I have recently been exploring a Catholic news website called Vatican Insider. It is sponsored by the Italian publication, La Stampa. I came across a post reporting on a Vatican document being prepared, which will provide guidelines to American bishops on how to reorganize their dioceses. It specifically addresses the closing or merging of parishes, and the sale of Catholic hospitals.
The reason for the creation of this document is the number of dioceses that have been closing parishes, and the controversy it causes in the Catholic community, and the economic impact it has on the American dioceses. It is being reported that one possible recommendation is that while a parish may be closed, the church itself could be maintained by a responsible lay family or group, with a priest coming in to celebrate Sunday Mass.
This could be a partial solution for the situation that exists here in the Archdiocese of Boston. There have been churches of closed parishes that have been occupied for years by former parishioners, who refuse to let go of their church. But a parish is more than a church, it is a community of clergy and laity, active in charitable works, a place where persons, child or adult, is formed in the faith. And most importantly, it is a community that comes together and encounters Christ in the Eucharist. We are seeing now, and will see in the future, that some parishes will no longer have the resources, either in people or finances. All bishops and parish communities will have to face that fact, and address it.
Hopefully, the guidelines that will come out from Rome, will provide a common structure and procedure that could lessen the pain, the sense of loss, that people feel when a parish is closed.