Signs of the Times

Archbishop Closes Parishes, Urges Unity

Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., of Boston announced on May 25 that 70 of the archdiocese’s 357 parishes would be suppressed in the coming months. In addition to the suppressions, five new parishes will be formed and five other church buildings will remain open as worship sites maintained by nearby parishes, producing a net loss of 60 churches in the archdiocese. At a press conference, Archbishop O’Malley appealed to Catholics to remain unified despite the loss and to look beyond parish boundaries and understand that the changes are necessary for the archdiocese. My hope is that the major step we are taking together today will set us on firm ground so that we can focus our attention once more on our primary mission to preach the truth of our Catholic faith in both word and deed, the archbishop said.

Archbishop O’Malley said, as he has done throughout the reconfiguration process, that the need for the parish closings was brought about by demographic changes, the growing shortage of priests and the mounting cost of maintaining aging buildings. According to Archbishop O’Malley, 130 of Boston’s pastors are over 70 years of age, and one-third of all parishes are operating in the red. In addition, he said, in the city of Boston alone parishes are in need of approximately $100 million in repairs.


The alternative to going through this exercise would be that we would experience a continual decline in some areas of our archdiocese, closing parish after parish, school after school, outreach program after outreach program, all because the archdiocese would be unable to subsidize these entities, the archbishop said.

Though a gradual reduction in the number of parishes has been going on for yearsthe archdiocese has suppressed 55 since 1985the need to accelerate the process is widely seen to have been precipitated by the drop in donations and Mass attendance in the aftermath of the scandal of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. But in his remarks, the archbishop stressed that the parish closures are unrelated to last year’s multimillion dollar clergy abuse settlement.

The decision to close parishes is in no way connected with the need to finance the legal settlement with the victims of clergy sexual abuse, he said, adding that the sale of the former archbishop’s residence and surrounding land has raised the needed $90 million. Instead, the archbishop said, proceeds from the sale of closed parishes will be used to support remaining parishes as well as to prop up the funds that provide health and pension benefits to archdiocesan employees. This process of reconfiguration is directed not toward the past, but toward the future mission of the church, Archbishop O’Malley said.

One hundred forty-seven parishes had been recommended for closure at some point in the reconfiguration process, and there had been speculation that as many as 90 parishes would need to be closed. But in response to a reporter’s question, the archbishop expressed his belief that no similar wave of closures would be required in the near future. The time frame for parish closures was not released, although within the next week each parish is expected to be assigned a time period of two, four or six months to complete the process of closing, depending on the circumstances of the individual parish.

Committee, Board Agree on Abuse Audit Procedures

The U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse and the National Review Board have agreed on proposals for conducting a second audit of diocesan policies to prevent sexual abuse of children and on doing a study of the causes and context of the crisis. The proposals will be discussed by the U.S. bishops during their meeting in Denver on June 14-19, said Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. The agreement was reached on May 17 at a meeting in Chicago of 10 members of the National Review Board and eight members of the bishops’ ad hoc committee.

Sister Walsh said that the ad hoc committee and the review board are also working on a joint list of people to replace four board members who have announced that they will be retiring at the end of June. Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne M. Burke, interim chairwoman of the review board, said that she and three other board members who plan to resign have decided to stay on the board until their replacements are named.

The agreement comes after strong criticism by Justice Burke that the bishops were trying to delay a decision on doing the audits until November, when it would be too late to conduct the 2004 audits to see if dioceses are complying with the prevention policies contained in the bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Burke had also complained that some bishops were having second thoughts about independent monitoring by the review board on compliance with the sex abuse policies.

The study on the causes and context of the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy is also mandated by the charter, but the bishops have to approve the funding. The study would build on two previously published reports by the review board released on Feb. 27. Justice Burke said on May 18 that the new study would be an intensive research piece that would analyze the causes of the sex abuse crisis.

Cardinal Willing to Meet Democrats on Ban

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, D.C., is open to meeting a group of Catholic Democrats critical of bishops who would deny Communion to Catholic legislators favoring legalized abortion, said Susan Gibbs, the cardinal’s spokeswoman. The request for a meeting was made in a letter, dated May 10, signed by 48 Catholic Democrats in the House of Representatives, including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California. Several of the signers oppose legalized abortion, but most favor it. The lawmakers said that public statements made by some bishops about withholding Communion fuel anti-Catholicism in society, lead to division within the church and involve the church in partisan politics.

Cardinal McCarrick heads a task force of U.S. bishops that is considering how bishops might respond to Catholic politicians who publicly disagree with church teachings. The task force expects to complete its work after the presidential election this year, although many believe that the bishops will discuss the issue at their meeting in Denver this month.

The legislators’ letter opposed, in general, denying the sacraments to lawmakers on the basis of a voting record and zeroed in specifically on using such a ban against supporters of legalized abortion. The letter said that singling out pro-choice legislators for the Communion ban is harmful. Allowing a bishop to take actions that lead to involvement in partisan politics would be detrimental to the church, it said, noting that many of the signers oppose the death penalty and are active on other pro-life issues in keeping with the positions of church leaders.

Pressure by bishops on Catholic politicians will backfire on the church’s public image, it said. Attempts by church leaders today to influence votes by the threat of withholding a sacrament will revive latent anti-Catholic prejudice, which so many of us have worked so hard to overcome, it said. As Catholics, we do not believe it is our role to legislate the teachings of the Catholic Church, said the signers.

They added that the Supreme Court has ruled that women have a right to an abortion and that members who vote for legislation consistent with that mandate are not acting contrary to our positions as faithful members of the Catholic Church. Legislators are sworn to uphold the law and are sworn to represent all Americans, not just Catholics, said the letter. Catholic politicians can make distinctions between public and private morality, and are called to reflect the views of their constituents even when those views may conflict with some of our personal views, it said.

While sometimes difficult, each of us has the responsibility and the right to balance public morality with private morality without the pressure from certain bishops, it said. Each of us is in the best position to know the state of our soul and our relationship to God and our church, it said.

Wine Must Be Poured Before Consecration

Following up on its recent instruction on the Eucharist, the Vatican has called for a change in U.S. liturgical norms, ordering that wine to be used in distributing Communion under both kinds be poured into the individual chalices during the preparation of the gifts, before it is consecrated. This reversed the widespread practice, codified in U.S. norms approved by Rome in 2002, of distributing the consecrated wine into chalices at the time of the breaking of the bread, just before Communion. Msgr. James P. Moroney, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Liturgy, said the revised norms are effective immediately, but that it is up to each bishop to determine how to implement any liturgical change in his diocese.

After the gifts are brought up, the revised norm says: If one chalice is not sufficient for holy Communion to be distributed under both kinds to the priest concelebrants or Christ’s faithful, several chalices are placed on a corporal on the altar in an appropriate place, filled with wine. It is praiseworthy that the main chalice be larger than the other chalices prepared for distribution.

Nigerian Bishops Plead for Peace and Dialogue

Nigerian bishops pleaded for peace and dialogue as religious tensions in several states continued. Bishop Ayo-Maria Atoyebi of Ilorin pleaded for religious and tribal leaders in Plateau State to dialogue so that peace and unity can reign in the area. The bishop also accused the local government of fomenting the violence. On May 2 Christian militants attacked the mainly Muslim town of Yelwa in Plateau. Eyewitness reports estimate that several hundred people were killed by machetes or shot. That attack provoked revenge killings of Christians in the mainly Muslim city of Kano, in the north. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos said the violence was ethnic-based and not religious. It is an ethnic problem, basically, that has some political bigotry, which tends to take advantage of religious sentiments, he said.

News Briefs

Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., of Boston greeted the arrival of legalized same-sex marriages in Massachusetts with deep sadness but reminded Catholics that our sadness at what has happened should not lead us into anger against or vilification of any group of people, especially our homosexual brothers and sisters.

Catholics have been mauled by the crisis of sexual abuse by clergy, but the harm done to the church should unite the laity in healing the wounds, said the interim head of the bishops’ National Review Board. We are not only united by a shared faith and doctrinal loyalty, we are bound to one another by a shared skepticism, given the repeated failures within our leadership to make their words match their actions, said Justice Anne M. Burke of the Illinois Appellate Court. Catholic believers cradle deep wounds and betrayals that cannot be erased by episcopal edict or even episcopal good will, she said.

Violent attacks against Christians in Pakistan are a relatively new phenomenon caused by the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Pakistani church official said. Peter Jacob, national director of the Pakistani bishops’ justice and peace commission, said social discrimination has always been a fact of life for Pakistani Christians, but he attributed an upsurge in killings and other violent attacks to the U.S.-led wars in Islamic countries.

Pope John Paul II called on the world’s richer nations to help Africa become a continent of justice and peace. The continent urgently needs peace, justice and reconciliation as well as the help of industrialized countries who are called to sustain its development, said the pope in a written message sent on the occasion of an international gathering in the Vatican on development in Africa.

In a new autobiographical book, Pope John Paul II says he thinks he may have been too lenient as a pastor. The pastor’s role also includes admonishing. I think that, in this category, I have perhaps done too little, the pope wrote in Get Up, Let Us Go, a book distributed in Italian and other languages on May 17. There’s always a problem of balance between authority and service. Perhaps I should rebuke myself for not having tried hard enough to command, the pope said.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

In cities across the country, local activists marched in support of a progressive agenda centered on economic justice, racial justice and immigrant rights.
Brandon SanchezJanuary 20, 2019
Pope Francis has suppressed the Ecclesia Dei Commission, a significant decision with consequences for the Holy See’s relations with the priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 19, 2019
Photo: IMDB
A new Netflix miniseries brings out the story’s aspects of adventure and conflict, with occasionally pulse-pounding results.
Rob Weinert-KendtJanuary 19, 2019
Protestors march to support a U.N. anti-corruption commission in Guatemala City on Jan. 6. Photo by Jackie McVicar.
“What they are doing not only puts Guatemala at risk but the entire region. Bit by bit, for more than a year, they have been trying to divide us. The elections are at risk. We are six months away.”
Jackie McVicarJanuary 18, 2019