PENNSYLVANIA – In 2020, the Diocese of Pittsburg will merge twenty-six Catholic parishes in Allegheny and Washington counties into eight new parishes.
“Jesus never promised that it would be easy to carry his message of love and mercy to others. He was clear that sacrifice would be necessary. However, you are positioning your new parish for more effective ministry by addressing financial needs, sharing resources and allowing your clergy to focus on the spiritual work for which they were ordained,” Bishop David Zubik wrote in a letter that was read at local parishes this past weekend.
Although the mergers do not result in the closing of church buildings immediately, decisions on whether or not to close parish buildings will occur at a later date.
The 2020 mergers bring the number of parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh down from 170 to 152.
The Pittsburg church closings follow a trend of parish mergers and closing that has swept across the Northeast and Midwest. Last month, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that fifteen parishes would be consolidated into six parishes.
Many factors go into the decision of closing or merging parishes. For instance, St. Charles Borromeo Church in the Diocese of Providence closed its doors last month due to $527,000 in building repairs.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh merger and closing was due in part to declining attendance, priest shortages, and increasing maintenance costs for older church properties.
According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the number of Northeast parishes has dropped nineteen percent since 1956. Meanwhile, the Midwest has lost more than ten percent of parishes.
In 1970, there were 571 parishes throughout the United States without a resident priest. In 2018 that number rose to 3,363. While there were no parishes in the 1970s that the bishop had entrusted to the pastoral care of a deacon or some other person, in 2018 there were 341 parishes in that situation.
Last year, Pope Francis urged bishops to preserve the beauty and holiness of church buildings, even though closing them for worship may be the only option.
“The common sense of the faithful perceives of the environments and objects destined for worship the permanence of a kind of imprint that does not end even after they have lost that destination,” he said.