The bad news continues to leak out of the Boston archdiocese. The archdiocese was again in the headlines today with a report that Boston may have to confront more shutdowns of parish and/or church facilities after a "radical reshuffling" that would unite Boston's 291 parishes into 80 to 120 parish clusters. Each cluster, according to the plan, would share resources and clergy. This news comes on the heels of the settlement of an embarrassing lawsuit that pitted the archdiocese against the Sisters of St. Paul in a fight over the administration of the pension fund for the sisters' lay employees—a fight that may or may not (depends whom you ask) have led to the dismissal of the Boston superior for the order.
The Associated Press got its hands on a confidential memo which outlines the cluster proposal. The plan attempts to move away from top-down decisionmaking on the future of church facilities; decisions about further building closings would initiate within individual parish clusters, although the final decisions would still be made by Archbishop Sean O'Malley's office. In 2004 the archdiocese endured a brutal round of church closings, reducing the number of parishes from 357 to 291, and the plan appears to attempt to reduce the bitterness of such decisions by allowing a ground-up input into the future church reductions.
The leaked plan does not initially include any parish closings. The documents were given to the AP by Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes, who passed a memo detailing the plan on to the AP, after receiving it "unsolicited." According to AP: "Borre predicted any structural change would be followed by numerous church closings. He added that the reshuffling alone would meet heavy resistance no matter what, because people simply don't trust the archdiocese anymore."
AP reports: "Under the new system, a senior pastor would lead each group of parishes, with charge over a 'pastoral service team' that would include priests from the other parishes within the collection. The new group would have a single, merged staff; a single rectory; and a single parish center."
After millions in sex abuse settlements and a continuing decline in Mass attendance—only 17 percent of local Catholics now attend Mass—the Boston archdiocese apparently is ready for extreme structural change. The archdiocese reports that 40 percent of Boston parishes won't be able to pay their bills this year, and that over the next ten years the number of available priests will plummet from 316 today to 178.