National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  December 26, 2003

Clergy sex abuse crisis pushes O'Malley to close churches


At a much anticipated meeting with the presbyterate here, Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley told as many as 600 diocesan priests that consolidation of the archdiocese’s 357 parishes will be “a painful undertaking.”

The meeting, which was closed to the public and the media, took place on the campus of Boston College Dec 16. The Boston Globe reported that the college’s Robsham Theatre Arts Center was packed, with standing room only.

Announcements of some church closings could come as early as June 1, O’Malley said. Previously, decisions to close churches have taken years. But O’Malley said he hopes to make parish-closing decisions and announce them within a year.

“The upside of closing parishes is that surviving parishes should be stronger,” he said after meeting with priests, at a separate press briefing held across the street from the campus at nearby St. John’s Seminary.

O’Malley also said that the need to close churches was inevitable even without the clergy sex abuse crisis. But financial fallout from the crisis put new pressures on the archdiocese to undertake the closings.

O’Malley also made clear that the $85 million, the amount needed to settle clergy sex abuse cases, will come from the sale of the former cardinal’s residence, adjacent properties, and insurance funds -- not from parish assets or diocesan or parish collections.

“We have taken out three loans totaling $97.5 million,” he said. “All three loans will be repaid by funds that will not impact our daily work.

“It is a very sad moment. There is no painless dentistry. I know that,” O’Malley said, adding, “I know that people are loath to close a beloved parish and parish church. But we must help our parishioners to see that it is because of the needs our family that we make these painful sacrifices.”

Voice of the Faithful, the lay-led church reform organization created in the wake of the sex abuse scandal, called on the archdiocese to consult broadly with the laity and clergy.

“It is encouraging to hear that the archdiocese says it will solicit considerable local input by lay persons and parish clergy in the process of closing parishes while the details of this involvement are being discussed,” a press statement from the group said.

However, Voice cautioned: “Parish closings will cause a profound and challenging upheaval for the personal and faith lives of tens of thousands of Catholics in the archdiocese of Boston. If as many as 60 parishes close, that will affect at least 120 parishes, as many as one third of Catholics who regularly attend Mass -- over 100,000 people. For many Catholics, their parish is a primary means of identity.

“The lessons learned of the past two years call for these momentous decisions to be made according to a new, collaborative model that takes the archdiocese in a new direction -- a direction away from the old ways where the hierarchy makes decisions without meaningful involvement of lay persons.”

Chuck Colbert, a frequent contributor to NCR, writes from Boston.

National Catholic Reporter, December 26, 2003

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