Some brief histories of the doomed parishes can be found here. One of the churches slated to be shuttered dates back to the 1850s. Four of the five churches are located on the North Shore. Two are located in one-time "ethnic" neighborhoods that are now mostly black and Hispanic. One is located in a neighborhood that still has a significant Italian population. The outlier- St. John Neumann- is only a few decades old and is located mid-island. Its parishioners claim that their church is in the black and debt-free. And that got me thinking.
Why aren't we being given the actual numbers that are the basis for these decisions? Every so often, the archdiocese simply releases a list of the condemned parishes, like some commissar from Stalinist Russia. Wouldn't it help the flock to understand the decision-making process if we were shown some solid numbers that said, for example, that Parish X brings in only $10,000 a year from its 50 parishioners and has operating expenses of $100,000 and a $50,000 debt? Wouldn't it be helpful if the archdiocese further justified its decisions by citing relevant demographic data or pragmatic arguments by saying, for example, that Parish X's 50 parishioners are all over 70 years of age and the church building will be condemned unless it has hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs to its roof and foundation? Those are legitimate arguments that no reasonable person could contest. But when the archdiocese just condemns a financially successful parish like St. John Neumann to extinction, on the basis of unknown and seemingly arbitrary criteria, it makes the curious Catholic wonder just what is going on here.
Assumption in New Brighton I could believe had problems. It was a small parish, built for people who lived within walking distance of the church. It is located within a mile radius of about 4 other Catholic churches. It was built for a specific ethnic group (Italians) that have long since fled the neighborhood. But St. Mary's in Port Richmond? Whenever I've driven by that place on Sundays, it has always been overflowing with Mexicans. St. Roch's in Port Richmond was never packed when I visited but it was always moderately well-attended. Similarly, St. Mary's in Rosebank seemed to have a fair number of parishioners. What are the actual numbers that doomed these parishes? What are the arguments?
Apart from the complete lack of transparency and accountability, Cardinal Dolan is showing his usual alacrity when it comes to secular initiatives by quickly suggesting that the closed churches be used for affordable housing. This Cardinal has probably extinguished more Catholic churches than John Calvin. There is no plan to reverse this trend, no plan to evangelize, no plan to re-catechize. There is no plan and no clue at the top of this hierarchy. We are a rudderless ship without a captain.