damage of rotating priests. There is nothing magic about 6 or 12 years. People pick a parish for its proximity, but they stay for the relationship with the pastor especially. Such rotation, in my opinion, does not serve building a meaningful spiritual relationship with the priest, and disconnects him as well. They do a good job of hiding the pain of leaving where they’ve been for 12 years, but don’t doubt the pain. Then they go off to age without the supportive relationships they’ve built over the years. John Vianney died amongst his flock. Has being “a priest forever” now become optional?

They business model doesn’t work for the Church, and I say that as a business consultant. It is the cart before the horse. Church doesn’t work BECAUSE the balance sheet is straightened out, or donations cover the expense of too much staff replacing volunteers, or because rich parishioners remember the church in their wills. And it certainly doesn’t thrive by diluting the message from the pulpit. When Church is truly functioning as Christ called it to be, the Holy Spirit will supply the priests, and the “business” of Church will follow. Faithfulness drives the fruitfulness, not the other way around. In my estimation, all the business counsel poured onto a church (especially from out-of-touch aging business elite) only redirects it away from its true goal. Churches close when hierarchy loses faith that indeed the Holy Spirit will provide what is needed to those who are obedient. And when this happens, where will the churches be? Empty shells or sold off as antique shops, banks, offices and for worship by other faiths?  Testimonial structures [closed churches and abandoned schools] across 12 counties [show] lack of faith in God’s ability to provide.

This happens to be what I believe, after 30 years in business planning and management. Downsizing, restructuring, LEM’s, watered down commitment and abandonment may work in business, but not as signs of belief in God’s ability to provide. Why is God once again “the last resource,” to be called on when we finally give up everything else? To quote a noted Protestant Pastor, Rick Warren: don’t ask God to bless what you are doing; instead, do what God is blessing. Quite frankly, I don’t see God blessing the closing of churches AT ALL.   And why should He send us priests when we can’t even take care of His properties and holy structures?

I have MUCH more I’d like to add to the above, but will save for the book, or perhaps a clarification post.  Meanwhile consider a finding from the early archives of the Apostolic Era, although it hasn’t been verified as authentic.  Nevertheless there are two copies; it is unclear which is earlier and which is later, if either is genuine or not.  The disparate text is shown in red, in brackets.  Though not established as genuine, it is only fair to show a counter argument for closing churches, on Peter’s letterhead:

Dear Paul,

Perhaps someday you will be St. Paul, but in the meantime I am the shepherd, and after our little go-round in Jerusalem, I thought it better to send you a letter.  I have had some market research done on the communities you are founding and traveling among, and am concerned about how thinly spread the communities are, and also how thin you are spreading yourself.    I know your idea is to keep founding new communities among the Gentiles and let them build themselves up with the Holy Spirit, but really – let’s see some consolidation.  You can’t plan on there being enough people to minister in the future to all these communities you are getting started. 

In particular, as I look at the map, I see seven communities in Asia Minor (or whatever this area is currently called) that I strongly suggest you combine.  It is just a suggestion, mind you, but please keep in mind who is making the suggestion.  You’d better hop to this before the Lord, Himself, comes back and tells us about their weaknesses and to combine them.

Here’s how my administrative staff sees the situation.  Demographic reports are attached.  There are 7 different churches, with very different characteristics, and consolidation should enable you to minister to one large church with a very diverse population, but a “common denominator”.  They will inevitably have to work together, share their gifts, and achieve a common culture.  Perhaps they will even, eventually, be able to reach out from that common culture to other Gentiles, and eventually build other churches, if we have enough staff and resources to minister to them.  I can’t see any reason why you would resist such a well-thought out plan, but let me provide some additional details so you can see the picture, and some of the issues I see developing. 

The churches I am talking about are in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.  Ephesus, for example, is doing a pretty good job of holding the line on doctrine, but I hear that some of the feeling for the Lord has gone out of the community.  Imagine, then, if the folks from Philadelphia were in their midst (or they were in the midst of the congregation from Philadelphia!), what a spark that would be! 

The locals are coming down pretty hard on the folks in Smyrna; they would probably welcome a re-lo of sorts so as not to have to deal with their own secular community.  Now take Pergamum; they’ve been pretty strong on the witnessing side, but they’re letting all sorts of people who have turned aside to bad teaching be involved in their community.  I think that a larger church community could help them set up some rules that might control their own congregation.  After all, once you combine these, you could probably count on at least 4 of the 7 votes in the new Parish Council to lay down the rules for Pergamum.  Take Thyatira, it’s got the Pergamum problem too.  Just make sure in this new, consolidated church that Jez doesn’t get on the Parish Council.  [Also be sure the Council members are all in agreement with you, or intimidated by you, before you put them on Council.]  Sardis you might even want to close, rather than going through all the work of consolidation.  I don’t hear anything good about them, but you can probably find a few folks who don’t like what is going on there either and would be happy to be involved in a new start-up.  After all, why would they want to be dragged down by the problems in their present community?  Just try to leave it in such a way that if we ever want to put a church back there, they won’t be too mad that we closed them.  I would suggest, in dealing with Sardis, that you do it “all of a sudden.”  Don’t give them any time to argue about it.  [In other cases, you can have big fancy parties when you close the church.  Cute touch:  tie a rose to the doorknobs.] 

The Philadelphia folks are pretty good folks.  I was thinking that perhaps that would be the best place to center the new church.  An in-pouring of these other troubled communities should give the Philadelphians something to think about, a worthwhile challenge.  If they’re really strong in their faith, they should be able to handle Jez’s offspring and the others with their problems. 

Finally, who can forget Laodicea?  Be careful with that one….it’s where the money is to do what you need to do in the consolidation.  My staff advises me that 80% of the Laodiceans would support a church near Philadelphia if their own were closed.  And if you moved a new facility to the west, you might pick up a lot of people from Ephesus and Smyrna as well.  [We have learned that the best approach is to put all the money in one pot before they know what is going on.  Make sure the Finance Council members don’t know Finance, or will just go along with you.] 

Kind of leaves Pergamum out of it, but maybe that’s not a bad thing either.  Anyway, as you move toward consolidation, especially ONE parish council, I have no objection if you leave some of the structures in other places as worship sites.  Over time, they’re not likely to hold together anyway, so a worship site isn’t a bad transitional idea.  Maybe, if you can’t handle Jez any other way, you could get her to do building and grounds at a worship site?

So, Paul, here is the vision: one church, multiple worship sites.  Main worship, staff, activities probably west of Philadelphia, funded in large part by Laodiceans.  We figure that approximately 70% of current membership will join (you might want to just enroll all of them automatically to avoid the appearance of dropouts which will only call into question YOUR strategy), of which 22% are badly in need of a retreat to re-find their love for Christ, about 35% are at or near poverty levels and will need special attention and jobs, about 15% will need some special protection from abuse in their communities which might lead to death so be sure there is a large cemetery at the new location, about 37% need rapid catechesis to eliminate some of the pagan teachings they’ve been exposed to, and you need to find a way to keep the Philadelphians growing in their faith without having them monopolize all the ministry positions.  Obviously, the foregoing doesn’t add to 100% as some people fit in multiple categories.  You also might want to assess, maybe through a survey, how people feel about this in advance, so you can be better prepared for the issues.  [Be sure the people don’t see the survey results or the finance plan.]

As you can imagine, a lot of staff work was generated to come up with these ideas, and we will need some additional compensation out of your next collections as a result.  Someone will be in touch with you.  [Also try to make this look as much like consensus as possible.  Do not attribute any of this work to a decision “already carved on stone,” if you know what I mean.]

Congratulations on having achieved so many new startups with lots of  folks in different locations, and thus creating the opportunity to move on to implement the next generation of planning.  Much better for us to all take the initiative now, than to let each of these situations evolve.  I leave the local implementation to you, and look forward to receiving your final plan before it is launched.  Thank you for all the good work you’ve been doing in the boondocks.  Greetings from all of us in Rome.  I look forward to seeing you at the next meetings of the 3 committees you are on. [Especially at the pension financing committee, and  the Capital Campaign Committment Committee meetings.  We are calling the latter “4C;” get it?  “Forsee!”  The advertising advisors are well worth their slice of the pie.]

Please shred this after you get it.  No point in confusing the churches 2000 years from now.

Signed: Peter

Dictated but not read

Written and forwarded by Administrative Support to Peter (A.S.P.)

What do you think?  Did Peter write it?  Or did some lay assistant interfere in the mission?    Hmmm…


12 Responses to “Part of the Case Against Closing Churches”

  1. avatar Richard Thomas says:

    Creting a parish mission statement is as excition as a physician having to fill out needless paperwork to satisfy governmenta lburocrats and insurance purposes. It detracts from the primary job of caring for patients (parishoners).

  2. avatar y2kscotty says:

    (1) I have seen these mission statements and they strike me as useless. I agree witht the writer that there should be a common statement. However, the nature of the particular parish could very well suggest some particular mission to that parish.
    (2) I don’t know about the Malta situation, but maybe it could be investigated. Are there, in fact, some Maltese priests who have inquired about service in the United States?
    But, could the American Bishops petition Rome to permit the ordination of older men (viri probati) over the age of 50, let’s say, with grown children, a successful marriage, successful in their professions, deep, proven devotion to the Church, who would be able to commit to the training over several years, and commitment to serving a parish, while still maintaining their secular employment (the diocese would not have to support the wife or the man’s household). That may help a little, maybe even in this diocese. Celibacy may have its value, but, theologically, it really is not “sine qua non” for ordination. That said, further importation of suitable (and that may be the problem!) priests should continue.
    Are there married Anglican priests who have become RC available for our parishes?
    It should be pointed out that the Eastern Rites churches in the diocesan boundaries (even though they have their own bishop)are scattered about. Our Ukrainian parish on Ridge Road draws people of that heritage from well beyond Irondequoit.

    It needs to be said, however, that some churches will inevitably close because of a lack of parishioners, although the pastor of such a parish could very well undertake an evangelization campaign to attract people in the area to become Catholic or return to the Catholic Faith. We do not have a right to have a church within a mile or two of another one, or within a mile or two from our home. But we do have the right to the sacraments, and if we aren’t fed, we die.

  3. avatar Bernie says:

    Excellent post!
    Mission statements -much ado about nothing.

  4. avatar Susan of Corning says:

    Great post, Diane! I hope you do write a book about the DOR. Gretchen and I could certainly write a lengthy chapter about Corning 😉

  5. avatar snowshoes says:

    Excellent post, Diane, but what would the Priest personnel board do, first of all, if priests were named as pastors of parishes anymore, and second, if those pastors stayed in the same parish for life? Why, that would be a waste of a perfectly good committee!

    Of course, along with living his life in one parish as St. Jean-Marie V. did, we pray that our priest-pastor will once again declare himself as the spiritual Father of all the souls in his geographic parish, and that he will once again preach as St. Jean-Marie did, and be available for Confessions as the Saint was. St. Jean-Marie, priez pour nous pauvre pecheurs!

  6. avatar Dan Riley says:

    It was a breath of fresh air to read the enclosed article on page 3A of the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper yesterday (4-25-12). Bishop Clark will not be too happy to read about the pope’s “divisive crackdown on dissenters”.

    I hope and pray that the we are blessed with an orthodox bishop who will stop the parish and school closings.

    The worst thing that a bishop can do to his diocese is to close a parish or school against the will of the parishioners. Bishop Clark forced every closing. If you haven’t gone through a closing, the only thing that I can tell you is that it would outrage you to see the damage and destruction to the buildings and contents and to each parish or school community. Tens of thousands of outraged parishioners have fallen away from the church in our diocese.

    VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI began his eighth year as pope on Tuesday after spending the waning days of his seventh driving home his view of the Catholic Church, with a divisive crackdown on dissenters and an equally divisive opening to a fringe group of traditionalists.

    The coming year may see more of the same as the Vatican gears up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 church meetings that reshaped the Catholic Church and are key to understanding this papacy and Benedict’s recent moves to quell liberal dissent and promote a more conservative brand of Catholicism.

    Tuesday marked the anniversary of the start of Benedict’s pontificate, which officially began April 24, 2005, with an inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Square. The pope promised then not to impose his own will on the church but to rather listen “to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by him, so that he himself will lead the church at this hour of our history.”

    Seven years later, Benedict has certainly left a mark on the church, pressing a conservative interpretation of Vatican II’s key teachings, appointing like-minded bishops and making his priority the revitalization of traditional Catholicism in a world, which he often laments, seems to think that it can do without God.

    He set out many of those priorities in a December 2005 speech to his closest collaborators running the Vatican, insisting that Vatican II didn’t represent a break from the past as many liberal-minded Catholics would like to think but rather a renewal of the church’s core teachings and traditions.

    The Vatican last week put those words into action, cracking down on the largest umbrella group of nuns in the United States, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The pope’s old office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, appointed a bishop to revise the conference’s statutes and review its programs and publications, and accused the group of taking positions that undermine church teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality, while promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

    Two weeks earlier, the pope himself took to task a dissident group of priests in heavily Catholic Austria who have openly called for ordaining women and relaxing the celibacy requirement for priests, questioning whether their call for disobedience was more about imposing their own ideas on the church than renewing it.

    At the same time, on the very day it announced the crackdown on the U.S. nuns, the Holy See said it was nearing agreement to bring an ultra-traditionalist conservative group of Catholics back into communion with Rome after two decades of schism.

    The group, the Society of St. Pius X, broke from Rome after rejecting many of the teachings of Vatican II, particularly its outreach to Jews and people of other faiths, and the sanctioning of the New Mass in the vernacular that essentially replaced the old Latin Mass.

  7. avatar Raymond F. Rice says:

    Most parishes, if left alone by the hierarchy, could possibly get by financially and even locate a priest to serve in the parish by requesting that he relocate from another country if necessary. It might be playing it close financially each year but could be done in most cases.
    However, the added expense to the parish of the Bishop’a Appeal which puts a burden on the parishes and a serious burden on the less affluent parishes would not be easily paid if at all. An assessment fee totalling in the millions for our parishes is what is breaking the backs of the parishes. A parish pays the full amount one way or another and if not, they are considered non- vibrant and a candidate for closing.
    Any diocese/ bishop that would do this, and our own is not alone, makes the IRS look like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

  8. avatar Raymond F. Rice says:

    I have been around a fairly long time and think I may have become used to surprises, both good and bad. However I am dreading the day, which may come after the pope cracks down on dissenters, when whole ultra- liberal Catholic parishes leave the Roman Church for the Anglican Church and have personal prelatures established by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the converts to the Angican Church in the US.

    It is time to pray!!!

  9. avatar annonymouse says:

    Whoa there, Ray – your post seems to say that parishes can be “lone rangers” – locating their own priest “from another country if necessary.”

    Do you not understand that the local Church is not the parish, but the DIOCESE? And the bishop, in communion with the other bishops and Supreme Pontiff, is the successor to the Apostles of Christ! The Bishop, not the parish, makes these sorts of decisions, for the good of his entire flock. Now many here don’t care for how the current shepherd leads his flock, but that doesn’t give the sheep the right to go and do their own thing.

    The idea of a parish wanting to be “left alone by the hierarchy” is simply not an orthodox Catholic notion. It’s heterodox, and not a whole lot different than the mindset out of which came the Spiritus Christi schism. It is precisely our “communion” with our own bishop, all the bishops, and the Bishop of Rome, that has kept the Church intact for 2000 years.

  10. avatar Diane Harris says:

    I would like to provide just a little bit of clarification, in case there is any misunderstanding. regarding the post I wrote above:

    “We offered money from our church treasury to secure such help.”

    Given the comments by Ray and the important points raised by annonymouse, I would like to make clear that we did NOT (nor did we try to or ask others to) bypass any proper procedures canonically. Laity had been invited to input to the pastoral planning process. We did so (and were mostly ignored) and our input involved a number of suggestions (which I will go into more in a future story.) But just regarding the Malta comments, we identified and confirmed the opportunity, not only for the good of our parish but for others threatened with closure as well.

    In accordance with our obligations we brought the opportunity to the attention of the Pastor and the Diocese. Regarding our church treasury, we indicated a willingness to have the donations of many of our parishioners over many years be used to invite such underutilized men to supply priests to the diocese, and also to aid in their education while in the US. However, we did not pursue the contacts ourselves. Shame on the DoR for not even commenting on our suggestions, and for not even explaining why these were not viable ideas. Could it be that they already knew what they wanted to do, and that the invitation to input was a sham?

  11. avatar Raymond F. Rice says:


    In the three volume set of the biography of Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid by Father Zweirlein (published in Louvain Belgium because no American Catholic company would touch it)
    the Irish pastor of the parish in Mount Morris during the time of Bishop McQuaid requested that McQuaid recruit and send him an Italian speaking priest to serve in the area and work with the Italian immigrants in Retsof etc. Bishop Mc Quaid refused to grant this request. End of story??? No!! The pastor then wrote to the pope asking that a priest be sent from Italy. Letters of discussion went back and forth from the Vatican to Bishop McQuaid and the pastor etc. At times they were quite hostile! To make a long story short, the pope sent an Italian priest here for Mount Morris and Bishop McQuiad lost the battle.

    My response was assuming that a parish had written to get a response from the Vatican over no priests being available and rather than wait the length of time most of us have been waiting for a response to our letters to Rome, it might be better to look for a priest elsewhere, recruit him, and then get him approved by whoever might be in the approval position.

    Often we forget that we have the right to have a sacramental minister and the graces that come from his dispensing of the sacraments. We do not have to settle for a “Reganomics” or trickle down effect of the sacraments from the hierarchy, especially if there is no trickle.

    We have also found that if the “shepherd” does not provide the flock with food, the sheep will inevitably wander to other pastures to look for it and the flock is depleted, divided , or even destroyed!!

    And sometimes, in all due respect, we have to imitate Paul and get in Peter’s (or his representative’s) face!!

  12. avatar annonymouse says:

    Raymond –

    I suspect that there was a language problem in the 1800s that prompted a NEED for an Italian-speaking priest. Given the success that some here have already had in getting Rome’s attention, knock yourself out.

    You have a right to the Mass, to the sacraments, to be sure. And I’m willing to bet, if you go to, that you’ll probably find a dozen different Catholic parishes within 10 miles of where you’re sitting right now. So I think there’s a distinction between having a right to the Mass and “I want MY Mass, where I want it, when I want it, and how I want it.”

    The Bishop has to make these decisions for the good of all the flock. You are not denied any sacraments right now in Rochester. We have a right to the Sacraments, not to the Sacramental minister of our choosing.

    And the entire premise of your post was “If left alone by the hierarchy.” It is an oxymoron to think oneself a Catholic and “be left alone by the hierarchy.” To be Catholic is to be in communion with the hierarchy.

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