In a long-awaited announcement, the Archdiocese of New York has indicated it will merge 112 of its 368 parishes into 55, effectively closing at least 31 churches by next August, reports the Catholic News Service.
Twenty-four of the merged parishes will continue to celebrate scheduled Masses and sacraments at two sites.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said the painful reorganisation, announced on November 2, is a necessary adjustment to historic parish infrastructure that will strengthen the Church in the Archdiocese. "The parish is the people and the people have to be cared for. What's most important is the faith continues, the Eucharist continues and the sacraments continue," he said.
The Cardinal spoke to Catholic News Service and Catholic New York together after the mergers were announced. He said All Souls' Day was a fitting time to break the news because the feast and the decisions are not about dying, but rising.
"It's about what Pope Benedict said, 'The vine has to be pruned once in a while if it's going to grow,'" the Cardinal said, "and it's about what Pope St. John Paul II said, 'We're into mission and not maintenance' and it's about what Pope Francis said, 'The Church is not about building structures. It's about welcome, love, mercy, service, embracing and inviting.' It's about going ahead and not getting bogged down in the past."
The Cardinal said the maths shows an awkward, lopsided distribution of parishes that is inconsistent with Catholic population, especially in Manhattan. He said 25 percent of the parishes of the Archdiocese are located in that borough, yet only 12 percent of the Catholic population is there. In Manhattan, 28 parishes will merge to form 13 and nine sites will no longer hold weekly Mass, although they may be used on special occasions.
Cardinal Dolan said the process was not an easy one and the announcement caused understandable anger and hurt. "We know there's going to be a lot of tears, a lot of shouts, a lot of cussing and we need to be patient with people and listen to them, but there's a lot of trust and growth and strength that come out of this."
Photo: Jesuit Fr Mark Hallinan greets a young girl following a Spanish-language Mass at St Mary of the Assumption Church in the Staten Island borough of New York